Adirondack Rail Trail, while still under construction, is living up to expectations
By Phil Brown
Now that work crews have begun removing the tracks, many cyclists can’t wait to ride the Adirondack Rail Trail. I couldn’t wait either, so this week I rode more than a quarter of the yet-to-be-built trail on my mountain bike.
Starting on Floodwood Road, I biked about nine miles south to the village of Tupper Lake, passing through leafy forests and by pristine ponds, extensive bogs, beaver meadows, and a pair of moose. I saw enough to conclude that the rail trail, when finished, will live up to its billing as one of the premier cycling routes in the East.
I chose this stretch of the state-owned corridor because workers already had removed the rails and ties, leaving a surface of either crushed stone or packed dirt and cinders. Although too rough for an ordinary road bike, the unimproved railbed was suitable for mountain biking.
The finished rail trail will have a graded surface of compacted stone dust that should accommodate most road bikes.
Work on removing the rails and ties throughout the 34-mile corridor is expected to be done by fall, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The construction of the trail may take a few years. The department would not say whether hiking and biking will be allowed in the meantime, but it will write a management plan for the interim period.
My trip began at St. Regis Canoe Outfitters, where the rail corridor crosses Floodwood Road. As I started down the trail, I could see Floodwood Pond on my left. In about a mile, I passed a much smaller pond on the right. There are private camps along this stretch, accessed via a dirt road that parallels the trail.
Soon I came to the northern end of Rollins Pond, home to a state campground on its eastern shore. As much as I enjoyed the views of this large body of water, I was more entranced with a lovely kettle pond on the other side of the trail. It looked perfectly round, sitting in a spongy bog and ringed by tamarack trees.
In this vicinity I encountered a forklift pulling up the few remaining railroad ties on the Floodwood-to-Tupper segment. The operator let me pass and said he’d finish removing the ties the next day. I had to walk my bike a quarter-mile.
I passed a few more small ponds and enjoyed more views of Rollins. About 2.5 miles from Floodwood Road, the railbed surface changed from crushed stone (large gravel) to packed cinder and dirt, considerably easing travel. For the remaining 6.5 miles, it was like riding on a dirt road. I would have gladly swapped my mountain bike for a hybrid or gravel bike.
About three miles in, I had my last glimpse of Rollins Pond. Over the next six miles, the railbed crossed one wetland after another: bogs, beaver meadows and alder swamps. I spotted several beaver lodges. One of the wetlands afforded a view of a mountain to the northwest. Evidently, this was Floodwood Mountain, whose summit offers a superb view of region.
I was especially impressed by a large bog bordering the trail for more than a half-mile. By this time, I had crossed from state-owned lands to commercial timberlands, though I saw no evidence of logging. Soon I crossed a dirt road that traverses the timberlands.
Heading into Tupper
About 1.5 miles from Tupper Lake, I heard a loud crashing in the forest and slowed down. Perhaps startled by my bike, a moose scampered away from the trail and joined another moose, maybe 10 yards into the woods. They stared at me as I rode past. I didn’t dare stop lest they take offense and charge. I have now seen five moose in the Adirondacks–one on Route 30 near Long Lake, one along the Saranac River, and three on commercial timberlands.
As I neared the village, I saw evidence of ATV use on and off the corridor. In fact, earlier I had been passed by an ATV and a dirt bike on the trail, both ridden by teenage boys. ATVs could damage the finished rail trail. Stopping such illegal use will pose a challenge to DEC.
Tupper Lake will be the southern terminus of the rail trail. South of here, the state is rehabilitating the tracks to enable tourist trains to run north from Old Forge. The hope in Tupper is that the village will see a boost in tourism from both the rail trail and the train. I did my part, stopping for lunch at the Lumberjack Inn next to the depot. Afterward, I hopped on my bike and on the ride back to Floodwood enjoyed all the sights a second time. Alas, no moose (though I did hear a crashing in the woods).
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My guess is, today’s road bikes will not be particularly suited to the trail, but certainly hybrids should be. Years ago, when I rode on a smooth section of the Old Erie Canal Towpath regularly, I used my late 70s Schwinn Varsity. It worked very well for the section I rode on (Syracuse to Canastota), but beyond that, loose gravel and mud usually kept me away. I could usually maintain 15 mph on the section I biked. BUT, that bike was a tank, and had slightly larger tires and tubes, unlike most of today’s lightweight and “O-ring” tires on modern road bikes. I always found DUST and risk of blowouts kept most lighter-weight road bikes away. Hybrids and mountain bikes prevailed.
Another issue was traveling at 15+ mph. Most of the trail was devoid of humans, but collisions with wildlife were usually narrowly averted. Mostly woodchucks that would dart out in front of you, but could be anything you happen to surprise – including birds. Traveling more slowly on a more stable bike would be safer.
Weather was also a factor. Soft ground in the spring and after typical rain events usually made the surface unsuitable for road bikes – if not all bikes. The skinnier the tires, the more difficulty with riding, and the more damage to the surface. I found it usually took 24-48 hours after a significant rain event for the surface to harden up. But this stone/dust surface will be different in that it will primarily be on a rail bed with presumably better drainage, so it should recover faster. But the surface will still likely soften in a similar way.
