Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dick Beamish Commentary On Rail-Trail Debate

Rail.locator (2)(1)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.

NYC Railroad from Lake Clear Lodge“Did you know that recreation on public parks and lands also contributes to the health of our economy?”

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.



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Dick Beamish was a staff member of the Adirondack Park Agency from 1972-78 and the founder of Adirondack Explorer. He now lives in Middlebury, VT; he was a founding member of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA).

46 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Most of the articles that I have read regarding this possible conversion seem to focus on the non-winter time biking aspects of the trail rather than the wintertime use.

    Which will include better access for snow-machine use traversing Wilderness areas of the park. This winter (with a lack of snow at times) is a great example of how the trail would improve and increase snowmobile use in these areas.

    The snowmobile use is not even mentioned here with the exception of calling it a “multi-use” trail.

    This trail would make a great (especially if you can groom it) cross country ski trail but with snowmobiles doing 60mph down this I don’t think it would be too well used.

    I still like the idea of a full length “hiker and paddler” train. But I have been schooled here on how that is dumb and too expensive.

    • Dan Murphy says:


      You are correct that this would be a great ski trail as well. And your idea is absolutely feasible. Higley Flow State Park in South Colton is a perfect example of how the two groups can co-exist. The trail is divided with skiers on one side and sledders on the other. The snowmobile club grooms the trails for both, and everyone gets to use the land. Everyone is happy.

      This would be a perfect application for this, as it is wide enough to accommodate it, and there are not sharp turns that could lead to sleds drifting out of their lane.

      It is current successfully being done in the area, and can definitely be done with this segment.

      • Dan here again says:

        Ya know… there should be a requirement that if you “dislike” a comment you have to explain yourself.

        What can you possibly dislike about my above post? Paul says that he wishes something was possible. I give an example to show that it is, and someone dislikes it…

        Just spray-paint “I hate everything” on your forehead and be done with it…

      • Paul says:

        If you could fit in there I think it is a great idea. Is the trail you describe similar as far as how fast the snow-machines ride on it? The old rail bed out by Lake Clear is a place where the snow-machines are cruising so fast that I would ski there myself in a pinch but I wouldn’t take my kids with me.

        • Dan says:

          I don’t know of there being any issues with snowmobile speed being a concern. The delineation of skier side to sledder side is pretty well established. I have come upon skiers late at night with no light, that takes you off guard, but that wouldn’t be an issue for you it sounds.

          The best resource for in is:

          I’m sure there is an email address on the site for Ed Fuhr who spearheads it if you have any questions. They just built a new warming lodge (haven’t been to it yet, but I hear it is awesome). I’m not a skier, but people rave about the rails..

          Well worth a trip to our little town!

          • Joe2 says:

            If snowmobilers are killing themselves in high-speed accidents, like we read about from time to time, it is an “issue” skiing on a trail designed to permit high speeds. I have had to dodge snowmobiles while on trails that didn’t allow high speeds. Similarly I don’t hike down the middle of Rt. 73. In any case, I don’t find it an enjoyable experience sharing a trail with roaring snow machines that often travel in huge packs. I think the summer option of biking the trail does sound appealing.

  2. George L says:

    Dick –

    A 30-mile ride from Saranac Lake west on a bike rail/trail will get you somewhere into the wilds past Tupper Lake.

    A 30-mile ride east from Old Forge will get you somewhere near the Stillwater Reservoir.

    Both locations are approximate. But when you arrive, hopefully you will be prepared to camp. You will not be able to do any of the activities you look forward to in the other rail/trail venues that you present as comparisons:

    “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.”

    The determination to rip up the Adk tracks has blinded grown men to the major differences between the settings of other rail trails, and the wilderness route taken by the Adk tracks.

    The key difference is … wilderness.

    Hoards of tourists will not bike into the wilderness to camp. The number of riders who will venture by bike from either end, to camp in the interior areas, will be miniscule.

    Serious bike riders will stick to the roads and the hills.

    Most of the Adk. rail trail miles would be logged by locals riding between Lake Placid and Saranc Lake. The second largest mileage group would be summer visitors who leave from Lake Placid for short rides.

