Sunday, January 6, 2019

Viewpoint: Kudos to Governor Cuomo

bikers on the Virginia Creeper Rail Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia by Richard SmithThanks to Governor Cuomo and his environmental agencies (APA and DEC), the long-awaited Adirondack Rail Trail has overcome legal roadblocks and is back on track.

This means that Tri-Lakes residents and visitors should soon reap multiple benefits from the scenic travel corridor (the publicly owned rail bed) connecting Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.

Over the past decade, thousands of outdoor enthusiasts have petitioned the Governor to convert this underutilized resource into a multi-purpose trail for bikers, walkers, runners and nature lovers of every stripe. It will also provide improved snowmobiling on a pathway well-suited for this purpose.

What will this rail-to-trail conversion mean for the Tri-Lakes Area and the Adirondack Park in general? Let me count the ways.

RECREATION. Bicycling is perhaps the fastest growing form of active, outdoor pursuit for adults and families. And what better place for riding your bike than on the 34-mile Adirondack Rail Trail in a lovely natural setting? The Adirondack Rail Trail will be accessible every day in every way — and free-of-charge — to bikers, dog walkers, joggers, baby-buggy pushers, wheel-chair travelers, bird watchers, little kids with training wheels on their bikes, you name it.

ECONOMICS. To judge by the economic impact of rail trails elsewhere, the Adirondack Rail Trail could be a bonanza for the Tri-Lakes. (Bicyclists are known among tourist promoters as “wallets on wheels.”) My wife Rachel and I have made a hobby of biking rail trails around the country, and we’ve seen first-hand how they stimulate business in rural towns. For example, the Virginia Creeper Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains — a region remarkably similar to ours – attracts some 250,000 trail riders a year. Many out-of-towners frequent local bike shops in Abingdon and Damascus, eat at local restaurants, stay at local hotels and motels, patronize art galleries, book stores, etc. Interestingly, the Virginia Creeper Trail is the same length — 34 miles — as the upcoming Adirondack Rail Trail.

Another great biking destination is the 20-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail linking Greenville and Traveler’s Rest, SC. Both places — the revitalized city at one end and the little village at the other — have benefitted enormously from this rail trail.

The Swamp Rabbit attracts more than half-a-million annual visits, according to a study by adjoining Furman University, whose students and faculty also make good use of this recreational amenity. Another favorite destination of ours is the Withlacoochee State Trail, which runs 46 miles from Citrus Springs to Dade City in central Florida. The state estimates “annual attendance” on the trail at over 400,000, with a direct economic impact of $30,139,500. The state also estimates that the trail supports 422 jobs and generates over $2 million in state sales tax.

HEALTH. Rail trails also provide an easy way for people of all ages to stay fit and healthy. What a great way to get regular exercise and enjoy nature at the same time! It’s no surprise that the Swamp Rabbit Trail down south and the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail in Vermont are strongly supported by local hospitals. Rail trails are used for regular exercise (pedaling, walking or running) by folks of all ages and physical ability, from toddlers to centenarians. Many enjoy using rail rails for bicycle commuting. Others may bike before or after work (or school), or take a refreshing ride or walk on the trail during a lunch break. Those who are really gung-ho will be able to ride the entire Adirondack Rail Trail in one shot, pedaling from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake one day and back again the next.

HISTORY. Rail trails are an ideal vehicle for celebrating our past and the Tri-Lakes lends itself to historic interpretation. The Adirondack Rail Trail will start (or end) at the Olympic Village of Lake Placid, site of the Winter Games of 1932 and 1980 and the place where winter sports began in this country. Ten miles down the trail is Saranac Lake, once a world-famous center for the treatment of tuberculosis, with its unique cure-cottage and cure-porch architecture. Twenty-four miles farther on is Tupper Lake, once the center of the state’s lumbering industry and now home to the natural history museum of the Adirondacks. On the way to Tupper, bike riders will skirt the Saint Regis Canoe Area and other portions of the New York’s “forever wild” Forest Preserve, the nation’s first and most important experiment in wilderness preservation. The Adirondack Rail Trail can help celebrate this history by using interpretive signs and kiosks, and adapting station buildings for this purpose.

