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New rail trail signs temporary

New signs have been erected at rail trail sites such as this one on Old Military Road in Lake Placid. They are temporary during construction. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

SARANAC LAKE — The signs on the rail trail say “no pedestrians or bicycles,” and though the state contractor who put them up wants people to stay off the corridor for now, the company is not planning to enforce the ban.

National Salvage — the company the state Department of Transportation is contracting with to remove rails and ties on the 34-mile stretch of converted trail — installed signs at all entrances to the trail in Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Lake Clear and Lake Placid on Sept. 22.

One sign says motor vehicles and horses are not allowed on the trail, with the exception of snowmobiles. The other says pedestrians and bicycles are not allowed. This one is a temporary sign.

“This segment … remains an active construction zone and therefore — for the safety of the public — access is restricted unless otherwise authorized by permit,” DOT spokesperson Mike Flick wrote in an email.

The appearance of these signs alarmed some locals, who have been enjoying the flat, stony trail on foot and on bikes over the summer and into the fall. Some worried the signs mean the trail will be off limits to everyone but snowmobilers in its final form. Others were concerned they’d be arrested or ticketed for walking their dogs on the trail.

But the state says the signs are only temporary, and National Salvage President Victoria Schopp said no one will be arrested for taking a stroll along the former rail corridor connecting Tupper Lake and Lake Placid, but if pedestrians get too close to a work crew, “they’ll be asked to leave.” She said she just wants to keep everyone safe.

Barbara Kent, who lives near the trail in Saranac Lake and walks her dogs on the path several times a day, said the signs gave her a “sour taste” about the trail, but she said she was told by a National Salvage employee that she’d be fine to continue her daily walks as long as she stays out of the way of workers.

Schopp said after the job is done — she expects it to be finished in just a few weeks — the signs will be removed.

“The good news is that public access is imminent,” she said. “If the public will be patient, it will be a very short time and we will be off the site.”

In the meantime, she said the “last thing” she wants is for people to be in danger near her workers and equipment.

In a Facebook post about the signs, Kevin Woolley of Saranac Lake said he spoke with a few of the National Salvage workers.

“A few errant bikers already almost got hit by equipment,” he wrote.

“Some of the guys driving the trucks were saying ppl being in the trails is making it hard for them to do their clean up,” Nikki Christy, of Saranac Lake, wrote in a comment.

Schopp said just because a stretch of trail looks done, doesn’t mean crews won’t come back.

“They may appear to be finished, but we may have to return do do some punch list work,” she said.

Jim McCulley, a National Salvage employee and member of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, posted on the Facebook page “The ARTA” that the ban on pedestrians and bicycles will not be strongly upheld.

“The signs going up that say no bicycles or pedestrians are temporary. And will not be enforced,” he wrote.

State Police Troop B Public Information Officer Jennifer Fleishman said if troopers get a call about trespassing on the trail they’ll respond, but they won’t be monitoring the trail for enforcement.

Flick said the cost of the signs was included in the project’s contract.

Posts limiting vehicle access were also installed at trail entrances.

National Salvage also installed signs that say “No ATV’s (sic), horses, motor vehicles except snowmobiles.” These restrictions will remain in place after the trail is completed. ATVs are not allowed on any state trails.

Once completed, Flick said this shared-use path for hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers and snowmobile enthusiasts “will comprise some of the nation’s most majestic scenery.”

Work crews began removing rails last year from the railroad line, which originally opened in 1892 from Remsen to Malone as the Mohawk & Malone Railway and was later purchased by the New York Central Railroad. A spur connecting Lake Clear to Saranac Lake opened the same year. A railroad first connected Saranac Lake to Lake Placid in 1893.

The DOT still owns this corridor. It will transfer ownership to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to construct, operate and maintain the trail sometime after the DOT contractor finishes removing the rails, which Flick anticipates will be complete this fall. The total project cost is $1.9 million.

(Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn contributed to this story.)