    Lake Placid to Saranac Lake is where a rail trail makes sense, and it could be built without ripping up the tracks.

    I strongly support the immediate construction of this trail by the State of New York.

    I also call for periodic summer road closures (used for the Ironman) to encourage tourist biking. This is a no-cost option that could be implemented immediately.

    Unlike the existing rail system, the roads actually go through towns where the bike riders can spend money and replenish themselves.

    The exisiting tracks should be modernized to create a light rail system within the Adirondacks to provide mass transit and to link the towns. This would provide a real boost to the economy, and it would make travel and hence life much easier.

    The justification provided for ripping up the tracks doesn’t pass the laugh test.

    • Hope says:

      Who says you have to ride 30 miles at all. You can start in Tupper Lake and end in Piercefield or go further and end in Horseshoe or start in Horseshoe and end at Sabattis or Lake Lila. There are numerous different trip possibilities for all types of people. Those that want to camp will, those that don’t will plan their trips accordingly.

      Adventure cycling is becoming big business all across the country yet we do not have a venue for this type of activity. Just like paddling or hiking into wilderness areas require camping so can biking. Some people climb Mt Marcy in a day and some take a weekend. So some folks will take a day to travel from Old Forge to Lake Placid and others may take a weekend. So what! Still others might just ride from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid over and over again. As a local I’m sure that I might find a ride from Tupper to Piercefield and back an enjoyable trip several times a year maybe even every week just as I enjoy a x-country ski on the many available trails when there is enough snow.

      The distance and the territory covered is what makes this attractive. There are many different access points all along the trail. Some sections mor remote than others but certainly not in the way many people portray it. You can paddle a canoe from Long Lake to Tupper Lake (40plus miles) in one day if you want or take a few extra days and camp along the way. There is no difference other than the mode of transportation. It is the choice of the traveler.

  3. Joe says:

    People do not use the small bus systems run by county governments today – even with flag down service.

    Light rail in the back country doesn’t have the flexibility of these small bus systems that go thru towns and can stop anywhere.

    If these bus systems don’t work, what is the reasoning that says light rail would work?

  4. Joe B says:

    Ia m in full support of the Rail Trail.

    As an avid snowmobiler, hiker, kayaker and skiier ,the trail would opens up a variety of recreational possibilities , generate a large economic imapct on the towns that need it ( especially in the winter months) and estabish new businesses that will create jobs . All this that the tourist train can not.

    Imagine being able to hi8ke from Old Forge to Saranac Lake in the Spring,Summer or fall and have an outfitter supply one woith a Canoe or kayak and paddle back, camping out along the way . Or put a kayake or canoe on a cart , hook it up to a bike and take a few days or weeks exploring the trail and ponds . A town to town cross country trip would be a great idea. Starting in Lake Placid , staying in Tupper Lake , Beaver River ,or other places and towns along the way and finishing in Old Forge . New B&B’s could and would be established for those who do not like camping but still want to enjoy a multiple day tour in a wilderness setting .For winter tourist , a guided ski or snowmobile tour could be offered . Also,there is always a debate about those with a diability being able to access the wilderness and to enjoy the outdoors. The rail trail would be perfect for them to get out end enjoy a day or multiday outing in a wilderness setting. If there is one good reason to pull up the tracks then this is the one .

    Yes , there would be a fair ammount of snowmobile traffic but we all have to and should respect each other and the sport of our choice. I have been on the trail with a snowmobile when I have had others approach from the opposite direction at a high rate of speed that is too fast for the trail. Its not a fun experience so a reasonable speed limit should be set and enforced . Everyone who would use the trail should be able to without the worry of thier saftey.

    See snowmobilers as an asset to the trail in the winter where if a snowshoer or skiier is in ned of help , a snowmobiler can get that person help in a faster period of time .

    Dont get me wrong, I like trains as well but pulling up the tracks and building a multi use recreation trail makes more sence economically and for all New Yorkers who are paying taxes on that stretch of land and as a tax payer of New York I ask. Is the tourist train giving you wether a person who enjoys outdoor recreation or a business owner giving you the best return on your tax dollar ?

