January 1, 2016
Several years ago I spend 2 months in Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand. While there, I learned of the Otago Central Rail Trail. This trail, which opened in the year 2000, was considered a surprise success by those South Island natives I talked to. The success of the trail frankly surprised them — what they had viewed as a resource for the local population was attracting widespread interest, and usage was exceeding all of my friends’ expectations.
The Otago trail is 150 kilometers and connects the rural communities of Middlemarch and Clyde. Recent usage statistics show around 85,000 annual users, with 12,000 or so who complete the entire trail. Keep in mind that the total population of the South Island is about a million, with another 3 million or so New Zealanders on the north island. Of the 12,000 through riders (or walkers), half rented bicycles, another 10% were on guided tours, and the remaining 40% were New Zealanders with their own gear. While riders are cautioned that services are limited along the route, businesses have developed along the trail. The trail has become a key economic factor in the region. It has also led the New Zealand government to undertake an ambitious plan to develop a national network of cycle routes.
Will the proposed rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake provide similar benefits in our region? The 34 mile length of this trail would be under half of the length of the Otago trail. The DEC estimates the bicyclers could do a one way trip on this trail in 3.5 hours — or the round trip in a day. They project that hikers and runners would do shorter, half day or less round trips. They estimate that approximately 75,000 users would enjoy the trail each year. The report also details 18 potential connections, such as the Scarface Mountain Trail and trails to Hoel and Long Ponds in the St. Regis Canoe Area. These connections will provide many multi-experience trips, and it is not clear that the user projections have fully considered these. They also have not mentioned multi-day bicycle trekking, which I believe will become popular. Extended trips might start in Lake Placid, go to Tupper Lake and on the rail trail and then down to Long Lake on Rte. 30 or over to Cranberry Lake on Rte. 3. Both road segments have wide paved shoulders and are nice rides.
I firmly believe that the Lake Placid-Tupper Lake rail trail will enjoy the success that the Otago and other trails have experienced. It will be a unique trail, and I look forward to riding it.