By Dick Beamish
Governor Andrew Cuomo and bicycle riders please take note: the opportunity of a lifetime is staring us in the face! Bicycling is America’s fastest-growing outdoor activity and now second only to walking. The Adirondack Park can hugely benefit from this healthy national trend.
A detailed map shows the exciting possibilities. Follow the railroad tracks north from Saratoga, just outside the southeast corner of the Park. You can trace a potential 177-mile bike ride through the Adirondacks to Lake Placid, most of it on rail-to-trail conversions that are safely and serenely separated from roads and traffic. The route traverses endlessly scenic Adirondack landscapes and passes through friendly, historic settlements along the way.
Imagine that the old, obsolete tracks have been removed from these rail beds and replaced with a firmly packed surface suitable for road bikes as well as hybrids and mountain bikes. Imagine that you’re embarking on a one- or two-week biking adventure through America’s largest park outside Alaska!
North to adventure
On Day One you pedal north from Saratoga on the proposed Upper Hudson Rail Trail. This route extends eighty-seven miles from Saratoga to Newcomb, mostly along the upper reaches of the fast-flowing Hudson. Your pace can be leisurely or vigorous with your first overnight spent in Corinth (seventeen miles), Lake Luzerne (twenty-two miles), Warrensburg (thirty-five miles) or North Creek (fifty-seven miles). From North Creek it’s another twenty-nine miles to Newcomb, plus a twenty-mile round trip to Tahawus in the heart of the Park, close by the source of the Hudson River amid the state’s tallest peaks.
Next day it’s on to Long Lake, fourteen miles via bike-friendly State Route 28N. Don’t miss the Adirondack Visitor Interpretive Center on Rich Lake. You can also park your bike and hike up Goodnow Mountain for a panoramic view from the restored fire tower.
After a restful night in picturesque Long Lake village, you pedal north for twenty-three miles on State Route 30, with its wide, welcoming shoulders, rolling past woods, wetlands, lakes, and mountains to the historic lumber town of Tupper Lake. On the way, take a short hike up Goodman Mountain. Spend the night in Tupper, visit the Wild Center nature museum, and set off on the Adirondack Rail Trail (scheduled for completion next year). You can bike the entire thirty-four miles to Lake Placid in one day or, better yet, ride twenty-four miles and end the day in Saranac Lake, the quintessential Adirondack village that bills itself as “The Capital of the Adirondacks.”
It is only an hour’s ride from there to Lake Placid, the Olympic village with a variety of restaurants, lodgings and things to do in a lake-and-mountain setting. From here you can catch a bus back to Saratoga or shuttle to the Westport train station and return via Amtrak.
Rail-to-trail conversions on antiquated railroad lines have become important tourist destinations nationwide. The bikeway described here—the eighty-seven-mile Upper Hudson Rail Trail (Saratoga to Tahawus and Newcomb), the thirty-four-mile Adirondack Rail Trail (Tupper Lake to Lake Placid), and the thirty-seven miles of scenic state roads that connect them—could be one of the Park’s premier tourist attractions.
Rail trails also serve local residents, be they strollers, exercise walkers, runners, parents pushing baby buggies, bird-watchers, wheelchair users. Few developments of recent decades have done so much to enrich the quality of life for so many.
An economic boon
Rail trails also boost local economies. A review of some relevant successes tells the story. At last count, for example, the sixty-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail through the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania” attracted 138,227 annual visitors. The twenty-six-mile Lehigh Gorge Trail attracted 281,145 riders. In the Blue Ridge Mountains, the thirty-four-mile Virginia Creeper Trail draws 250,000 visitors annually and generates an estimated $25 million in tourist revenues. The Great Allegheny Passage, which runs 150 miles from Pittsburgh to the Potomac River in Maryland, registers over six hundred thousand visitors a year.
Meanwhile, the Lake Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, patterned in some ways after the Adirondack Park Agency, has for good reason gone all out to promote bikeways and bicycling. The agency reports that cyclists generate between $6 million and $23 million in direct annual expenditures to Lake Tahoe communities.
A tourist train has run sporadically on the route of the proposed Upper Hudson Rail Trail between Saratoga and North Creek. But the economic benefits have been negligible and the company’s claim of thirty thousand riders a year represents perhaps one-tenth of the usage our envisioned bikeway could attract.