Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rail Trail Commentary: Get To It, Tupper Lake!

Tupper Lake DepotWith the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) having signaled its inclination to support the proposed amendment to the Remsen – Lake Placid Travel Corridor Unit Management Plan that would refurbish the rails between Big Moose and Tupper Lake and replace the rails with a multi-use trail between Tupper lake and Lake Placid, the time for endless argument over the merits of this proposal needs to come to an end. Instead it is time to begin the work to maximize the great economic potential of this project. That’s right, Tupper Lake: I’m talking to you.

I do not mean to exclude other worthy communities on the route, all of whom will benefit, but I have a special affection for you, Tupper Lake. I’ve been hosted and wonderfully treated by some of your civic leaders, who wanted my wife and I to see the value and importance of your community. I’ve been invited to participate in town meetings and planning sessions. I have good friends in Tupper.  I love the Wild Center.  I love the Lumberjack!  I’d love to see you transform yourself, Tupper. No kidding: here comes your best chance to do that in more than a century.

Let the naysayers doubt what a world-class recreational trail served by either automobile or train can do for you. In my experience the potential draw of this trail will make the optimistic hopes some communities have for an economic boost from the Essex Chain look like nothing. The key is to leverage your unique position as a hub for both the rail and the recreational trail – and to recognize that in this hub you possess an asset with national appeal – that’s right, national appeal (and don’t forget Canada while you’re at it).

Why am I so confident? Because I already know the proposed Adirondack Recreational Trail has national appeal. A few years ago, when the trail concept was being developed, I had two meetings with Trek Bikes, a little bicycle company with billion-dollar revenues and sales in 90 countries. Trek took the meetings, offered support if the trail came to pass and made suggestions because they knew it was a project that had real potential.  That’s right, they were interested in an Adirondack trail: imagine that.  As the trail moves forward Trek’s dealers in the Park will have an opportunity to engage one of the world’s largest bicycle companies in taking advantage of the business this trail will bring. That kind of attention doesn’t come with just any project.

Tupper, you have a chance to help develop a national marketing initiative for a trail that will appeal to people from coast to coast. Doubters have charged that estimates for economic gain from the trail are inflated, that there is no comparable trail with which to make projections. They’re right about that: there is no comparable trail in the United States. If done right, this trail, passing through one of America’s truly wild jewels, connecting resort communities, museums, historic areas and Olympic facilities while intersecting with myriad other recreational opportunities, will be an incomparable trail.

You can be at the center of that, Tupper. And when naysayers pooh-pooh your initiative, politely remind them that you will be directly appealing to a recreation sector that is both one of the most popular and one of the fastest growing activities in North America. How much opportunity does that represent? We’re not even throwing in the increase in snowmobiling you’re going to get.

Thanks to Next Stop! Tupper Lake you have a beautiful depot with which to anchor the expanded train service on one end and the trail on the other. You’re not starting from scratch. So first, consult with ROOST. Develop an aggressive plan to market the combination of train and trail to a national audience. You can help to accomplish that by taking advantage of the various networks of recreational bicycling enthusiasts that can be found on the Web. You can talk to bicycle clubs and dealers. You have a huge audience out there: go after it.

Then get ready to put a restaurant, an outfitter that sells equipment, snacks and supplies and a bike shop that does repairs in or near the depot.  Don’t wait for legions of bicyclists to magically appear, draw them with infrastructure. Jim McKenna of ROOST is right in his philosophy, especially in the case of promoting an asset like this rail and trail hub: build it and they will come. Build this stuff and then blow your horn, Tupper. Bill yourself as a recreational bicycling capital.

Be on the leading edge of ecotoursim, too. Educate green-conscious tourists (another sector with double-digit growth) that they can lose their car down-state, load their bikes on a train, come to Tupper and have the low-impact recreational experience of a lifetime. You can establish an electric vehicle (EV) shuttle to take green vacationers back and forth between the train, the trail and your fine lodging and eating establishments. You can implement a smart-phone CO2-counting app that shows folks how much carbon they’re keeping out of the atmosphere on their trip. In an era where climate change will come to dominate the national zeitgeist don’t think for a moment that a strategy like that isn’t smart.