The Adirondack Rail Trail has been a long time coming but it’s been well worth the wait. The old railroad, which did so much to open up the Adirondacks, operated from the 19th to the mid-20th centuries. Finally, it seems, our state-owned travel corridor will once again be put to a beneficial public purpose.

Photo of bikers on the Virginia Creeper Rail Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia by Richard Smith.

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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).




58 Responses

  1. Smitty says:

    I’m very excited. Can’t wait to ride from Tupper. Any idea when the rail trail will be ready? Should give a much needed boost to Tupper and Saranac Lakes.

  2. Boreas says:

    Smitty,

    Don’t pump up your tires yet. I foresee at least one more lawsuit before anything happens.

    • Kevin says:

      A lawsuit from who?

      • Boreas says:

        Anyone. ASR, history buffs, environmentalists, landowners, etc., etc.. Basically, anyone wishing to delay or stop the project. Even if Judge Main’s objections are all mitigated, it doesn’t mean another suit cannot be brought for a different reason.

  3. Steve Bailey says:

    As an avid cyclist, I’m excited as well.

    It’s not, however, like the Virginia Creeper in some respects, except length. The TL-LP trail is in a much more remote area of the Adirondacks as compared to Virginia. From TL it’s 8 ish miles one-way to the only real road crossing at Floodwood. Then another 7 or so to Lake Clear. Lot of empty woods back there and I question how popular that will be for families whose children might not manage a 14 or 15 mile round trip bike ride, with no amenities along the way, The LP to Saranac section will probably get a lot of use and I hope the section near Tupper as well, as that town needs the tourist traffic.

    Maybe the state will get smart and install a bridge across the stream that connects Rollins Pond to Floodwood. That’ll connect the trail to the Rollins/Fish Creek campgrounds. I can see the bridge being a legal fight though.

    • Hope says:

      There is a proposed connection to Rollins Pond in the current plan.

    • Joe Hansen says:

      Steve, An LP to Saranac trail will in some ways have more services than the Creeper Trail. The section of trail from Abingdon to Damascus has services but after that not so much. Whitetop is pretty much just the top of the hill with nothing to offer, whereas Lake Placid or Tupper depending on how you go both offer food, lodging and entertainment.

      • Steve Bailey says:

        Agree with you Joe.

        It’s not the LP to Saranac section I was referring to, it’s the Tupper north to Lake Clear section that I think might need some attention to offer services. It’s a reasonably empty area. Possibly the connection to Rollins and Fish Creek will provide some good riding opportunities for the less experienced.

  4. Larry Roth says:

    Thanks to Dick Beamish for recycling every debunked talking point the trail advocates have been putting out for years – decades even. It’s a wonderful vision – as long as a few things are not allowed to intrude on it.

    Never mind that an investment in trails around and alongside the rails, coupled with real investment in the rail line would have a far greater economic impact and multiply the benefits for both. Never mind those who are only using the trail as an excuse to get rid of the rails. Never mind the easement issues that are still unsettled, or the historic preservation laws that are being ignored. Never mind the special interests who expect to benefit at the public’s expense. Never mind that the lawsuit showed the whole process the state used to justify the trail was flawed from the beginning. Never mind that the trail people have now shown they never intended to honor the so-called compromise – they want it all. Never mind that the trail will exclude an entire class of visitors who want the rail option over driving. Never mind that ripping out the rails means committing the region to nothing but highways for transportation. Never mind that none of the trail advocates are even thinking about what climate change is doing to the region, or why a working rail line is critical for the future of the Adirondacks. Never mind that this will narrow the economic base of the region and make it more vulnerable to disruption. Never mind all the people along the rail corridor and elsewhere who want the rails restored. Never mind the parking problems in the towns and the trail heads because cars are the only way to reach the area. Never mind the declining snowmobile registrations and decreasing snowfall. Never mind that the ‘free’ trail will need constant upkeep and has no way to pay for that upkeep – except taxpayer dollars. Never mind that it’s the 21st century and car-centric policies are no longer justifiable when we need more choices, not fewer. Never mind explaining how one more trail in a region full of trails is going to be the one that makes all the difference. Never mind that the rest of the world is investing in rail – next door too in Massachusetts and Connecticut, including rail with trail and bikes on trains. Never mind that the tri-lakes will just become one more stretch of trail to be ridden out of hundreds, instead of a prime destination on the national rail network. Never mind that the trail is all about today, and not where the area will be in just a few years.

