Former D&H station expected to become rail trail visitor’s center; needs an estimated $2M in renovation work
By Mike Lynch
The state plans to formally request proposals in 2024 for renovating the former Saranac Lake train depot, a key hub on the Adirondack Rail Trail, and the Adirondack Rail Trail Association (ARTA) is planning to make a bid.
The news comes weeks after the state Department of Environmental Conservation closed a request for information about the historic building it owns that is known as the Union Depot. The state hasn’t set specific dates for the proposal period, but told the Explorer about its plans in an email.
The train depot, which the Delaware and Hudson Railroad built in 1904 and used as a passenger station until 1965, lies about a third of the way on the 34-mile rail trail from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake, which is still under construction for the next two years.
The only section that is past the construction phase is the 10-mile section from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake.
The building needs an estimated $2 million in renovations, according to the state. It hasn’t been occupied since 2015, when a rail bike operation and Adirondack Scenic Railroad inhabited it.
ARTA board member Lee Keet anticipates any train depot construction will keep the building shuttered for three years, but he said the site is ”absolutely critical.”
“We estimate that the rail trail will have 300,000 visitors a year and two thirds of those will access the corridor through Saranac Lake,” Keet said.
The depot has been envisioned to become a station for restrooms and tourism information and services related to the multi-use trail that will be used by snowmobilers, walkers, cyclists and others.
The DEC declined an interview request but did say it received 37 submissions from individuals and organizations during the request for information stage that ended in early November.
“The Adirondack Rail Trail and related Saranac Train Depot project continue to generate significant public interest and the input received during the RFI comment period will help DEC develop proposals for historic preservation and interpretation, and other activities to create a welcoming outdoor experience for all,” DEC said in a statement.
One group that hopes to play a big role in the future of the building is the ARTA. Keet said it has been in touch with DEC and will be submitting a formal proposal to manage the building.
“ARTA would be responsible for managing the process of identifying and fitting out the interior of the building, subleasing and bringing in concessionaires and bike repair, bike rental, people, picnic tables, all that sort of stuff,” Keet said
ARTA’s proposal would include partnering with the village of Saranac Lake, which would play a role in providing information.
ARTA, the village, and the Cloudsplitter Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit which Keet’s family started, have already formed a coalition and sent the DEC a couple of letters this past fall offering to renovate the property, he said.
Those letters stated that Cloudsplitter would have provided a bridge loan to ARTA to pay for the $2 million in renovations needed to winterize and modernize the building, then hope to collect the money back through available grants.
DEC responded positively but moved to oversee and fund the renovations itself, Keet said.
The DEC told the Explorer it plans to replace the depot roof in 2024, while additional improvements will be discussed in the request for proposals plan once it’s released.
Saranac Lake Mayor Jimmy Williams acknowledged the station is a key point for the trail and that the village is working to partner with nonprofit groups interested in using it.
“It’s a beautiful depot,” Williams said.
The 3,900-square-foot, single story building was restored by Historic Saranac Lake in 1998. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.