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Look at that! County plays on Broadway

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HUDSON — The Columbia County Board of Supervisors Committee on Planning, Economic Development, Agriculture, Tourism and Transportation heard this week that the county was the talk of Midtown Manhattan, at least for a few seconds, and that high gas prices might help the local tourism industry here.

The meeting Monday night also touched on questions raised by residents about a federal grant to extend broadband communications to unserved areas of the Town of Taghkanic plus an update on an agriculture survey by the Farmland Protection Board and a recent conference on trail development.

County Commissioner of Planning and Economic Development Ken Flood and Ann Cooper, administrator of the county Tourism Department announced an advertising “coup” as part of an effort to entice tourists in New York City to visit the county, a media buy that will put five-second messages about the county on the Sony Jumbotron, a giant video screen in Times Square.

County Board of Supervisors Chairman Roy Brown accompanied Ms. Cooper on the train to Manhattan to view the spots that read: “Hail Columbia” and feature a horse and rider against a panoramic backdrop of the Catskill Mountains. Immediately after the spot ran, he said he heard people on the street talking about Columbia County.

The spots ran April 10 to 17 and will be repeated June 28 July 4 at a total cost of $2,500, a price Ms. Cooper termed “phenomenal.” The county officials were able to get them through Horizon Travel Magazine where the ad also ran. The ad can be seen on the magazine’s website www.horizontravelmag.com.

On the train heading back upstate, they saw Amtrak magazines containing a Columbia County ad available on every seat. The Tourism Department also runs ads on the Metropolitan Area AM radio station 1010 WINS and in movie theatres upstate and in the Berksires, and an ad insert will appear in the Wall Street Journal June 24.

“Last year in a down economy the number of people visiting Columbia County was way up. I think our tourism advertising is a great investment,” Chairman Brown said.

Also at the meeting Mr. Flood reported on the $3.5-million federal broadband communications grant that Mid Hudson Cablevision (MHC) received last fall to fund rural hookups where population density is not sufficient to make providing the service profitable.

“One month ago I spoke with James Reynolds, president of MHC, and he said he is still working on it. I have been bombarded with emails and will reach out to Mid Hudson to see what their plans are for the grant,” he said. He said county residents have seen heavy wiring going suspended on their roads in Taghkanic but have been told by the company that even with the grant it would be expensive to run cables to homes are more than 200 feet from the broadband lines.

On Wednesday of this week a company spokesman said that MHC would decline federal grant funds to wire Taghkanic. He said that the company would instead work with banks to finance extending broadband service, an approach the spokesman described as more cost effective.

At Monday’s committee meeting, Jim Waterhouse, chairman of the Columbia County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board, said that he is in the midst of compiling survey responses collected at seven farm focus group meetings held throughout the county this winter for publication on the web. The surveys covered land use, zoning, marketing, education, and other issues and generated lots of good ideas.

Peter Paden, executive director of the Columbia Land Conservancy, spoke about a conference held at Columbia Greene Community College April 2 to discuss trail initiatives that many towns are currently engaged in. Claverack Supervisor Robin Andrews said her town is working on a project turning old rail right-of-way into a trail system, and Kinderhook is engaged in a project that town Supervisor Pat Grattan said was slow moving and expensive, with grants slow to materialize.

“Over the years we have been working on connecting a trail in Copake with Dutchess County’s trail,” said Chairman Brown, referring to the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, which also runs through part of Ancram. “The funding is in place, but we’re up against the DEC, because beavers moved into part of the area and built a dam. Some people have encroached into the property and built fences. We send letters out to remind them that it’s county property…. We have obstructions all along the way but we’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving on.”

Mr. Paden reported the receipt of an engineering grant to extend the rail trail from Copake Falls five miles north to Hillsdale.

“We have seven abandoned rail lines in the county that would be good trails. They attract visitors, bring good energy and have great potential for attracting new business,” said Mr. Paden, who would like to arrange for Jeff Olson, a trail planner from Saratoga Springs who spoke at the conference, to address the Board of Supervisors.

Mr. Flood also addressed other topics at the meeting, including the availability of a limited number of summer internships for college students in county departments through town supervisors.

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