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Onondaga County opens up new extension to Onondaga Lake Park Trail

Ellen Abbott
A view of Syracuse from the Onondaga Lake Park Trail.

It’s been a century since the west side of Onondaga Lake has been available to the general public. That changes this weekend, when Onondaga County opens up the West Shore Trail. This is the latest step in reclaiming what was once the most polluted lake in the country.

For nearly 30 years, waste from production of soda ash by Allied Chemical in Solvay was dumped into waste beds along the western shore of Onondaga Lake.  What was left was a field of dry, chalky white alkaline waste rising 60 feet above the lake shore and covering 300 acres.

As the reclamation of Onondaga Lake continues, a part of that area becomes available to the public for the first time in a long time, when Onondaga County opens a two and a half mile extension of the Onondaga Lake Park Trail. County Executive Joanie Mahoney has taken in the view from the new trail, and calls it’s spectacular.

"It’s an entirely new view for this generation," Mahoney said. "One hundred years ago people enjoyed that part of the lake, but nobody has seen it the way they’re going to see it with the trail open.”

Mahoney also says she hopes people can get past the lakes polluted history.

“The lake is clean. The water is blue. It looks and feels good," Mahoney said. "But there will be that old impression of the lake that will be hard to overcome until you get out there, and you see how beautiful the lake is and how far it has come in being cleaned.”

So what’s happened to the chalky waste?

"That material exists," Mahoney explained. "There are people including the Onondaga Nation who would like that to be removed. But the question is removed to where, because it has to go somewhere. Where it is now it can be remediated, and we have ground cover depending on it’s use. We’ve remediated to the point where this trail is safe."

Mahoney says the county had to go through a human health risk assessment that determined the trail is safe. She admits it's taken some time to create the $4.5 million trail built over a Superfund site, and mostly funded by the federal government

“There’s a lot of industrial waste," Mahoney said. "And we’ve had to mitigate. Honeywell has had to remediate, and it’s a lot of people working together over a period of time.”

It is the latest development in the reclamation of the lake that includes Honeywell’s work to cap pollutants, the further extension of the lake trail to the Onondaga Creekwalk near downtown Syracuse and construction of an amphitheater along the west shore of the lake.