are more than 1,700 rail-trails across America, covering all different shapes and sizes,
a small handful stand out as true superstars of the rail-trail movement.
Whether for the beauty of their surrounds, their length, or an indefinable
charm and character, these rail-trails become beloved attractions drawing
praise, and visitors, from near and far.
On this list are trails such as the Route of the Hiawatha in Idaho, the Katy Trail
State Park in Missouri, and Vermont's Island Line. Right now, plans are afoot
for the conversion of former rail corridor that, when completed, will
immediately force its way into that elite company.
the scenic Tri-Lakes region of upper New York is the Adirondack Scenic
Railroad corridor (right). Currently, the line carries a seasonal sightseeing train,
which through limited ridership hasn't delivered significant commercial
returns in a picturesque region bursting with recreational tourism potential.
Inspired by the
ability of rail-trail projects elsewhere to boost recreational tourism, a group
of locals last year formed the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA),
with the goal of converting a 34-mile section of track between Lake
Placid and Tupper Lake into a multi-use trail.
prepared to build a case to convince local residents and authorities of what
such a rail-trail could bring to the area, ARTA turned to the experts. For the
past year, Carl Knoch, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's manager of trail development in the
Northeast, has been working closely with ARTA, evaluating the
potential economic impact of an Adirondacks rail-trail, and studying ways and
means to build it.
to the communities between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake is the same message that
has sparked the development of similar projects in his native Pennsylvania: Trails are good business for small towns.
This is not
just a gut feeling. Knoch's Northeast Regional Office is a national leader in compiling trail
user data to assess the economic stimulus of trails to the towns and villages
they pass through. This commercial impact--for hotels, campsites, food outlets
and outdoor retailers--and the multiplier effect of an injection into the local
economy--has helped promote the development of several renowned trails systems
in Pennsylvania and secured the viability of towns once suffering the decline
Knoch says the
Tri-Lakes is perfectly placed to reap the same rewards.
60-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail has seen about $3.6 million annually in new spending
since the trail was created, with 138,000 users on an annual basis," he
says of a comparable trail in the neighboring state. "What could 138,000
new users do for Saranac Lake and Lake Placid and Tupper Lake? In talking to
the folks that own businesses along the Pine Creek Rail Trail, they basically
say the conversion of that railroad into a multi-season rail-trail is the
salvation of the valley."
first began traveling to the Tri-Lakes to discuss a rail-trail conversion, he
encountered a good deal of local opposition. But after a number of public
meetings and a period of outreach and education, business owners, residents and
town officials are now supportive of removing the train tracks to construct the
state Department of Transportation (DOT), which has jurisdiction over the corridor,
has indicated they plan to leave the little-used corridor, deteriorated in
sections, as it is. Undeterred, local officials have begun petitioning the DOT
to revisit its management plan for the corridor, which hasn't been reexamined
in 17 years, despite the evaporation of rail service in that time. The locals'
frustration is evident.
are paying huge unanticipated sums each year to subsidize a money-losing
operation while simultaneously blocking one of the best economic development
options open to the North Country," Saranac Lake resident Lee Keet wrote
to the editor of the Times Union recently.
Aware that hard
data and the recorded experiences of similar communities tell the most
compelling story, RTC recently published a study of the proposed 34-mile
section, featuring estimated trail-user numbers and related economic impact
based on data gathered from similar rail-trails in the Northeast. This study
found that a rail-trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake would attract a
midpoint estimate of 224,260 visitors annually, each spending between $63.86
and $99.30 per day--worth an estimated $19.8 million to local economies.
The cost of
constructing the 34-mile segment would be approximately $2.2 million, which
could be offset by $5.3 million of income from the salvage and sale of the tracks and ties. Knoch says the $3.1 million excess could be applied to
construction of future sections of the trail, or maintenance.
To read and
download the Adirondack Rail Trail study, and other RTC research publications,
Photos of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad corridor by Carl Knoch/RTC.