By Tim Rowland
After what’s seemed like an eternity to the cycling community, final construction of a portion of the much anticipated Adirondack Rail Trail between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake is underway, two state agencies announced Friday.
Known as Phase I, the first segment is a 10-mile stretch of what will eventually be a 34-mile rail trail for multi-use recreation between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake. The Phase I route is now closed to the public and will be through the summer construction season.
In a prepared announcement, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of General Services said that they are hoping for a fall opening, depending on “multiple factors including contract approvals, permits, and coordinating with state, federal, and local entities.”
Bicycling groups, which have been watching the project closely, said they believe the project will be completed by September, in time for fall leaf season.
“They’re calling it Phase I, but it’s been going on for so long it feels like Phase 100,” said Doug Haney, owner and founder of BikeADK. “It’s thrilling that they’re getting started on the finished surface.”
The surface will be constructed of stone dust, a hard-packed surface that Haney said will be suitable for mountain, gravel or road bikes. “People have been anticipating this in the Adirondacks down to the Capital Region and out to Syracuse and Rochester,” he said. “There are not that many places to ride on a trail like this that are vehicle free.”
Haney said the Placid to Saranac Lake segment will feature a scenic ride along the Chubb River, various wetlands and views of Scarface, McKenzie and Haystack mountains.
In its announcement, the state said the “world-class Adirondack Rail Trail is … designed and constructed with the intent to make it accessible by people of all abilities to the maximum extent practicable.”
Bids for Phase II of construction southwest of Saranac Lake were submitted in late March. “Construction is scheduled to begin as early as May 2023 between Saranac Lake and Floodwood Road, Lake Clear,” the statement said. “Construction of the Adirondack Rail Trail is anticipated to be done in three phases. As each phase concludes, the completed portion of trail will open to the public.”
The route from Saranac Lake to Lake Clear is currently rideable, but west of Floodwood it becomes rough, Haney said.
According to the state, recreation west of Saranac Lake is allowed at users’ own risk, unless otherwise indicated.
The 131-mile Lake Placid to Remsen rail line was a hotly contested topic for years, as rail buffs and recreation advocates disagreed over its ultimate use: as a scenic railroad or a rail trail. The state finally decided to do both, by creating a rail trail from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake and refurbishing the rails for train travel from Tupper Lake to Remsen. The scenic railroad held its inaugural voyage last fall.