    As it happens, there are people who are not prepared to ignore all of that. Mr. Beamish may be trying to take a pre-emptive victory lap to make people think the trail is a done deal. Hopefully reasonable people will reject the exclusionary trail-only vision for something more grounded in long-term actual needs and not immediate gratification. Rail with trail is still the best use of the corridor, and playing games with words won’t change that.

    • Boreas says:

      Larry,

      Never mind your talking points ignore what the state actually proposed – namely rail AND trail, with only the final 34 miles being repurposed for a trail. Not all of us share Mr. Beamish’s optimism, at least in the near future. I expect the corridor to continue to sit dormant until all of the dust settles. Then the state will have to look at what is the most practical option at that point for a corridor that has deteriorated even further.

    • Big Burly says:

      Thank you Mr. Roth. The recent APA ruling to redefine what is transportation in this corridor seems like a huge stretch of what is the convention definition tested over the years. It does not however address the other compelling issues of reversionary rights, environmental issues, historic preservation and a couple of other items. Trails with rails probably requires the folks like Mr. Beamish to think beyond the limit of his imagination. Many many thousands more people have filed their support for upgrade of the rails and trails — the 1996 UMP. Beamish seems stuck on the decades old notion of keeping the DAKs for the elite, like so many others seeking to rip up the rails.

      • Boreas says:

        Elite?? So people with money to spend on excursion train tickets are salt of the earth and people wishing to exercise and enjoy nature at their own speed and convenience are “elite”? Do you people hear yourselves?

        • Big Burly says:

          Boreas, your last question above is a great question to ask all those with opinions in this. Not sure what other ways you follow the debates that ebb and flow around access to the DAKs and use of the resource. Elitism still exists and there is much NIMBY thinking. Imputing that only RR riders are salt of the earth ??? The quality of your interventions in this issue over the years has been so much better. What is most regrettable in all this ??? the continuing stagnation — those of us who live here have earned better planning and execution by the entity we pay taxes to.

    • ben says:

      Never mind that you just WANT TO CONTINUE to rehash the same old worn out piss & moan for the rail folks. You are like a broken record. Repeat, repeat, repeat the same old crap too.;

  5. Bryan says:

    Dick, like most naive trail enthusiasts you love keeping the blinders on! You only see what you need to see. You cannot fathom the idea of a shared corridor rather than ripping out potentially significant prosperity in a fully developed railroad in order to have your bike trail going for endless boring miles in a straight line through forest tunnels and fields. Don’t mention that the trails will not be used by many people, especially in the winter and certainly not in the rain. Don’t even consider access if an emergency arrises or the problem with tics and other wild creatures you may encounter. But a railroad with a trail serves to work together to allow everyone to fully enjoy the potential of the rail corridor. Oh, and one more thing. The trail does not have to conform to the rail trail. It can go anywhere. So leave the railroad alone, you silly thinking man!

    • Boreas says:

      Bryan,

      The STATE rejected the idea of a side-by-side trail, not trail enthusiasts. Why does it keep coming up as an argument against trails and trail enthusiasts? It is the state and taxpayers that you need to convince to build a side-by-side trail, not trail enthusiasts. Until then, it is a dead issue in this corridor.

    • Curt Austin says:

      Rail With Trail is nonsense, promoted only as a poison pill. Just look at the TRAC home page, which shows a photo of a locomotive with an empty trail nearby – genuine trail advocates, including Rail With Trail advocates, would never fail to show happy people using a trail. The only other photo shows a crowd with “save the rails” placards. The issue is feasibility, a word that appears nowhere.

      The longest RWT in the US is 22 miles. The median length of actual parallel trail and rail is 2.8 miles. Even counting the full length of trails with parallel sections, RWT’s only account for 2.6% of all rail trails. According Carl Knoch, former regional director of Rails to Trails Conservancy, there are no RWT’s in terrain like ours in the east.

      Don’t be fooled by rail advocates posing as trail advocates.

      • James Falcsik says:

        Cark Knoch is also the author of the rail trail study paid for by ARTA. Knoch frequently posts photos of the New Freedom, PA, Train Station….while conveniently selecting an angle or photo-shopping out the still active heritage tourist railroad tracks… in order to promote the Heritage Rail Trail. Not even a mention in his op-ed pieces that the HRT is rail-with-trail. No fooling here; it is all hypocrisy.

  6. Bellota says:

    Kudos! Maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to bike safely and recreationally close to home instead of journeying to Quebec Province or Vermont

  7. Rennie says:

    Why aren’t bicycles required to have insurance if they are otherwise supposed to operate as motor vehicles? Consider the liability of accidents on public property, and the inevitable conflict between cyclists on the narrow remote path and wildlife reintroduction efforts, such as moose or predators who may not understand these bicycling tourists are a valuable commodity? Everything else in NY has to be insured these days, and since any death or injury lawsuit against the state will effect us all, shouldn’t we demand bicycle insurance, especially for the children? I’m surprised insurance lobbyists in Albany have been asleep on this issue? That would also help defray the costs of patrols and inspections for safety too, maybe a registration system?

    • John Blair says:

      I agree. bicyclists are increasingly demanding massive infrastructure projects. I have started a group on Facebook, The Free Ride Is Over, to address the bicycle problem. Join Us!!! https://www.facebook.com/groups/908092539227920/?ref=bookmarks

    • Steve Bailey says:

      Well let’s start with the fact that a bicycle is not a motorized vehicle. The current (NY) state laws clump non-motorized bicycles with motorized vehicles due to antiquated laws and concepts as to how bicycles interact with and use our current on and off road infrastructure. There are so few accidental interactions with cycles and pedestrians (as compared to automobiles as example) that cause serious injury as to make the entire concept of requiring insurance a ludicrous proposal. Are you going to require that kayaks and canoes likewise be required to carry insurance on the off chance they might injure a swimmer ?, or that a kayaker that overturned on a windy lake might sue the state ?. And let’s set up a mandatory registration for all hiking area’s and all watercraft using state waterways, while we are at it.

      Your concerns about bicycles are absurd, sorry.

      • James Falcsik says:

        Cyclists are few in number compared to pedestrians and autos, which is a factor in why the incident rate is lower. In my area cycle commuters only account for less than 2% of the city traffic. Cyclists are beholden to the same traffic laws, and also the same fault criteria when assessing blame for damages; except bike riders are not required to carry insurance. If damage from is incurred from an at-fault cyclist the motorist only has the option to file suit in a small claims court to collect damages. Cyclist should be required to register the bike and be licensed, including similar fee structures, and carry insurance, especially since the public is forced to fork out increasing amounts of tax dollars for bike infrastructure.

  8. Kevin S says:

    I know that ASR will not be able to sue, as they barely have the funds available to operate at this point. I think the rail/trail is a great idea though. Why not have both in place?

    • David P Lubic says:

      ” Why not have both in place?”

      Good question!! It seems doable, would certainly be a better option even if it cost a bit more.

      We rail supporters wonder why the trail crowd has such animus against us.

      • Kevin says:

        As a former employee of the ASR, I can tell you they are headed for certain financial ruin. It’s incredibly poorly managed and the management is literally stealing thousands from it. I support the railroad 100%, but until the entire management there changes, it should not be ASR on those tracks. I wish another company or organization could operate there.

        • Big Burly says:

          I made it my business after reading this post by Kevin to find out just how credible this person’s comments might be. I learned he was terminated for cause after using disparaging and vulgar language with fellow female employees. As for the poor management claim, the cause for termination puts his value judgment in serious question. Not for profit operations such as ASR have a different metric about finances than for profit companies and most folks do not understand the differences. As for the claim of theft, if this person knew about it why did he not report it when employed? The ASR management over the years, aided in huge measure by the efforts of tens of thousands of volunteers has reclaimed and rebuilt in partnership with NYS DoT dozens of miles of the ROW and provided transportation adventures to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of happy customers. This person’s credibility is nil.

          • Kevin says:

            I reported it when I was employed and the very next day I was let go because my position had been eliminated. I’ve never used vulgar language around female coworkers though, even in my military career. I did however, report the theft to the government and they are actively investigating, which is a step in the right direction.

  9. Paul says:

    The state has clear title to all of the land that constitutes this rail bed correct? There are no RR rights of way issues that might cause loss of the ROW if the corridor is no longer used for a RR? Making sure they have all their ducks in a row. The state sometimes has trouble making sure they have everything figured out. Remember the access road to the Madawaska area. The ROW there was for logging not hikers and paddlers – landowner locks gate state loses access rights. Oooops. I guessed they fixed that one probably cost some dough.

  10. Rennie says:

    Right now they are trucking in snow and using bucket loaders to build snowmobile trail, yeah, more feasible than rail that are there 365 days a year, and with snow removal and track maintenance equipment that can keep them open despite what nature throws at us. How many thousands of miles of poorly or unmaintained hiking, bike and snowmobile trails exist across the park versus the few hundred at most of rail? And the bottom line, I can afford a train ticket, but making this region exclusive to cyclists or snowmobile makes it inaccessible to me and others like me to enjoy. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? More of making Upstate Gov. Andy’s private playground while they turn it into a seasonal resort ghost town where natives have to pack up and leave if they hope to make a living anywhere else. The Upstate depopulation scheme is working marvelously.

  11. Kevin says:

    I mean it’s not like the rails from thendara forward will be used by anyone anyhow.

  12. Susan says:

    Sounds like this would be a wonderful bike trail! My husband and I love adding riding rail trails to our mix of outdoor recreation activities. Being boomers in our 60s we’ve often biked 35ish miles, stayed overnight, and biked back as a weekend getaway, often with another couple. This, by the way, includes 3 nights of lodging and eating (at start, enroute, & finish points) as well as other meals during the days. Biking would be a nice additional activity, too, to canoeing and hiking while staying in the area.

  13. Lakechamplain says:

    Thanks for this article Mr. Beamish; such a breath of fresh air from the seemingly countless go arounds we’ve had here about the rail trail. As a few posters have noted above most of these points defending the ASR have been made, with slight variations, over and over again. I appreciate the passion of these people but in my humble opinion, when it comes down to what is the best usage for the most people for this unique piece of land, the bike/snowmobile trail wins out. (And it’s been said over and over again, due to multiple valid reasons, the railroad and bike trail cannot coexist on this narrow cut).

    What I’d like this forum to be focusing on when it comes to the rail trail are the things that can be done to make this trail succeed in both improving the quality of life for residents, for offering some business opportunities for entrepreneurs, and oh yeah, bolstering the economic lifeblood of the Trip-Lakes area, namely tourism. Hopefully the rail trail can be one of the many “to do’s” when planning a vacation trip here(and yes that includes snowmobilers).

    I would like to see the Mayors, and/or the local Chambers of Commerce get together and organize some workshops and committees of people from the Tri Lakes to put together some sort of organization to coordinate how the trail can be used effectively for the most good. I have no idea if NCCC or Paul Smiths have any business-related majors, but students at those colleges could be a great place to start throwing some ideas about how to have the rail trail best serve the needs and wants of the area. This association, if formed could coordinate everything from publicity to tourist promotions; a key factor being that local people are involved.

    The rail trail by itself is never going to be an economic game changer but if ‘developed’ and maintained effectively, can be an important part of attracting people to visit here and yes, live here as well. Mainly the bike trail will be a recreational trail for mainstream bikers. Most mountain bike riders won’t be interested in a fairly level trail, and the high-enders with their costly bikes, most likely won’t be interested either due to factors like the surface(proposed) or again the lack of elevation changes. But for average riders, for families in particular, this trail offers a safe level of biking which is not available on the narrow, heavily traveled roads around the three villages.

    Some ideas I would suggest might work is having small, seasonal bike shops, with rentals offered, in the three ‘hubs’. How about a shuttle service that would allow riders to take a one-way trip from let’s say LP to TL, have lunch and then get a lift back to LP? Would it benefit businesses like diners and restaurants to put up a kiosk-type structure where the parking areas and trail is, to promote their place as a great place to take a break for some food and drink?

    There are so many possibilities but to get these off the ground requires some organization and, I say hopefully, a reduction or an end to this constant sniping on sites like this and elsewhere. Hope springs eternal.

    • Hope says:

      There is already a stakeholders group consisting of town and village officials, DEC, DOT, ORDA, ARTA, NYSSA, and other folks involved with historic preservation and marketing. They have been meeting regularly to work on all aspects of this Rail Trail. ARTA will most likely, morph into a Friends of the Rail Trail group once DEC/DOT take over the building of the trail. We will be looking for membership, outreach and will fundraiser for trail amenities. This trails going to be great for locals and visitors alike.

      • Lakechamplain says:

        Thanks Hope for this encouraging information. Please keep ‘us’ posted on the evolution of your suggested ‘Friends of the Rail Trail’ group. I would be willing to be a part of a group like this, even if that involvement only included donating money to its work.

        There are so many people around here with myriad talents and skills to offer to make this work. I recall a few months back when on here there was an informative discussion about the surface for the proposed trail, with a lot of intelligent ideas offered. My suggestion about the mayor’s being involved could segue into the possibilities of obtaing grants via the state and/or federal gov’ts. to facilitate bike shop/rentals/shuttles at the hubs. I admit to not knowing if this idea is feasible but it’s worth looking into.

        But as I noted in my initial post, it is time for the fresh air of ideas to make this work that is long overdue, and your post fits that to a t.

  14. James Falcsik says:

    The comment by Lakechamplain is indicative of how misguided folks are about how economic growth occurs in any given area, especially with regard to tourism venues. Authors like Mr. Beamish are responsible for this misunderstanding, yet he and others won’t be held accountable if economic growth does not materialize.

    Lake Champlain writes: “Hopefully the rail trail can be one of the many “to do’s” when planning a vacation trip here(and yes that includes snowmobilers).” Folks that would plan a vacation and come to the AP whether or not the rail trail exists would do so regardless, and have but one thing less to do. Their economic contribution is not new, and therefore would not create growth. Same goes for the sleds; they ride where there is snow, moving from place to place depending on the weather. The trail economy is mostly based on redistribution; where there is a gain in one place there is a loss in another. Even the economic impact statement paid for by by the NYSDEC using largely ARTA generated data acknowledged this.

    Mr Beamish continues to use sources of information that are created and paid for by the bike and trail lobby and should be understood for what it really is; propaganda. This from a man who so blatantly exaggerated the Virginia Creeper Trail and the Pine Creek Trail overnight visitor counts; his op-ed piece has no credibility.

    • Steve Bailey says:

      This is not the case. There are countless examples of where rails-to-trail conversions have seen resulting development in the surrounding communities. Examples such as the GAP trail in western PA with B&B’s opening along it’s length and new shuttle service companies in Cumberland Maryland, the Duchess Rail Trail in Duchess County which as seen new businesses in Hopewell Junction and in Poughkeepsie open up, the Harlem Valley Rail Trail with business opening in Millerton and Copake Falls, new deli’s and bike shops along the North County Trail in Westchester County, and these are just on trails that I personally have ridden and seen where new business are cropping up.

      There are hundreds of additional examples across the US such as the the Island Line Trail in Burlington or The Erie Canal Trail, which has seen supporting development all along its length ands sees a yearly ride, which in 2018 saw 650 riders visiting and stopping in towns along the route. The Canadian Petit Du Nord in Quebec sees treemendous usage and it can be hard to book lodging along here during the summer months. Rail Trail development certainly does create a “build it and they will come environment” and is the primary reason there is support for these rail conversions in the local communities.

      As well, if you follow any of the cycling forums, there are active cyclists who are continually seeking out these kind of travel destinations. I have choices of trails in eastern Maine, sections of western Vermont and hopefully the Tupper – LP trail. I would certainly do a separate visit to explore and ride the Tupper-LP trail, which means I’m spending money in the communities.

      • James Falcsik says:

        Steve, How many new B&B’s have opened in West Newton, PA, on the GAP? There used to be two, now there is one. After almost 35 years. I live 8 miles from the GAP and know from observation what it looks line on the ground.

        I won’t deny there are a few new businesses, but there is no other non-trail advocacy data to show regional economic growth. Population has been continuously declining in West Newton since 1970. Property values and personal income data are lower than surrounding communities of similar size that do not have a bike trail. I have been collecting my own hotel tax data on the trail towns and I am having a hard time finding the $50M+ economic impact claimed by the trail advocacy. Hotel taxes collected in West Newton in 2017 was just under $7K for the year. In addition, the trail advocacy data published includes local contributions and gross merchandise sales figures which are mischievous attempts to enlarge the dollar value impact.