    So lets pull the rails and open up that beautifull corridor to evweryone

    • Paul says:

      “Imagine being able to hi8ke from Old Forge to Saranac Lake in the Spring,Summer or fall and have an outfitter supply one woith a Canoe or kayak and paddle back, camping out along the way . Or put a kayake or canoe on a cart , hook it up to a bike and take a few days or weeks exploring the trail and ponds . A town to town cross country trip would be a great idea. Starting in Lake Placid , staying in Tupper Lake , Beaver River ,or other places and towns along the way and finishing in Old Forge . New B&B’s could and would be established for those who do not like camping but still want to enjoy a multiple day tour in a wilderness setting .For winter tourist , a guided ski or snowmobile tour could be offered . Also,there is always a debate about those with a diability being able to access the wilderness and to enjoy the outdoors. The rail trail would be perfect for them to get out end enjoy a day or multiday outing in a wilderness setting. If there is one good reason to pull up the tracks then this is the one”

      Why not do all this with a train on the tracks? It is wildly popular in other places (see link below) and would be pretty unique for the Adirondacks. Many here are talking about how all of these many rail to trail projects are successful why not try something different? This should be a year-round deal.

  5. Bob says:

    Why is there a need for this trail, I feel it is really being pushed for the snowmobile crowd. Personally I am against any internal combustion recreation and being from Lake Placid we do not want to become Old Forge!

    • Dan Murphy says:

      You are against “any” internal combustion recreation?

      Do you not sometimes drive your vehicle to go a new area to hike, or boat, or canoe (or whatever you do).

      Of course you do. So you are using an internal combustion engine as a part of YOUR recreation, you are just against others using one for their recreation?

      Isn’t a train a form of internal combustion recreation? So by that logic, you would like the route just abandoned?

    • Paul says:

      I do think it is important to discuss the snowmobiles uses of this corridor when discussing removal of the tracks. Like them or not. This trail is going to improve (and many hope) increase the amount of snowmobile use in Wilderness areas. They can be used there now. But like many have said this will make it easier and possibly more frequent. I found it strange that Dick didn’t even mention it in this article? My guess is that many Explorer readers are not big snowmobile fans but that is just a guess. This proposed trail is walking a fine line.

  6. Bob Meyer says:

    while Mr.Beamish’s post has some obvious economic merit, i find it somewhat self serving given the location of McCauley Pond next to the R.R. corridor. 🙂
    seriously, though i think everyone on each side “thinks” they have the “good” of the Park in their hearts, personal passions, interests and economic considerations seem to cloud their outlooks.

  7. Bob Meyer says:

    well, i put a comment on this post that i believe was a fair one. it seems that any criticism of certain people = post gets deleted. True or not true? please respond.

  8. Bob Meyer says:

    well, i stand corrected.. here it is. my sincere apologies to all concerned. my bad.

    • Phil Brown says:

      Actually, Bob, I don’t think the comment is fair if you are alluding to the fact that Dick Beamish once owned a cabin on McCauley Pond. He has not lived there for years.

      • Bob Meyer says:

        i stand corrected on that as well Phil. my apologies to Dick for not doing my homework.

        however, my comment in regards to the general tone of the debate stands. Phil; your opinion please.

  9. Joe2 says:

    Leave the tracks, let the train run in the summer and in the winter let it become a multi-use snow trail. Cheap and covers both interests to a certain extent.

    • Hope says:

      That is what it is now. Not working as a trail at all because the tracks impede its use as a trail.

      The proposal is to leave the tracks from Utica to Old Forge and convert the rest to a multi use trail. The section from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid which was proposed to be a rail with trail was killed this fall by Army Corps of Engineers due to signififcant wetland mitigation problems that would have escalated costs beyond reasonable. That is why a rail with trail along the corridor is a non starter.

      • Joe2 says:

        How do the rails impeded anything in the winter when covered with snow? I’ve skied many miles of old abandoned railway line all over New York, including across abandoned railroad bridges. No problem in most cases if it isn’t too overgrown and there is decent snow cover. For that matter, I’ve ridden a bike down a lot of old railroad beds, either just alongside or even down the middle with ones that have filled in mostly between the ties. I’ve also hiked a lot of old, abandoned railroad beds too. Not every trail has to be groomed, pristine, and marked like a highway, though I know that’s what the snowmobilers want.