The nattering nabobs of negativity will say all this optimism is a fantasy. Don’t listen, Tupper Lake. I’ve seen recreational trails transform whole communities. You have to do it right, though. The naysayers will have the last laugh if your plan to promote this project consists a couple of ads in the local paper and some nice signage. You’ll need to really market this – and not just to North Country residents and other New Yorkers. You’ll need to create some buzz.  You’ll need to open some businesses that can support a first-class recreational bicycling experience, like the restaurant and the bike shop.

In short, you’ll have to make some investments, Tupper Lake. You’ll have to have a smart strategy and really mean it. But it’s worth it. Ask Sparta, Wisconsin. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Tupper. So get to it! Build it and they will come. A lot of them.

Photo: Tupper Lake Depot. Photo courtesy the Adirondack Explorer

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

34 Responses

  1. Boreas says:


    I can’t agree more. I too feel TL will be the biggest winner in this paradigm shift.

    Another suggestion for shuttles would be shuttles to take riders and their bikes/skis back to LP or SL or vice versa thus enabling one-way day jaunts.

    Perhaps Trec could ‘develop’ a special model of bike specifically marketed and sold in the area.

  2. Glenn Poirier says:

    Spot on. Well written, thank you from a Junction resident!

  3. Lakechamplain says:

    Escuse me for a few moments while I catch my breath. Going for the whole nine yards, huh Pete? It’s refreshing to see a post like yours with a real vision of what this trail’s potential could lead to. I was pleased to see you reference that the bike trail can be special because it offers quite a few options to its users, namely; that it isn’t just a 34 mile traverse through a wilderness on a level route with no vehicular traffic. What hopefully will make this a success is that it connects 3 Adirondack villages that each have something to offer, both to residents and to visitors to the area.

    I think your focus on Tupper Lake is appropriate with a bit of boosterism that could use a little salt. Your suggestions for the train station are excellent, with the cautionary notes that, let’s say at times like this, in November, between ‘seasons’, it realistically will be difficult to maintain profitable businesses at the station, just like it is in other Adirondack towns. But if it is done right, by business entrepreneurs with sound investment and patience, I agree with you in a way that it might work. All the aspects that make a successful business, marketing, a good product and/or service, etc. all have to work. And you barely mentioned the winter season when sledders will be using the trail. For them Tupper Lake might become a hub and the trail could be a connector to other trails.

    Finally, the elephant in the room for Tupper Lake though remains the large resort that developers are trying to build in Tupper Lake. If that doesn’t go through, and the naysayers and organizations putting hurdles up against it happening keep dragging the process out, then Tupper Lake’s economic resurgence won’t be caused by a successful rail to trail alone.

    But thank you for your breath of fresh air and optimism for what this trail offers. I believe it will enhance the quality of many people’s lives who live in the area, and will boost the main economic engine of the Adirondacks–tourism–as well.

    • Boreas says:


      In my opinion, TL shouldn’t hold their breath expecting the ACR to provide any real economic boost in the near future. Any economic boost from the rail+trail conversion will likely be smaller, but will probably be realized sooner, and may perhaps make the ACR more attractive to investors.

    • John says:

      Lake Champlain, WTF? ACR, “naysayers and organizations putting hurdles up against it happening keep dragging the process out”. There is no one out there now trying to keep the ACR from happening, the last hurdle was cleared almost a year ago and they are in the same position they were then. Nothing is happening because it is still the same bad plan they had in place years ago.

      • Lakechamplain says:

        Okay John, I accede to your points as you seem to be speaking from a more informed base than I was. Could you give some sort of ‘update’ on where that development stands? I’m in no way defending their plans and/or methods, it just seems that this has been going on for a longer time than most investors, if there are many, would want to be with their money hanging in the balance. It did seem the first few years that it was approved by the various state agencies that were needed. What are the main points of the ‘bad plan’ you refer to? I wish someone like Brian Mann of NCPR would do an in-depth update on the situation.

