There’s a wonderful opportunity that has been staring us in the face—the opportunity to open up a whole new recreational dimension in the Adirondacks that will also provide important economic benefits.
The map above suggests the possibilities. Right now, it’s a dangerous, even death-defying proposition to bicycle between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The traffic on Route 86 is heavy in the summer and fall; the shoulder is narrow and rutted. But now consider this: With the train tracks removed, the public would have a safe, serene, and scenic bikeway connecting the Placid and Saranac train stations. As a free-wheeling tourist or a local commuter, you could comfortably cover the nine-mile route in less than an hour.
And that’s just the start. If the bikeway were extended the twenty-five miles beyond that, from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake, you’d be able to cycle with ease through some of the wildest, most beautiful lake country in the northeastern United States. It would take about two hours nonstop, but why do that when you can stop to swim, watch loons, picnic by a wilderness lake, or try your luck at fishing? Taken together, the entire thirty-four-mile stretch from Placid to Tupper could become one of the finest biking trails anywhere—and that’s really saying something.
Nationwide, these rail-to-trail conversions have been a recreational and economic boon. For example, the sixty-two-mile Pine Creek trail through the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania” contributes $3-5 million each year to local communities, while the state’s much longer Allegheny Passage trail brings in $40 million a year from bicycling tourists. From Cape Cod to the Carolinas, the success stories are legion.
Now, in the northern Adirondacks, it’s our turn. For the past ten years a tourist train has operated from May to mid-October on the nine miles of track between Placid and Saranac. This enterprise has cost many millions in government subsidies but has produced very little in economic returns. The town of North Elba, through which the tourist train runs, wants to use the railroad line as a bikeway. At first, a rail plus trail was contemplated, but a subsequent study found that constructing a separate lane beside the tracks would be prohibitively expensive.
The inescapable conclusion: Remove the rails and use the right-of-way for biking, hiking, walking, jogging, and improved snowmobiling. From there, the next step is obvious: Continue the recreationway to Tupper Lake.
Consider the map again, and picture this. You pedal from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake through the woods and wetlands between the two villages, with mountain views on both sides. Once in Saranac, you ride around town and check out the unique cure-cottage architecture, stop at the Trudeau Laboratory and TB Museum, walk your bike down Main Street and visit the art galleries, lunch at a local bistro, pick up some goodies at the new bakery by the Saranac River (and stop at the Explorer office to share them with us), then return to the historic train station and head toward Tupper Lake.
On this stretch you’ll enjoy something very close to a wilderness experience on wheels as the trail skirts the St. Regis Canoe Area on the right and the Rollins Pond complex on the left.
At the western end of this extraordinary excursion, the village of Tupper Lake will finally assume its proper place as a major destination for outdoor aficionados. The trail terminates at the beautifully refurbished train station near the shore of Raquette Pond, the perfect locale for bike rentals and a railroad museum commemorating the great days of Adirondack train travel. From there you can cycle over to the Wild Center, the outstanding Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks; rent a canoe and explore lovely Tupper Lake or paddle up the alluring Raquette River; hike to the restored fire tower on Mount Arab a few miles to the west, or bike south on Route 30 and hike the nifty new trail up Coney Mountain. Afterwards dine at a local restaurant, visit a local watering hole, spend the night at a motel or B&B, and the next day (or a few days later) enjoy a leisurely return trip through the Adirondack wilds to Lake Placid, with entirely new views as you pedal east toward the High Peaks.
The rail-trail will serve cyclists from April to November. Without the tracks and the need for abundant snow to cover them, snowmobilers will be able to enjoy the Placid-Tupper route in greater numbers and for a much-longer winter season, securing Tupper’s place as a year-round tourist destination, with all the economic benefits that will bestow.
Let us know what you think of this idea! I hope you agree that it’s time we got rolling.
Dick Beamish, Chairman