Long-distance recreational trails are booming across the country, offering safe, scenic routes to their users and bringing economic benefits to the communities along them. We've seen it with the Canalway Trail in New York state, the Pine Creek Rail Trail in Pennsylvania, the Katy Trail in Missouri, and similar trails in other states. It's time to create one from Lake Placid to Old Forge, as a nonprofit citizens group, Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA), has proposed.
This would require digging up most of the tracks in the 90-mile corridor, which is owned and maintained by New York state and leased to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. The railroad envisions running a tourist train from Old Forge all the way to Lake Placid, but that dream is no closer to reality than 12 years ago, when it started operating a less than successful tourist train on the nine miles of track between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
Meanwhile, the state has already spent $25 million rehabilitating the corridor and expects to spend another $43 million if the entire rail line is restored. The state's management plan calls for the alternative of a recreational trail if the rail experiment fails, and it has failed.
But even if it were to succeed, it would attract only an additional 7,000 overnight visitors who would spend nearly $650,000, according to the railroad's own consultant. That compares to the recreational trail, the first phase of which would attract 244,000 overnight visitors who would spend nearly $20 million, according to ARTA's consultant, the Rails to Trails Conservancy.
Removing and salvaging the tracks between Saranac Lake and Old Forge would raise enough money to create a multi-use trail from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake (which is desperate for economic development) at no cost to taxpayers. The trail could even be built next to the existing track between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, allowing that scenic train to continue. But building a trail alongside the unused track for the entire corridor would be financially prohibitive as well as environmentally destructive.