        • Hope says:

          The rails need in excess of 2′ of snow in order to be completely covered and groomed. Just because you enjoy riding a bike along the edges of the rail doesn’t mean that it would be very popular to other bicyclist, especially families. This proposal is about bringing safe bicycling for the average recreational cyclists and extending and providing a safe venue for snowmobiling. Both of these pursuits are popular, family oriented recreation that provide our communities with economic opportunity.

          As a x-country skier I probably wouldn’t ski that much on the corridor because the flatness doesn’t interest me that much but I could use a snowmobile to access some backcountry ski routes that would be difficult to access otherwise.

          • Joe2 says:

            IMHO making another snowmobile superhighway is not worth the money or effort unless the snowmobilers want to pay for it somehow. You don’t need two feet of snow for other uses. Skiing or snowshoeing on such a snowmobile route is miserable and is just asking for trouble–I avoid snowmobile trails like the plague in the winter. No matter what the speed limit, it won’t be enforced most of the time. I like the idea of a bike trail for summer use, but the proposal sounds expensive and where will the funds come from?

            • Hope says:

              The snowmobiles already pay for their trail use thru registration fees and all the trail maintenance on all their trails is done with volunteers. NYSSA is one of the largest organization of snowmobile enthusiast in the country. Rest assured they are paying far more in time and money for the least amount of trail use in the Park.

              • John Warren says:

                Nonsense. They enjoy far more use than any other class of motor vehicles, including boats, motorcycles, jeeps and ATVs. Since 1970, there has also been millions spent outside the registration fees to promote, build, and maintain trails.

                Far, far, more than has been spent on public railroad transportation.

                • brian m says:

                  John, what are you talking about?? No public money is used on snowmobile trails. I think you are confusing snowmobile trails with the ADK RR, which has gotten millions of taxpayer dollars……

                  • John Warren says:

                    Many snowmobile trails in the New York State, especially in the Adirondacks, were built by the State for other purposes in the 1920s-1950s, before the modern snowmobile existed.

                    New York State began designating, building, and marking snowmobile trails in the mid-1960s; according to the DEC there are currently about 1,200 miles of trails in the Adirondacks. In 1968, there were already about 1,200 miles of designated marked and mapped snowmobile trails built by the State on state land.

                    New York State has directly provided funds for trail construction to municipalities since the early 1970s, outside the registration money, and in addition to federal money. Also, 1) most snowmobile trails built later in the Adirondacks were built in the 1980s before the registration fees were returned to clubs; 2) the Adirondacks is home of two of the first municipal snowmobile building and maintenance programs in the country. The Town of Webb was the first town built and run system (begun in 1966). Warren County’s countywide system, begun in the 1980s, was the first municipal county-wide system in the country.

                    You can easily confirm these facts for yourself with a little research. BTW, ADKRR is not public transportation, it’s a tourist train.


                • Hope says:

                  You might want to reread my comment John. I referred to “trail use” and I did not limit it to motor vehicles. There are many more miles of “trails” restricted to hiking that are built and maintained by the state in the ADK Park then there are snowmobile trails. Yes there are volunteer organizations that help significantly but the hikers are not footing the bill with their hard earned cash.

                  • John Warren says:

                    There are about 2,000 miles of hiking trails and 3,000 miles of snowmobile trails in the Adirondacks. Hiking trails were established long before snowmobile trails so there are more of them. Snowmobilers pay more per mile for their trail use because the maintenance, ongoing construction, grooming, public safety services are all more expensive and many snowmobilers (including I think the Empire State Snowmobile Association) advocated to pay a higher registration in the 1990s in order to get the money kicked back to the clubs.

      • Big Burly says:

        Your posts on this issue over the past months either are deliberately misleading or just plain misinformed. Removal of the rail infrastructure will not just happen and the costs of doing so will be found to significantly exceed the costs of upgrading that infrastructure AND making it possible for snow sledders to use with less hassle during low snow seasons. What entity will pay for that excessive removal cost?
        Local expertise about wetlands far surpasses what the ACE would have brought to the table and for far less cost. The local community that voted to withdraw from the project had just plain run out of patience and volunteer time (Town Board members do get paid, but a pittance for the effort required) to continue to deal with those opposed to a trail with rail AND the regulatory issues associated with ACE.