I don’t know how smooth the final surface will be, or how well it will be maintained throughout the corridor – but I also don’t know if road bikes will be a good match for numerous reasons – including speed. I am not sure the character of the trail and the multiple uses thereon would be a good fit with modern road bikes. But it will be interesting to see how things shake out!
Eben Knowlton says
I can ‘ t wait to head up from Connecticut to ride the new trail! It has been studied for years, glad it has finally become a reality.The area now will offer a real gem of a rail trail to supplement the other MB trails in the area.The olympic X-C trails are a real treat as well.
LeRoy Hogan says
I hope they don’t dump all the rails and ties in the Catskills.
Well I am just appalled by all of this. The state spent millions of dollars over the years to rehab the rail line. Was it the right thing? Who knows. Pretty ride for bikes. The snowmobile season will tell all. Sell permits to ride.
LeRoy Hogan says
Rail bikes were doing a wonderful business on these rails and were self-funded with the actual users. Now the rail trail will be funded by all tax payers and does not matter if you ever step foot on a rail trail, you are paying.
One of the fastest-growing segments of biking is gravel bikes which are rough-road road bikes. The rail trails are perfect for them. Will eBikes (another fast-growing segment) be allowed? I guess not due to Park regs?
As for a mistake on supporting the rails earlier, one can’t avoid good-faith mistakes as times go by and situations change. Certainly, this past year has brought out a huge growth in outdoor activities. Perhaps these trails will take pressure off the peaks?
Friday of Memorial Weekend and I just saw several vehicles loaded with fat bikes and mountain bikes headed toward, the currently not officially opened, adirondack Rail Trail. NYS needs to speed up the process and Trail Towns need to apply some political pressure to get it done. Times a wasting.
John Smith says
I agree with this, rip out the tracks all the way to Old Forge so we all can enjoy it!
Scott K. Willis says
Riding the rails ?
Odd title for this piece
The rails are gone thanks to the nice folks at ARTA.
Riding the gravel would be more appropriate.
Scott K Willis, resident and taxpayer.
LeRoy Hogan says
Hello Scott … Plus all resident tax payers will pay for the rail trail no matter we ever use it or not.
Steve B. says
It would be a good thing if the DEC built a bridge over the Rollins Pond – Floodwood stream somas to allow access to the trail from the Rollins and Fischcreek Campgrounds.
Scott Willis says
Riding the rails ?
Gee, I don’t see any rails.
The rails were illegally removed.
Scott Willis, Resident and Taxpayer
Can horses use these trails?
Phil Brown says
They will not be allowed on the rail trail.
Having lived in the North Country for more than a decade my concern is ATV’s and the enforcement of regulations.
That said, I’m looking forward to exploring this trail firsthand.
You can bet the ebikes and ATVs will be using the trails. Just how do they think enforcement will handle that long stretch of wilderness? The argument will be if motorized snowmobiles can use it why not ebikes, scooters, ATVs , etc be allowed.
Daniel Bogdan says
Too bad only those with the physical ability to hike or those with the physical ability and monetary resources to bike can experience this section of the corridor. And wonderful the corridor is. Rail with a trail was and is still is the best use of this public resource for EVERYONE to experience. Most people supported the rail with trail option but political connections resulted in the trail only. Put the track back! And watch out for moose, ATV’s, black flies, deer flies, snapping turtles, bears, badgers, coyotes……..
Phil Brown says
There are no badgers in the Adirondacks.
The rail with trail option was impractical, according to DEC. Indeed, the stretch I biked had long sections with wetlands on both sides of the corridor, leaving no room to put a trail beside the tracks.
This is a nice start, but going all the way to Old Forge with the trail would be better. People want to argue about the lack of passenger service by rail into the ADK. The ASR has had 30 years to create a stable passenger service from Utica to Old Forge. They’ve failed. They still don’t match up their service out of Utica to Old Forge with AMTRAK. Still have to spend a night in Utica both coming & going to make any connection to NYC. The state spent millions of dollars to rehab the rails between Thendara & Big Moose – to what effect: 8-10 trains a year that bring no economic benefit to Big Moose. The ASR hasn’t run into Old Forge since the end of 2019. Does anyone or business in town miss them – NO! But the state wasted money to rehad the tracks to Big Moose for no benefit, I guess the state can waste money rehabing the rails to Tupper Lake – in the end for no benefit. In 5 years or less, we’ll be right back here arguing this subject all over again, as the state builds a trail all the way into Old Forge this time!
Jon Blatchford says
I am confident that this project will prove to be great one for the ADK’s and specifcally the towns of Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. In addition to providing access to some beautiful sections of the Park, it will undoubtly help local businesses, as people ride from one town to another. Hopefully they can get this finished sooner, rather than later.
Haters gonna hate. Your tax dollars will be returned many times over by the commerce this will bring the towns along the path, the airbnb bookings, and overall property values. Ask any other town with the same. I just took a spin on the unfinished route near Hoel and Rat ponds. And yes, it will be nice!
I was curious why you started in floodwood and not Saranac Lake. Many of the merchants that relied on the railroad to make a living have lost.So why floodwood. and do you think that will be the future.