To the editor:
I've recently been reading the discussion in your area about the possibility of the Adirondack Rail Trail. I strongly support the efforts to create this multi-use trail and believe it would be one of the best business decisions ever made for the communities along the path. My involvement with the Virginia Creeper Trail in a rural area of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains gives me a lot of insight into the benefits that can come your way.
Briefly, our small town of Damascus, Virginia, was something of a typically slow mountain village before the old railroad was converted to a bike trail. Now we have around 45 lodging establishments in the immediate area, six bike shops which provide rentals and shuttles, numerous restaurants and a community which is attracting both young people who love our outdoor life and retirees like myself who enjoy a community of active people. Of course it helps that the Appalachian Trail runs down our main street.
A young child rides a bike on the Virginia Creeper Trail.
(Photo — Richard Smith)
Estimates run from around 150,000 to 250,000 visitors to the Creeper Trail a year. Many of these are overnight visitors in Damascus and also in the nearby town of Abingdon, a theater and arts center. The Creeper's economic impact on both towns is massive. The lodging tax alone is a major factor in our town's budget.
I understand there is a group which wants to rebuild the old railroad. Although I share their nostalgia for times past, and wish many things were like they used to be in the decades of my youth, that idea is simply not economically viable. The possibility was considered briefly here but quickly dismissed when it became obvious that rebuilding a railroad that few would use beyond their first visit would be a constant drain on local budgets. The rail trail we have requires little maintenance, has many volunteers willing to work on its constant improvement, and the costs in upkeep are only a tiny percentage of the money it brings in.
Some people here and I think in your area have brought up security issues. I have about 600 feet of trail frontage running next to my property, and the only intrusion so far has been the laughter of children. A rail trail brings happy times for families and individuals, and I hope the authorities who make the decisions up your way will add that to the financial benefits this trail will bring.