        No bike trail is going to replace the kind of economic impact that manufacturing provided to these small towns.

        You may be a primary purpose trail user, but most uses are not. Most users are local or considered “time switchers” or “casuals” and their spend contributions are not attributable to the growth equation. Along the GAP from Pittsburgh to Cumberland 85% of all trips originated and ended at the same trail head. Nearly 60% of users were residents of Western PA.

        I’ll tell you who is making lots of money on the rail trail is the special lending firms (who advertise the $50M impact value) taking federal tax dollars to buy property along the trails and write loans to people who otherwise can’t get financing to open a business. That is another circumstance the bike and trail boosters won’t acknowledge as a cost factor in the trail economy.

        The numbers are big from advocacy, but the real measures in the communities are not same. West Newton raised property taxes in town 20% in 2018; with so much alleged economic boost from the GAP how did they do the math on that?

  15. Steve Bailey says:

    James,

    No advocate of a rail trail is going to claim that it can ever provide the kind of revenue generation from additional tourism that a major manufacturing plant can do. But the economics are that International Paper is not re-opening a plant in Tupper. Not going to happen. That’s not the argument and has never been, which is can a RT conversion help to generate income to local communities via increased tourism.

    Among the economic development support choices to be made here in the ‘Daks are is it worthwhile to make use of and improve the existing infrastructure in such a way as to help the local communities. You’re argument is that the state investing in a infrastructure change is going to do nothing helpful for the community and that’s not true. Using the GAP as an example (and there are hundreds of other similar), there are likely hundreds of people (I’d guess over a thousand) who ride the GAP yearly and they either camp or stay in local lodging. They use the restaurants, B&B’s and other local business (groceries, etc…). There are 36 B’B’s and places of lodging listed on a website for the GAP alone from Boston PA to Cumberland MD., and you cannot state that their businesses are no better due to the presence of the GAP. From one report “Businesses had reported an overall increase in trail user traffic from 34% in 2013 to 41% in 2014. Their reported international traffic was 6%, up 1% from last year. 40% of the businesses planned to expand and of those reported to expand 67% attributed their expansion to the impact from the trail”.

    I have seen benefits from the expansion of rail trails and I’m confident that it’s a positive change and is beneficial to the communities. Sorry you disagree.

    • James Falcsik says:

      Steve; my opposition to the plan is not the value, or lack of value, a rail trail brings to the region. My opposition is the subject of trail economics is not truthfully presented. I am opposed to the end-justifies-the-means from trail/sled boosters who regard rail supporters as enemies; the community divisiveness from this debate will linger for a long time.

      Explanations about the terms user, visitor, Primary Purpose, never appear in the trail booster claims for this trail; all these are important to understanding how a trail economy works. The average reader probably believes very person who bikes or runs a sled on the ROW is a “visitor” and therefore is the “wallets-on-wheels” as described by Mr. Beamish.

      From the beginning, ARTA claimed “free” rail trail conversion. Then the author of this op-ed claimed in two different newspapers 13 months apart the VCT attracted 100,000 overnight visitors when the real number that contributes the most to the VCT economic impact was less than 6,000.

      I am a trail user; I have been on the GAP more times than I can count. I have been a visitor and user to many western PA trails. These have been converted without controversy by legitimate methods. The cost of converting, building and maintaining rail trails nearing 40 years is very high, north of $100M alone for the 132 mile GAP section mentioned. In the last 10 years the GAP organization has still received on average $1.8M annually for trail projects.

      The data you quoted was produced and paid for by the Progress Fund; this is a company that receives federal grant money and uses it to make loans with special terms and rates for tourism and recreation venues; several are directly involved with the GAP. The data is not about producing the truth of economic return; it is about getting money for the next study or batch of loans. The data is produced to support a position or agenda. When you get into the real numbers of what 34% and 40% is, the hard truth is fewer businesses responded to the survey than in the previous data collection effort.