        The main points of my thread were that while the trail connecting LP, SL, and Tupper Lake will be potentially good for TL, I think some of the comments here might overstate its economic impact. It would be a positive for Tupper in many ways but not exactly as a game changer but hopefully as part of a bigger economic revival. It’s too bad the big resort has such a weak foundation that you imply because if their grandiose plans happened, in simple dollars and cents it would have a much greater impact on Tupper Lake. Thank you for your perspective on this matter.

        I still strongly support the trail; as to the rail from Utica to Tupper Lake, I agree with skeptics on here who wonder where the money to refurbish the line, much less run it, are going to come from.

  4. Boreas says:

    Another natural feature that is often overlooked is water. There are numerous opportunities for boating, paddling, and fishing in the area. The proper lodging & accommodations in TL could provide service for rail, trail, woods, and water lovers.

  5. Tim says:

    TL’s new multi use trail will tie into this proposed trail and get uses deeper into the village. Right now you can take the trail from the station the the miluncipal park which is only a block from Park Street. SL and LP need to work on a safe path to get cyclist and other users from the trail to their major commercial areas.

  6. Scott says:

    There is one nearly identical rail-trail to compare to in the Black Hills of South Dakota, similar in almost every way.

    In this debate, if both side stopped always looking at the economic impacts as most important and instead focused on what is best for the environment, would it be best to have a trail or keep the train ?

    • Tim (another one) says:

      If you compare a giant diesel amusement ride or a trail carrying a bunch of snowmobiles (and bikes), I don’t think either one is a clear win in regard to the environment.

      This train is a round trip scenic ride. The ASR doesn’t plan to use it for commuters or freight. If you want to make the most environmental decision you would shut down this leisure ride altogether and ban snowmobiles. But since that’s not happening, people are considering economic impact in their preferences.

    • Boreas says:


      From a strictly environmental POV, I assume it would probably be best to tear up the rails and ties and let the corridor revert to a natural state.

  7. Tim says:

    Let’s hope the APA reads before making a final decision!

    • Tim (another one) says:

      The APA isn’t deciding whether a train or trail would be better. They are just deciding if the DEC/DOTs plan violates the state land master plan. Their chairwoman even stated that she would prefer the train, but that its likely that it is ok with the master plan. Their staff even stated they think it does not violate the master plan.

  8. chris says:

    While I have no real opinion on the trail, other than the fear of ecological (noise) damage from snowmobiling, I must take issue with the breathless booster ism of this article.

    There are hundreds of bike trails, greenways and tow paths like this throughout the US and hundreds more in planning stages, for the same reason, because they are “good” ideas. No one can fault them on their face. But other than a few, like Slickrock in Moab, UT, they are nice supplements to existing activity at best, not “events” in themselves as a draw.

    To become a draw, it needs to be incorporated into a much larger mtb trail system with more variety and multi-day options just like the lakes and rivers are to paddlers.

    As to the imprimatur of Trek taking a meeting: like every large company, they have a dedicated advocacy effort and support their products in the public sphere. So while their help is appreciated, I wouldn’t consider that to mean they’ve blessed the local economic impact.

    More responsible MTB activity is certainly a good idea. But I’m cautious on the prospects of this particular project.

    • Hope says:

      It is not a MTB project. Wasn’t proposed as one and would most likely not appeal to a mountain biker unless it was used for accessing other single track type trails.
      A recreation trail is for a user who would most likely not use hiking trail into rugged terrain or a mountain biking trail into remote areas. There is nothing wrong with providing a venue for the less adventurous. It may lead someone to enjoy the outdoors more and garner more interest in participating or supporting more adventurous outdoor activities and venues.

    • Tim (another one) says:

      The fact that you think this is a MTB trail, or would need to appeal to MTB riders make me think you don’t know much about biking.

