Director Archive


Apr 1, 2018

Tom Ortmeyer

Adirondack Rail Trails

I recently was on John Barron’s snowshoe trip into the Peavine Swamp. This was a joint trip with the North Woods Chapter, conditions were good, and we had a great time. Afterwards, some of us stopped at the Pinecone Restaurant for a snack, and had a chance to talk with some of the snowmobilers that were also out enjoying the winter weather. We talked to one group who had tried the rail line south of Tupper Lake—and their report of snowmobiling on the rails was not good, even though there was a good amount of snow on the ground. In their view, snowmobiling on rails just didn’t work.

The question of rail trails in the Adirondacks is once again in the news. Study after study has shown that rail trails would be widely used, and would quickly become a major park asset. On the other hand, leaving the rails in place for excursion trains will require significant investment, and will always require annual subsidies to keep the trains operating. There is strong evidence supporting these conclusions.

There are at least two excellent opportunities for rail trails in the Adirondacks. One is on the Utica-Lake Placid rail line. New York State did an extensive study on this, and proposed a compromise that would replace the tracks from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid with a rail trail, and leave the tracks in from Tupper Lake to Old Forge and then on to Utica. The rail trail plan met with wide public approval, but the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society sued to block the plan. The Adirondack Park Agency has just proposed an amendment to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, proposing to include rail trails to the definition of travel corridors. The draft amendment can be downloaded from the APA website. The APA will hold hearings in April in Ray Brook, Old Forge and Albany. Comments can be sent to Kathy Regan, Deputy Director for Planning, NYS Adirondack Park Agency, P.O. Box 99. Ray Brook, NY 12977 or email to I encourage you to comment on this amendment.

Another potential rail trail is on the Saratoga North Creek Rail line. This line has seen significant controversy recently, concerning the storage of oil tank cars on the line. The southern part of this line has had an excursion train, but ridership has not met expectations, and the number of trips per week has been reduced. Regardless if the excursion train continues, there is significant potential for a rail trail on this line. There recently has been a groundswell of support for the conversion of part or all of this rail line to a rail trail.

The evidence is strong that rail trails in the Adirondacks would attract significant year round usage, require fewer subsidies, and provide more spending than would excursion rail lines. Expanding the season of usage alone is a strong argument in favor of creating these rail trails. Imagine having a new attraction in Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake, North Creek and elsewhere that brings visitors for 3.5 seasons a year. And imagine a new trail that will compete with the High Peaks for attracting those interested in actively enjoying the Adirondacks. Please contact the APA with your comments on this entire topic.