      The published data means nothing because the surveys are designed around a predetermined outcome from the beginning. The undeniable fact is most trail users are local patrons and their spending does not create economic growth.

      As for the B&B’s and restaurants along the GAP, has anyone considered any other growth metric in the western PA example area that might be contributing to their appearance, like the shale gas boom that is having a measurable economic impact all over the PA/OH/WV area? No, the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau will likely claim it is all tourism because that helps in their quest for taxpayer funding as well as legitimizes their existence.

      I stated in my other post I do not deny there are new businesses along the GAP. However, I see the empty store fronts and empty streets in West Newton (and others) and the terms “economic boon” as described by this op-ed author are far from reality. Users are plenty, but spenders are few, and that might have as much to do with broad changes in retail spending (i.e Amazon, etc.) that is not accounted for. What do you think Steve? If the government leaders in the DAk’s were told economic facts about the R-LP that more align with reality in conversion cost and a much more moderate expectation on economic growth, would this trail plan still be “on track”? Perhaps it still would. I disagree with you, but I respect your opinion.

  16. ben says:

    This is a argument that is not going to be decided on here or other post. The state made a decision to try a compromise & fix the rails from Big Moose to Tupper Lake & put a multi use trail from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid. The rail folks disagree & want it all, even thought the Army Corps of Engineers have said building a side by side rail/trail from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid ISNOT feasible. SO what do we have, a continuation of a squabble between the ARPS/ASR folks & the state. The state is going forward with their plan; the ARPS/ASR folks are still stuck in Old Forge/Big Moose as far as their trains can run. The tracks between Big Moose & Tupper Lake continue to rot away. Keep arguing & the state may build their trail but go all the way back to Big Moose because a trail is more cost effective than rehabbing the rotting rail lines south of Tupper Lake. It’s call a compromise: rail folks will get to run trains to Tupper Lake & trail folks will get a multi use trail from there to Lake Placid. Keep the arguing up & rail folks may not get anything at all! If I was a rail person, I’d be working with the state to figure out what I need to do to fix/rehab the rails north from Big Moose to Tupper Lake & how I can fix that crap you call a scenic railroad down south in Old Forge. Keep arguing & the state may just decide to build a trail on their corridor all the way to Remsen!

    • Kevin says:

      Well said!

      • Lakechamplain says:

        I second Kevin’s point.

        The trail is gonna happen; let’s all try to work together to make it not only happen but help it develop–there will be bumps in the road–into yet another factor in bolstering both the quality of life in the Tri-lakes area and in attracting more visitors to our beautiful region.

    • Steve Bailey says:

      I cannot see the state extending a recreational trial (I.E. gravel trial for bikes) between Tupper and Big Moose. Its 45 long empty miles with pretty much nothing back in there. I don’t see that attracting families and casual or other-than-long distance cyclists. There are road access points at Horseshoe, Sabbatis, maybe Neheshane (which is wilderness and closed to bikes) and at Beaver River, which is very limited ferry access only. Thus the LP to Saranac and Tupper corridor seemed the most attractive to the rail-trail advocates. Take the rails out and it becomes a very attractive snowmobile route.

      • Hope says:

        Long distance family bike camping is a big deal out west. No reason it wouldn’t happen here. No different than paddling a boat into Lake Lila or Lows Lake. Pack your gear on the bike and go. There are already accessible places to camp along the tracks and others can be added. Heck, those that want to can tow in a boat and paddle or fish remote ponds. I know a couple of fishermen who can’t wait to be able to do that. What a great trip to start in Lake Placid or Old Forge and peddle and camp along the way. To the other end and shuttle or ride back. My personal preference is the trail from Tupper to Big Moose because it is more of an adventure and more remote. But a stop at Beaver River would also be fun.

  17. Carl Voorhees says:

    I will continue to press Albany to preserve the railroad right of way and keep the tracks functional. We have no shortage of hiking trails but historic railroads are rapidly disappearing. I would like it to remain an operational railroad and find an operator who would use it occasionally.

    • Kevin says:

      If they could find an operator that would use it continously and maintain the tracks, that would be awesome. I dont know if you’ve been up that way, but the tracks are really bad.

  18. Warren Pease says:

    I find it more compelling to read a Russian novel than all these rail/trail comments.

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