  9. Bruce says:

    Just what I’ve been thinking, Tupper Lake stands to be a winner in this provided the city fathers and chamber of commerce get on board with some advance planning. (does TL have a chamber of commerce?) By pushing for restoration or refurbishment of run down buildings, putting in businesses attractive to both train and trail users, such as restaurants, shops, hotels, and local transportation services, TL can once again be on the map.

    The only caveat I have is keep Tupper Lake for everyone’s pocketbook, not primarily for the well-heeled as Lake Placid seems to be. Have reasons folks will want to ride the train to TL and I believe its operator will accommodate with more and better trains.

  10. Bellota says:

    Good ideas and forward thinking regarding the recreational trail by Pete Nelson. However, I still question the viability of a refurbished train track from Tupper to Remsen. The monetary outlay for that could be better spent on creating bike spurs from Placid, SL, and Tupper Lake to the trail. Also the depots (stations) will need some degree of refurbishing.

    • Boreas says:


      Many of us agree with you, but the State’s compromise decision is likely the only plan that can be implemented in the near future. However, that doesn’t mean that 10-20 years down the road either section of the corridor can’t be reevaluated and managed differently. Perhaps both ventures will fail, perhaps both will succeed. But I feel maintaining the status quo would be a mistake.

      • John says:

        I wouldn’t count on a railroad running to Tupper Lake at any point in the near future. The updated UMP requires that the state put out a RFP for a rail operator to come in & manage the entire rail line from Utica to Tupper Lake. They’ll have to come in with money & a plan on how to manage/operate the rail line. With the financial loss the Saratoga – North Creek scenic line is costing Iowa Pacific I don’t see anyone stepping up to invest in something that isn’t profitable. And why would anyone want to invest in a scenic line that in the end isn’t very scenic & would take forever to get between Utica & Tupper Lake.

        • Bellota says:

          Very good points made by John.

        • Bruce says:


          There is an excursion operator whom I’ve heard mentioned in conjunction with the ASR; American Heritage Railways. They currently operate the highly successful Durango and Silverton, and the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, both of which are shorter lines. If they should get hold of this, the ASR will be a bang-up attraction.

          Let’s not be too quick to write off something based on past practice.

          • John says:

            You have to have something on each end to make a trip worth while. Utica has nothing & Tupper Lake has nothing. Plus the amount of time it takes the current ASR to just get from Utica to Old Forge, makes a day trip to Tupper Lake not worth the ride. I can drive my car faster from Utica to Tupper Lake than the train can go from Utica to Old Forge. Plus the cost that ASR charges for just a one way ticket from Utica to Old Forge, would make a charge of one way all the way to Tupper Lake somethin no one will/can afford.
            A scenic rail line needs to be a short roundtrip sort of ride, with a museum or other opportunity at both ends. Look at the railraod that runs in Maryland out near Frostburg. It’s a short ride & it has a museum at the turnaround that catches peoples attention. What ya got now, sucks in comparison.

            • Bruce says:


              The whole point of this article is about the possible economic impact on Tupper Lake with the compromise, and the fact someone needs to get the ball rolling to make it all work. I’m supporting the rail end of the compromise.

              We can’t predict what will happen when the train starts going to Tupper Lake again. We also can’t assume a new trail south of Tupper Lake is going to have any significant economic impact either.

  11. Bill Waterhouse says:

    Pete – as an entrepreneur your article has my mind buzzing with opportunities. A combination bike/sled/kayak canoe store, covering all seasons. College and high school “porters” who lead bike hikes and deliver side trip water transportation along the trail. Utilize existing technology to assist local economy residents (AirBnB, Uber, etc) instead of out of town corporations. Partnerships with Trek and other outdoor experience companies will bring free national exposure. Local concierge services, package vacations via Travel Zoo, snowmobiling expansion without an additional tree needing to be cut. Where else would you have the opportunity to ride rails, bike, canoe/kayak, sled, experience an Olympic village, hike mountains, visit a place like the Wild Center all in one contiguous opportunity (and I know I’m leaving out a number of other great opportunities). Bravo!

