Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bicycling Coalition Happy With Rail-Trail Proposal

Adirondack Tourist Train (Susan Bibeau)The New York Bicycling Coalition has kept a low profile in the debate over the future of the Adirondack rail corridor, but its proposal for the 119-mile corridor is similar to the one set forth by the state.

Last September, the coalition’s executive director, Josh Wilson, wrote the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to call for removing the tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake to create a trail for biking and other non-motorized activities in spring, summer, and fall.

“NYBC believes that such a trail would be unparalleled in New York State and the Northeast,” Wilson wrote Raymond Hessinger, director of DOT’s Freight and Passenger Rail Bureau. “A trail on this segment of the Corridor would serve to connect three ‘hub’ communities of Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, and Tupper Lake with multiple other access points in between.”

Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates tourist trains out of Lake Placid and Old Forge. While the Old Forge train is quite popular, the Lake Placid train hasn’t enjoyed the same success. As a result, many local leaders and residents have called on the state to remove the tracks between Old Forge and Lake Placid and create a recreational trail, which they argue would have more economic impact.

Last week, DOT and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that they would reopen the management plan for the state-owned corridor, and they proposed removing the tracks in the 34-mile stretch between Placid and Tupper.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens told Adirondack Almanack that bike paths work best if they pass through communities. However, the state is recommending leaving the tracks in place in the more remote section of the corridor between Old Forge and Tupper Lake while trying to improve rail service along this stretch. The New York Bicycling Coalition, in contrast, called for further study to determine whether rail service should be expanded north toward Tupper or whether this stretch also should be converted into a recreational trail.

The Bicycling Coalition also said the tracks should stay in place in the southernmost stretch—from Remsen to Old Forge—“where existing tourist excursion train service is well-utilized and popular with local communities and businesses.” No one is calling for ripping up the tracks in this section.

Martens said he was unaware of the coalition’s proposal and that any similarity between it and the state’s proposal is “a total coincidence.”

Wilson, a Saranac Lake resident, said he’s happy with the state’s decision to reopen the management plan and to consider creating a bike path.

“To my knowledge there are not any trails in New York State that would compare to that trail—connecting communities and passing through wilderness,” Wilson said.

Wilson expects the trail would see a lot of use from tourists and locals alike. As it is, cyclists riding from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake must travel on the shoulder of busy Route 86. “Many people are not comfortable riding on a highway like that,” he said.

The New York Bicycling Coalition is a statewide organization that lobbies for bicycle safety, bicycle tourism, and pro-bicycling policies.

Photo by Susan Bibeau: tourist train entering the village of Saranac Lake.


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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

16 Responses

  1. Ron Turbide says:

    I am wholeheartedly in favor of converting the rail line to a multi-use trail. Even though I currently winter in the Sunshine State, I feel that the trail should be available to the snowmobiling public during the winter months. The last words in the second paragraph “non-motorized activities” smacks of elitism and would make the goal of a good bicycle trail in the summer more difficult to attain. We’re all in this together and we need to learn to compromise in order to fully realize the recreational potential of the Adirondacks.

    • Woody says:

      Get over yourself. Promoting muscle powered sports is NOT elitist. Of course a bicycle group will focus on bicycling. Other wise they would be the “bicycle and snowmobile coalition.” They are making their own case, and not trying to speak for anyone else.

      • Curt Austin says:

        Actually, there is a bit of elitism in the motorized/non-motorized divide. Consider an office worker and a construction worker – white and blue collar. One sits inside all day, needs and wants some physical activity, and regards being outdoors as very special. The other is physically active all day, doesn’t need or want any more exercise, and doesn’t see being outside as so special.

        There’s more to it than this, of course, but we “elites” ought to be sensitive to this difference.

        I don’t want to encourage the wrong activity, though: if your doctor says you need more exercise, he doesn’t mean snowmobiling.

        • Woody says:

          A bunch of words that supposedly support the argument that blue collar workers dont sweat for recreation, that office workers dont ride snowmobiles or jet skis, and that one is therefore more elitist than the other. But really just a bunch of huey that suggest the author rarely leaves his house to observe what people really do for fun.

          • Curt Austin says:

            I’m afraid you are wildly wrong about my activities. I have a lot of fun. Just yesterday I rode my motorcycle 200 miles around the park. Met some characters at Walt’s in Old Forge. I have a 46er sticker on the windshield – I like the idea of disrupting prejudices. Last weekend, I combined some bicycling with a trip to Lake George to play my horn in a band at Shepard Park. I’ll enjoy my small town life today by going to the Chestertown Farmer’s Market, where I know half of the vendors. The last three times I’ve gone, I’ve used a bicycle, a pickup and a used (but highly elitist) sports car. (I know, I’ve triggered a big prejudice: Ford, Chevy or Dodge? I’m not gonna say!)

            The Adirondacks is a fun place.

            Back to something more substantive: I am perplexed that we have one group accusing the other of “elitism”. Where does this come from? Is there any justification? What do motors have to do with it? My theory above is the best I could come up with, though obviously incomplete. I’m anxious to hear a better explanation.

  2. Don Dew Jr. says:

    Phil, your title make it seem like this is a done deal. Indeed it may be, but in your text you do use the word proposal. Sorry to be so hung up on semantics. Bottom line the opening of the UMP is a good thing.

  3. Phil Brown says:

    I corrected the text to reflect that NYBC is in favor of non-motorized activities in spring, summer, and fall. The letter is silent on snowmobiles.

  4. Phil Brown says:

    Don, I changed “decision” to “proposal.”

  5. Bob Kibbey says:

    I seems to me that having a walking, bicycle path during the spring, summer, fall, and a snowmobile trail
    during the winter can’t be any fairer. Can’t we all just get along. I don’t think how, or where we worked is relevant.


  6. Phil Brown says:

    Bob, the NYBC is not calling for abolition of snowmobiling in the corridor. Its letter just doesn’t mention it. The coalition is focused on bicycling.

  7. Peter says:

    The abolition of snowmobiling in the corridor would help solve much of the concerns about this issue.

  8. Jim S. says:

    I personally don’t like snowmobiles at all. It does make more sense to allow them on an old rail line rather than in the Essex tract.

  9. Scott S. says:

    I support the proposed rail to trail project. I’m also OK with allowing winter snowmobile usage as long as trail maintenance funds for it can be taken from the snowmobile registration revenue. That said, I also think the trail could be extended from Tupper Lake through Beaver River to Big Moose. That would open a longer corridor through the park that has for many years been the personal highway of cabin and camp owners using their electric buggies on the old rails.

    • Paul says:

      Wait a minute. Electric buggies on the rails? Tell us more. Perhaps we should all take a look at this concept. I always wanted to make a bike that I could peddle on these rails and explore the lands around the RR on foot. Forget about my hiker paddler train here is the new crazy biking on the rails concept!


      • Paul says:

        Seriously this should be explored before tearing up the rails. On one of the videos these guys traveled to Siberia to do this. Talk about a unique (and green and quiet) experience.