To the editor:
Nearly two decades ago, my wife and I rode our bikes on the 32-mile Elroy-Sparta State Trail in Wisconsin. Years later, we proudly display in our living room a photo from that wonderful ride. This experience suggests what we can achieve here with the 34-mile rail corridor linking Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.
Wisconsin is situated as far north as our own North Country. Sparta, the self-proclaimed "Bicycling Capital of America," is similarly removed from major population centers (168 miles from Minneapolis, 256 miles from Chicago). Sparta's population is 9,522, not much larger than Saranac Lake's, and it happens to be at the terminus of the first rail-trail in the nation.
As described in the "Wisconsin Rural Bicycle Planning Guide," cyclists are diverse in terms of age, physical ability, attitudes towards riding near motor vehicles, purposes for riding, and preferences for settings in which to ride. Wisconsin has responded by investing in a substantial bicycling infrastructure of rail-trails and special lanes on public roadways.
According to a 2010 report by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, bicycling brings substantial benefits to the state, with bicycle-related recreation and tourism accounting for $924 million in economic activity, which supports 13,193 full-time jobs. The report also found that $535 million of that economic benefit was generated by bicyclists visiting from other states. Their rail-trail system accounts for more than 1.2 million bicycle person-days of use per year. Not surprisingly, the report also found significant fitness benefits for residents, as well as measurable improvements in air quality.
The tourism benefits of the Adirondack Rail Trail connecting the Tri-Lakes, and from there extending south to Old Forge, will be substantial. Many thousands of visitors will be drawn here to ride the finest wilderness bikeway in the United States. They will purchase meals, lodging, livery services and souvenirs. Some will even choose to live here, appreciating this unique recreation trail as the foundation for a fitness-oriented lifestyle based on a safe place to ride their bikes, clean air to breathe, pristine waterways to paddle and "forever wild" forests in which to hike, ski and enjoy the natural world.
Many of us year-round and part-time residents will be similarly inspired to dust off the old Schwinn, inflate the tires and ride the rail trail on a daily basis. There's a good chance we'll buy a new bike at a local bike shop. We'll meet old and new friends on the trail, and we'll live healthier, happier lives.
You can learn more and help make this happen by visiting www.thearta.org.
Board member, Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates