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Planner highlights benefits of Pa. rail trails

August 23, 2012
By CHRIS MORRIS - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - The Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates brought a trail design expert to the Harrietstown Town Hall on Monday to highlight three rail-trail conversions similar to the group's proposed trail from Lake Placid to Old Forge.

Robert Thomas of the Pennsylvania-based architecture and planning firm Campbell Thomas & Co. discussed three trails, all in Pennsylvania, for about 30 minutes. The presentation was part of ARTA's push to remove the train tracks between Saranac Lake and Old Forge and build a year-round, multi-use recreational trail; the group has said it would support a parallel trail between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake if the town of North Elba can afford it.

ARTA steering committee member Dick Beamish said local communities can learn a lot by examining rail-trail projects in other parts of the country, specifically the potential economic and recreational benefits.

Article Photos

Robert Thomas of the Pennsylvania-based architecture and planning firm Campbell Thomas & Co. talks about three rail trails in Pennsylvania during a presentation sponsored by the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates on Monday.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)

Thomas said as a preservation architect, he's learned it's important to connect communities using trails and corridors.

"Unless you had everything connected up, it didn't have nearly the same value," Thomas said. "Little isolated pockets that when connected in the whole systems of heritage corridors, greenways - suddenly people were coming there not go to any particular (destination). They were discovering as they traveled through places like Saranac Lake or Lake Placid because the trail took them through they said, 'Oh, wow, there's a place to stay here.'"

Thomas' presentation highlighted the following Pennsylvania rail-trails:

The Stony Valley Railroad Grade, a 21.5-mile trail through St. Anthony's Wilderness

The D&L Trail, a 26-mile trail through Lehigh Gorge State Park

The Pine Creek Rail Trail, a 62-mile trail through the northern Appalachians.

The Stony Valley trail connects communities that once depended on tourism and mining, Thomas said. Stony Creek is a "high-quality" trout stream, he added, and is popular among dog owners and conservationists.

"When you go to many trails, you'll see really fancy bicycles, or nice bicycles or multi-speed bicycles," Thomas said. "When you go to the end of the road at the gate, you'll see all these one-speed bikes, all beat up, all with fishing gear on them, and these guys aren't bicyclists. They're fisherman who are using the bike as the most practical way to get 10 miles in to their favorite spot."

Thomas said fishing shops along the Stony Valley trail "do very well."

The Pine Creek Rail Trail runs north to south through an area that Thomas said was the "center of the Pennsylvania lumber industry in the 19th century." He said the area went into a "deep decline" by the 1920s because the lumber had been used up, and the state purchased the used lands to create a forest system.

"But people were really looking for jobs," Thomas said. "What they've done is redefine this whole area. ... And they market heavily. This trail brings people from all over."

The Pine Creek trail also offers opportunities for horseback riding, and in some locations it has more room for horse-drawn wagons, Thomas said.

Unlike the others, the D & L Trail has no roads or crossings, Thomas said. There are a few access points, he said, including one that is popular among rafters. He said the trail has helped revitalize the Carbon County, Pa., borough of Jim Thorpe.

"The main street here (in Jim Thorpe), Broadway, is one of the most charming streets I know of," he said. "There's a lot of activity here. Now, people come to Jim Thorpe for recreation, to rest up; they have second homes there."

Thomas said when the trail opened up, most of the people at the ceremony were business owners.

"They couldn't wait," he said.

Thomas said communities along all three trails had good infrastructure in place to handle the influx of visitors.

For all three trails, trail development took place after "complete abandonment of rail service and removal of most of the tracks," Thomas said in an email.

"It is my impression that the situation with the Adirondack Recreational Trail is different from the three wilderness rail-trails in Pennsylvania, since the State of New York already owns the right-of-way, and the railroad is using the tracks between Old Forge and Saranac Lake for a once-a-year movement of equipment without providing any direct public service," he said.

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad uses the corridor here for tourist rides between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake at the north end, between Utica and Old Forge at the south end, and in between to transport their trains to and from winter storage in Utica. The ASR wants the state to upgrade the Old Forge to Saranac Lake portion to accommodate more railroad use.



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