At the Ironman event last Sunday, more than 2,000 spectators signed up as supporters of the proposed Adirondack Rail Trail. These enthusiasts were enlisted by a handful of clipboard-wielding volunteers for Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.
"Have you signed our petition to create a recreation trail on the old railroad bed through the Adirondacks?" we would ask, pointing to the map displayed at our table (and on our bright yellow T-shirts), showing the 90-mile rail trail running from Lake Placid to Old Forge.
"Where do I sign," was a typical response.
Many of our new supporters spoke glowingly about rail trails back home in Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Westchester County, etc. They use their local trails frequently, they told us, for biking, running, walking, training. They dearly love their rail trails, as do their local merchants who benefit from them.
Many registered surprise that the Adirondack Park does not already have a rail trail since this region has everything else in the way of outstanding outdoor recreation. For example, there are 2,000 miles of hiking trails within the Blue Line and seemingly endless waterways for kayaking and canoeing, fishing and boating. Yet nowhere in this largest park in the contiguous United States is there a safe, scenic, level trail suited for people of all ages and physical abilities.
We had the impression that most of the people we talked with would come back here to use the Adirondack Rail Trail when the rail bed is converted to this purpose. And recent studies back this up. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy released a study earlier this month that examined six somewhat similar rail trails in nearby states. The selected rail trails averaged 244,260 visitors a year who spent a total of $19.8 million.
And let's face it. The Adirondack Rail Trail would be more attractive than these others in terms of natural beauty and great expanses of open space.
This stood in stark contrast to another study this year. This one was done by Stone Consulting and commissioned by Adirondack Scenic Railroad, the tourist-train operators intent on restoring train service between Utica and Lake Placid (a move that would prevent use of the corridor for a recreation trail). The ASR study estimated restored rail service would attract 7,000 additional visitors who would spend $686,000 annually. In other words, the Adirondack Rail Trail could attract 30 times more users and tourist dollars flowing into local economies!
Quite aside from the overwhelming economic advantages of the Adirondack Rail Trail, this world-class recreation path would enrich the lives of Adirondack residents, especially in the Tri-Lakes, and help attract young families to the area. Many of us, regardless of age or ability, will use the rail trail on a regular basis. Recreational activities will include, but by no means be limited to, pushing a baby stroller, bicycling to work, going for a jog, stroll or bike ride early or late, watching birds, training for a marathon, or just taking our kids or grandkids for a walk or bike ride in a lovely setting, far removed from the distractions and dangers of road traffic.
Come winter, this trail without rails will provide greatly improved snowmobiling, especially between Old Forge (the snowmobile capital of the Adirondacks) and Tupper Lake.
ARTA has now grown to more than 8,000 supporters. To add your voice to ours and give us greater political clout, go to www.theArta.org and click the sign-up icon.
Dick Beamish is an ARTA board member and lives in Saranac Lake.