Path through the Tri-Lakes area draws wanted and unwanted attention
By Mike Lynch
Access, promotion, and crime were some of the themes at a public meeting about the development of the Adirondack Rail Trail Wednesday evening at the state Adirondack Park Agency headquarters in Ray Brook.
The meeting was hosted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and project manager Keith Carrow and Lt. Forest Ranger Megan Lapierre gave updates on their beats before taking questions.
The 34-mile rail trail runs from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake and goes through the communities of Saranac Lake and Lake Clear. The multi-use trail is being topped with a hard-packed limestone stone dust, except where asphalt is being used in villages. The path is geared toward cyclists and other pedestrian uses from spring to fall and snowmobiles and skiers in the winter.
But the project is still far from complete, with phase one from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake expected to finish in November. The next two phases are expected to be completed in the coming years. In the meantime, the land managers have faced several issues.
Forest rangers have increased their presence on the trail and have been working to curb illegal activities, LaPierre said.
That includes issuing an estimated 20 to 30 tickets for motorized use on the trail for ATV and dirt bikes. The majority of illegal motorized use has taken place within 5 miles of Tupper Lake from Washington Street to Lead Pond to the east, LaPierre said.
Forest rangers have also stepped up their presence near some houses that are suspected to be used by drug dealers.
“Lately, cars will pull in, see the rangers, and turn right back around,” LaPierre said.
Forest rangers also worked with the State Police a few months ago to apprehend a pair of men who used the rail trail to access at least some of the camps and homes they burglarized.
In May, State Police arrested Michael DeRosia, of Tupper Lake, and Ethan Bush, of Piercefield, for burglaries in Tupper Lake, Brighton and Santa Clara, including some camps off Back Bay on Hoel Pond along the rail trail. Police sent out a press release in June trying to locate Derosia, indicating that he liked to travel between Piercefield and Lake Clear on an ATV.
State Police wouldn’t confirm to the Explorer that the trail was used by people breaking into camps, but LaPierre said at the meeting the trail has been used for that purpose.
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Kent Macafee, who has a home off Hoel Pond in Santa Clara, told the Explorer in early August that someone broke windows in his shed and took an empty gas container. He suspected they were looking for gas for an ATV.
Residents have reported increased use of the rail trail by dirt bikes and ATVs in that area since the tracks were taken out a few years ago.
Adirondack Rail Trail Association Executive Director Brian Woods told the Explorer that the presence of the trail isn’t the issue— it’s that people are breaking the law. But he anticipates illegal activity on the trail fading once the trail is open.
“The moment the trail opens we’re going to have hundreds or thousands of people there every week,” Woods said.
He said trail users will likely help police the route by taking photos and reporting illegal activities to authorities. But right now, that’s not the case on the rail trail.
“It’s in this very vulnerable state where individuals can go out there and feel like they can do whatever they want,” Woods said.
The other unauthorized use happening in recent years is that people have been cycling or walking on closed sections of trail where construction crews are working. DEC spokeswoman Erin Hanczyk said this causes a safety concern and makes workers more cautious.
“It does slow down progress,” she said.
Access for businesses
Chrissie Wais, owner of the Belvedere Restaurant in Saranac Lake, voiced a different kind of problem. She said a fence is being constructed by crews between her property, where there is a parking lot, and the rail trail. She wants users to come off the trail and solicit her business. Part of the reason she purchased the property a few years ago was that she anticipated getting customers from the path.
“This morning I wake up and there’s a fence going in across the access to the trail,” she said.
Wais expressed concern of a lack of communication between the DEC and business owners about fencing and how to connect trails to businesses.
DEC officials responded by saying fencing was only put in areas where it’s needed for public safety or environmental reasons, and they told Wais they would have a follow-up meeting to discuss her concerns. Carrow noted there is a steep embankment along this section of trail, including where it borders the Belvedere’s property.
Several audience members wanted to know more about the DEC’s plans for signage and access for businesses.
“I’m surprised that you weren’t anticipating that businesses would want access,” said Tony Goodwin, a long-time rail trail advocate. “There should have been a recognition that this is a very different trail from all the other trails that DEC manages on state land.”
“Businesses really need to be accommodated,” he said.
DEC said it would be convening meetings of a signage committee in the near future and work to address these issues. Public safety and information will be first on its sign agenda and then promotional ones.
Hanczyk said the trail will be promoted through its website, press releases and social media. Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, along with cycling and snowmobiling organizations including ARTA, will also be touting it.
DEC forester Rob Daley said he anticipated trail user apps would direct people to amenities off the trail.
Dan Ladd, editor of New York Outdoor News, asked if hunters and anglers would be allowed to use the trails to access state lands. He also asked if trails for anglers are being developed to waters.
LaPierre said hunters would be allowed to carry firearms on the trail but wouldn’t be allowed to hunt from it or shoot across it. A plan hasn’t been developed for fishing access, but Carrow said one could be developed.
“Right now, we’re just getting the trail built,” Carrow said.