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Rail trail to Saranac Lake should be built with cyclists in mind

February 18, 2016
Editorial , Lake Placid News

If the state of New York tears up the 34 miles of railroad tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake to create a recreational trail - as it is poised to do - we encourage the trail architects to pave the 11-mile section between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake in order to increase the variety of recreational activities.

When the Adirondack Park Agency staff and commissioners were discussing the Adirondack rail trail proposal Thursday, Feb. 11, one thing was clear. No matter the future use of the 119-mile railroad right-of-way between Remsen and Lake Placid, the entire stretch will remain as a "travel corridor."

This is an important distinction. As a "railroad" corridor, the use is obviously one-sided. Travel, whether it is for the Adirondack Scenic Railroad tourist attraction, passenger service or freight, is achieved mainly by a train on railroad tracks, even though snowmobilers and cross-country skiers have been able to use the tracks in the winter. Rail bikes have also been used between Saranac Lake and Lake Clear in the summer. As a "travel" corridor, it widens the interpretation of "travel" to mean bicycling, skiing, snowmobiling, walking, running, etc.

Article Photos

Here are the railroad tracks looking toward Lake Placid from state Route 86 in Saranac Lake.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

When the state officially splits the use of the travel corridor - 85 miles for the railroad between Remsen and Tupper Lake and 34 miles of recreation path between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid - it will be a multi-use travel corridor. Yet, no matter the use, the state Department of Transportation will retain jurisdiction over the corridor.

The APA decided last week that the amendment to the travel corridor's Unit Management Plan - splitting it into two sections with different uses - conformed with the general guidelines and criteria of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. That was a major hurdle in creating the recreation path.

Furthermore, the APA reinforced that the entire travel corridor is its own unit in the SLMP, just as the High Peaks Wilderness Area and the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest are their own units. That's why the corridor needs its own UMP. Even though the use changes in the 34-mile section north of Tupper Lake, the travel corridor remains intact and is not added to adjoining Forest Preserve units such as the St. Regis Canoe Area, where travel restrictions are more stringent.

In his Feb. 11 slide show, APA staffer Walt Linck presented images of other rail trails in the country to illustrate how the Tupper Lake-Lake Placid trail could look, whether the path is packed dirt, gravel or asphalt. Eventually, it will be up to state officials to decide the construction materials used, and we urge them to use asphalt between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. We don't yet have an opinion on the trail material south of Saranac Lake.

As Linck was making his points, he mentioned that residents may want to use the travel corridor between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid to commute throughout the year. That could mean a variety of activities, such as road biking or cross-country skiing. We don't believe this is a pie-in-the-sky idea. It is all too real for road cyclists who dread the trip along state Route 86 between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, especially the many cyclists in Lake Placid training for various events. The Route 86 bike lanes are narrow and dangerous, and many people avoid this section.

Paving the 11-mile rail trail between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid would give bike commuters, athletes and recreational road cyclists a safe mode of travel, opening it up to more users who can find wider and safer bike lanes out of Saranac Lake to the north and west. We're certain people would take advantage of an asphalt trail - even Olympic hopefuls training on roller skis in the summer - and we don't think it will take away from other uses, such as running, hiking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.

The rail trail should not just be for recreation. The fact that this is a travel corridor means that it is essentially a roadway under DOT jurisdiction. It's a recreational roadway, but a roadway nonetheless, and it should be created to include road cyclists and non-vehicular commuters.



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