Words of wisdom can be found in the latest issue of the Conservationist magazine, published bimonthly by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. In his introductory letter to readers, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens makes the following comments that have special application to the proposed Adirondack Rail Trail that would run 90 miles between Old Forge and Lake Placid. Following the Commissioner’s comments are observations of our own.
“You probably believe, as I do, that outdoor recreation is good for the body and for the soul.”
We couldn’t agree more. It is the range of recreational opportunities in a superb natural setting, combined with the appeal of small-town life, that convinced us this is where we want to live. The Adirondack Park has almost everything an outdoor enthusiast could desire—but there is one glaring omission. We do not have a year-round, multi-purpose recreation trail for bicycling, running, walking, strolling, fishing or just hanging out and enjoying nature—well away from the noise, smell and hazard of road traffic. Yet we can easily remedy this deficiency.
Yes, indeed. Living in the Adirondacks, we are keenly aware that our recreational attractions undergird the regional economy. Millions of tourists come here each year to enjoy hiking, paddling, skiing, and other outdoor pursuits in an unspoiled natural environment. But we have been missing the boat on a great opportunity for recreational and economic development in the Adirondack Park that could benefit people or all ages and physical abilities.
“New Yorkers and visitors spend millions of dollars every year in pursuit of outdoor experiences, whether it’s on gas, groceries or gear, providing a boost to regional economies. This spending helps grow businesses and create jobs in communities across the state.”
This also explains why we should prevail on the state to make the decision to convert 90 miles of the state-owned rail bed through the Adirondacks into an incomparable recreation trail. This “Adirondack Rail Trail” will directly benefit the economy of the Tri-Lakes, just as other rail trails have pumped new life into other rural areas.
My wife and I typify many others who seek out these tourist destinations as a wonderful way to see our country up close and personal. Later this year we plan to head south to bike the Virginia Creeper Trail, which skirts the Blue Ridge Mountains for 34 miles in southwest Virginia. We also plan to ride the 57-mile New River Trail in that same state, along with the 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail next door in West Virginia. We’ll do this at a leisurely pace of about 30 miles a day. We will eat at local restaurants, stay at lodging places, visit museums, attend music festivals, buy books, patronize bike shops and outdoor outfitters, and replace those vital bodily fluids with wine, beer and margaritas (in moderation, of course).
These popular rail-to-trail conversions are part of a growing national trend. Throughout the country, these old, unused rail bed have been turned into popular tourist destinations, creating jobs and business opportunities in places (like the Adirondacks) that once relied on railroads, logging and mining as their economic base. These trails do more than just generate revenue, however. They also add immensely to the quality of life of local residents.
“Governor Cuomo recently directed DEC to enhance public access to New York’s amazing bounty of public parks, parklands and waterways.”
And what better way to enhance public access to the Adirondack Park than a recreational trail that is easy, safe, scenic and suitable for outdoor lovers of every size, shape and persuasion. A gung-ho cyclist will be able to pedal the entire distance from Lake Placid to Old Forge in a couple of days, while a less ambitious biker, walker, jogger, or bird watcher can commune with nature on a small section of the trail close to home, enjoying our Great Outdoors before breakfast, at lunch time, after work and on weekends.
Commissioner Martens and Governor Cuomo have the right idea, but the time has come to translate ideas into action. The state needs to review the management plan for the entire 120-mile Remsen-Placid rail corridor to determine its most beneficial public use. Questions must be answered and decisions made.
Should government funds be spent to restore rail service between Old Forge and Lake Placid, as some have advocated? Or should the rusting rails and rotting ties be removed so the rail bed can be transformed into an all-season recreational trail that could make bicycle riding a major attraction in the Adirondack Park from May to November. Without the tracks as an impediment, the corridor will also offer much improved snowmobiling (with minimum environmental impact) from December through March.
If greater public access is indeed the goal of our state government, the Adirondack Rail Trail will accomplish that. If boosting our regional economy is also an objective, the Adirondack Rail Trail will do that, too.
Photo of the railroad corridor near Lake Clear by John Warren.