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Bill: Wowza. Good thinking! I hope people will run with ideas and see what might develop.

      Everyone else: thanks to all for good comments. It will be interesting to see what happens.

      Referencing the comment from “another Tim,” about pollution and environmental impact, I actually began a column about that. I delved into the emissions reports and standards for diesel trains engines, snowmobiles and cars, running some numbers for comparative purposes. All I can tell you is that it’s extremely complicated. There are too many variables for me to have written anything more useful than a propaganda piece. So I dropped it.

      Certainly closing the corridor to all motorized traffic would be best for the environment, but that’s not ever going to be on the table. We have a travel corridor that needs to be used in a responsible way. I think a rail trail is a great way to do that.


  12. Smitty says:

    Right on Pete. I really believe that Tupper is poised for a renaissance and the rail trail will give it just the push it needs.

  13. adkcamp says:

    Great article, wonderful ideas. Tupper has been immobilized by the promise of prosperity offered by Foxman – the town sat on its hands and did nothing to attract Wild Center visitors west into town once they leave the museum. Ideas take people, imagination, motivation and resources to bring to fruition. These are great ideas – I hope that Tupper doesn’t squander this opportunity – the rail-trail is an amazing gift to the community.

    • Tim (another one) says:

      I couldn’t disagree more with your statement that the Tupper lake has done nothing Try to get Museum visitors to do more in Tupper lake:
      1) the new junction pass multi use trail
      2) the new impressive playground that tried to keep with the style of the wild center
      3) parternering with ROOST
      4) the new winter festival
      5) 2 new breweries and brew pub under contruction
      6) new waterfront plan with possible new beach (plan being unveiled tonight)
      7) paying for additional improvement with the road project to make the make the village look better
      8) working with the Main Street grant program to improve facades and renovations to down town buildings.
      9) the new observatory
      10) a proposed hotel in the works.

      These are just the first 10 things I thought of but pretty impressive to do while immobilized and sitting on their hands. Some of these are public initiatives, some are private ventures, but to make a statement like you made is ignorant. These don’t include other improvements like new fire station, beautiful new aubuchon building, updated movie theater. What do you propose they should have done?

  14. Paul says:

    If this whole package (the trail and the expanded rail) get the final green light and the necessary funding (maybe a big if) then I agree TL is in a very good position. The only question is how cutting off the rails from these other two large Adirondack towns will effect the success of that project? This particular rail-trail is not a panacea. Some people are probably going to be disappointed. Probably see some modest use between SL and LP but between SL and TL that is more of an open question. But the plan is what it is so we will see what happens.

    • Boreas says:

      IMO, I would think the logical terminus for the rail line would be in SL, not LP. IF the line became successful, SL would be much better able to handle the traffic, parking and influx of people than LP. However, that leaves the trail people without a lot of gain. Perhaps if the rec trail could be extended past LP on another unused grade toward Plattsburgh, Lyon Mtn., or Saranac River corridor – something along those lines – perhaps both the Railers and Trailers would both be happier. But the compromise should be workable and perhaps cheaper.

  15. Curt Austin says:

    What Pete says is all true, and easily verified if you look into it. He’s lived near one. I’ve lived near one. You’ll find that your friends and relatives have lived near one, or traveled to one. It will definitely be wonderful for Tupper Lake, on a par with the effect the Wild Center has had. And the Rail Station will have crowds instead of being the sign of unrequited train passion.

  16. Werner says:

    OK, now you have to teach the iPhone generation how to use a trail. I see less and less young people outdoors, only 40 something Yuppies and 60 something ex Hippies ! They all will die soon and who will use your trail !

  17. Dan Snydacker says:

    I am very sure I know who the architect of the Tupper Lake Depot was. It should prove useful in the effort to preserve the station.