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.
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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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