        • Hope says:

          My information about N.Elba came directly to me from a member of the town board the day they voted to abandon the rail and trail initiative.

          You are entitled to your opinion about costs and so are we. We have consulted with several different rail trail builders a gotten cost estimates way below the costs of rebuilding the rails only and significantly less money than building a rail with trail.

          What irritates you all the most, is regardless of costs to build either scenario, ARTA has more support for the trail than you have for the train. In particular, it has more local support and business support in the Tri Lakes.

          • Big Burly says:

            Ah … the local support obtained after misinformation and misleading statements.
            Rail trail builders in other parts of this country did not have to contend with infrastructure registered on the National Historic Register, or in an environs that is miles from roads and that has very stringent environment protections. The cost of removing the ties alone exceeds what the ARPS has published will be the investment to upgrade the ROW, and it is practical and possible to complete the upgrades and minimize the inconvenience to snow sledders in low snow winters.
            Presentations by your organization, notwithstanding the lack of specifics, made statements to local officials that were just wrong.
            I am not irritated in the least, just tired of listening to the misinformation and dishonesty.

  10. Bill Ott says:

    Rail fans should get some inspiration and information from the Strasburg Railroad in PA. I lived in Lancaster and Strasburg for 25 years, and the railroad there is a huge tourist attraction. Read the Wiki article:

  11. Smitty says:

    Speaking of examples, I live near the Pine Creek rail trail in northcentral Pennsylvania. It has remarkably revitalized the economy of the area, that used to consist solely of recreational use by hunters and fishermen with relatively short seasons. Now it is busy three seasons of the year. As far as the gentleman that speculated people will have to go 30 miles into the wilderness and then camp rather than patronize local businesses – not so. Most of the bikers on the Pine Creek rail trail go a relatively short distance, say 10 miles or so, return to their parked car, and then seek refreshment in whatever town they started at. It’s very popular and many people make a weekend of it, staying at the quaint town of Wellsboro, or the more remote hamlets of Cedar Run or Waterville. The trail was originally met with suspicion of the locals that feared an influx of flatlanders. Turns out that local property values and economic activity have increased dramatically and you’ll find virtually no opponents of the trail anymore, only proposals to extend it farther.

  12. George L. says:

    Following up on the idea of short bike trips, it is approximately 10 miles between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.

    Each place provides what Dick Beamish (and I) seek.

    Let’s get together and build this section of the bike trail!

    It is achieveable and it may be costly, but so what – it makes sense and it will pay for itself

    We’ll get to see how many riders use it, and we can measure the economic impact.

    I say: unite over a LP -SL bike trail.

  13. John Frey says:

    Small point – all the trails mentioned were completely abandoned.
    You may not believe it is used enough, but it is in use.
    Those that want it torn up are pushing out one user group for another.
    Share what is in place and add trail where it is feasible. Think how much trail could be usable by now if those whining to rip up the rails had started laying trail next to it instead.

  14. Smitty says:

    Another suggestion, one I’ve made before, is to keep the Placid to Saranac tourist train and run the rail trail from Saranac to points south. Why not accommodate as many parties as possible?

  15. peter says:

    This is an exciting opportunity for snowmobiling. As someone who bikes and snowmobiles, my prediction is that 90 percent of use will come from sledders. It will offer grooming and speed, two things that are much needed in the park. Biking? In my experience, people bike loops. Out and back is simply not interesting, especially on flat terrain.

    • Matt says:

      I’ve biked a lot of rail trail conversions and they seem to be very popular dispite the fact that I have never been on a rail trail that makes a loop.

  16. BRFVolpe says:

    The Adk Scenic RR self-reported revenue vs ticket sales discrepancies make the viability of trains running north of Big Moose a losing proposition. It was a failure for the 1980 winter Olympics. History repeats itself.

    I’m not a snowmobiler, and I’d love to see the rails from Big Moose to Saranac converted to a year-round, all purpose recreational trail.