The effort to convert the rail line from Old Forge to Saranac Lake into a trail for bikers, snowmobilers, hikers and others brought together a diverse group of outdoor and recreation activists who, in other circumstances, have fought against each other.

For example, Jim McCulley, president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, was engaged in a years-long fight with the state over motorized access to Old Mountain Road in Keene.

The road is part of the Jackrabbit Cross-Country Ski Trail, which was created by Tony Goodwin.

He tussled with McCulley, metaphorically, numerous times over the years.

But not only do both men support the creation of the rail trail, both of them sit on the board of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, the Saranac Lake group formed to push New York to reconsider its management plan for the rail corridor.

A rail trail is such a good fit for the Adirondack Park it is bringing together people who in other circumstances would have a difficult time standing in the same room without raising their voices.

The only thing standing in the way is a group of train aficionados, represented by Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, who were encouraged by the state 20 years ago to pursue their dream of restoring regular locomotive runs along the line.

Train service has been restored over two sections at either end of the line — from Utica to Old Forge and Saranac Lake to Lake Placid — where Adirondack Scenic Railroad runs sightseeing trips.

New York still owns the right of way and maintains the tracks. Those who love the trains want the state to stick with its plan from 20 years ago to restore the tracks along the entire line.

Recreational trails are everywhere, they argue, but scenic trains offer a rare and special experience.

Those who favor the recreation trail want the tracks ripped up from Old Forge to Saranac Lake, and perhaps all the way to Lake Placid, and the right of way converted over that stretch of 70 or 80 miles into a biking-hiking trail that could be used by snowmobiles in the winter.

They point out the steel rails are worth millions of dollars as salvage, which could fund much of the cost of making the rail bed ready for bikers and hikers.

The train advocates say the tracks could be rehabilitated at a cost that compares favorably with the cost of conversion to recreation.

But the critical issue is use. Which use is going to draw the greater number of visitors to the region? Which has the greater potential?

On those questions, the trail advocates win easily.

Snowmobilers can use the tracks now in the winter, but they complain the ties and rails make riding difficult. If the rail line was torn up, the thousands of snowmobilers who now convene every winter in Old Forge would stream up the trail to Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake.

Train buffs are a small, select group. Other tourists might try a scenic train ride once a year.

Ridership on a scenic train through a beautiful but remote area is never going to amount more than a few hundred people a day.

The potential use by bikers, hikers and snowmobilers is far greater.

Bicycling is one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities in the country, and bicycle trails, some of them on converted rail lines, are attracting millions of tourists.

This would not be any old bike trail, but a glorious ride through beautiful forests and over causeways, crossing remote Adirondack lakes, with camping opportunities all along its length.

It would be one of the longest trails of its kind in the country, and would draw campers and day-trippers from around the world.

The rail preservationists have done a great job in getting the southern section of the line restored and the scenic trains running.

The best compromise is for the state to support the Utica to Old Forge line, and continue to invest in maintaining the locomotive right of way there, but to endorse conversion to a recreation trail along the northern stretch, from Old Forge to Lake Placid.

Rail advocates argue they need the tracks restored on the whole line for the train to reach its full potential.

But converting the northern stretch to a recreation trail will also boost rail ridership, as hikers and bikers begin or end their journeys with a scenic train ride.

The train is a curiosity and always will be, while outdoor recreation — running, walking, biking, snowmobiling — is an integral part of the lives of thousands of people.

Converting this travel corridor into a recreation trail is by far its best use.

Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Ted Mirczak.

(8) comments


What people like Beamish fail to realize is that this is one of two railroads to access Adirondack Park. There are dozens of trail there now! The real motive behind this Adirondack Trail committee is to establish a non-bumpy snowmobile trail for winter enthusiasts. Snowmobile operators have the right to use this right of way now, but the recent mild winters has left a smaller snow-pack for them to enjoy. As for cyclists, this railroad travels through an unspoiled part of the Adirondacks that doesn't have many entries, so it wont be for a novice. Why not target one of the many Adirondack Railroads abandoned right of ways? Why tear up a piece of history on the National Historic Register? The Adirondack Scenic Railroad has the ability to bring the handicap into the center of the region. A bicycle or snow machine does not! There is also plenty of places to get exercise, Adirondack Recreational Trail or not!


once again the short-sightedness of the politicians is abundantly clear leave the rails intact no debate is needed. almost every rail line in the country that has been torn up has had to be replaced so why would you even consider this as an option? railroads provide mass transit options as the area develops they are also vital to security of the area when the inevitable war comes to American soil


Seems like a no brainer either you benefit many or a few. Oh but wait who is spending more for political votes wherein lies the answer. Which lobbying group has the most power in Albany, the answer to that will be revealed in the decision.


With due respect, I disagree; the railroad should stay. The idea of a trail has not been fully researched, funded, or outlined by the trail advocates. The "expense" of running the railroad is mostly corridor maintenance. Beavers plug up the culverts; trees fall; etc. Trail programs need to be bonded in many states to pay for repetitive maintenance. The railroad does the work for free; who will maintain the trail? Additionally, there are added expenses for law enforcement and emergency access on the remote sections. Ask any sheriff's department in northern Wisconsin how much it costs to patrol for drunken snowmobilers; examine the situation closely before you determine how bad the problem really is and whether enforcement really works. Who pays for that? Furthermore, these trails do exist in lots of places. They are almost always empty. Alternatives exist in the Adirondacks (Raquette Lake to Carter; Lake Clear to Malone) on lines already abandoned. Why not use them?


Not at all a good idea. I think your thinking and facts are way off base. We should not destroy history. As a teacher, I could spend half a day describing landmarks to students.Many of them would not pick up on it. I tried it. Then I took them on a train. They talked about it for the rest of the year. Many of them took their parents and friends for train rides.


i went on train and think its great..


The argument for exclusive trail conversion of the railway corridor is selfish, unnecessary and deeply foolish. Alrteady snowbilers and cross-country skiers have use of the line for half of each year. The right of way is more than adequate to accept both functions. More importantly the operating rail line is a huge success, bnot some barely used ammenity. Since 1992 the Adirondack Scenic RR has carried over 1,000,000 riders!

The loss of the railway ends forever any possible non-highway access to the heart of the park. How short are olur memories? During the Olympics the only reliable access to the games was provided by the railroad. The possibility of freight use exists as well. Readers can see my more detailed response sent to NYDOT at Just one 2012 tour brought over $71,000 in net group sales to Lake Placid/Saranac area business.

Carl H. Fowler
Rail Travel Adventures (operator of tours by train to the park)


There are many trails and roads but only one railroad. Once gone, gone forever.

Welcome to the discussion.

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