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Railroad could become a world-class bikeway

July 8, 2011
Lake Placid News
To the editor:

Twelve years ago a tourist railroad was installed between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The operators predicted all sorts of economic benefits, none of which has materialized. Two years ago North Elba’s town supervisor described this government subsidized venture as “an economic boondoggle.”

Yet from May to October, the nearly empty tourist train continues to toot-toot back and forth between the two villages, blocking a far more salutary use of the railroad bed that connects the Tri-Lakes Area.

If the Town of North Elba can find the money to create a separate recreation trail to parallel the tourist train, more power to them. If they can’t, it’s time to move on and do what should have been done years ago. At little or no cost, the state can remove the ties and tracks, sell them for salvage, smooth over the rail bed, and voila — we have a trail from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake that is immediately suitable for mountain bikes. As funding becomes available, the surfacing can be upgraded to accommodate hybrid and road bikes.

The 9-mile stretch between the Olympic Village and Saranac Lake could be bicycled in an hour or less of safe, peaceful, healthy, scenic riding. What a wonderful way to exercise, enjoy family fun or commute to work, and what a boon for tourism and local businesses!

The U.S. Travel Association reports that bicycling is now the third most common vacation activity. More than 27 million Americans have taken a bicycling vacation in the past five years. And these folks tend to spend money. Having chosen a slower-paced mode of travel, they take time to explore the towns they visit and enjoy what makes them unique. They stop at museums, discover interesting shops, browse art galleries, sample local restaurants. They stay at inns, motels, B&Bs.

With the bikeway extended the next 25 miles from Saranac to Tupper, one could pedal with ease through some of the loveliest lake country in the Northeast. This classic route would serve cyclists from April to November. With the tracks removed, snowmobilers would also be able to enjoy the trail over a much-longer winter season.

Nationwide these rail-to-trail conversions have been hugely popular. For example, the 62-mile Pine Creek Trail through the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania” contributes up to $5 million each year to local communities, while the state’s much longer Allegheny Passage Trail brings in $40 million annually from bicycling tourists. From Cape Cod to the Paul Bunyan Trail in Minnesota, from Florida to Alaska, the success stories are legion.

Lake Placid has long been a leader in developing and promoting recreational opportunities. Isn’t it time to continue this tradition by creating a world-class bikeway in our own backyard?

Dick Beamish

Saranac Lake


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