Visitors would come for rail trail

I am writing as a small business owner, a cyclist and as a resident of Saranac Lake. I am asking for support for the Adirondack Rail Trail initiative.

As a tandem bicycle shop owner (Gear-To-Go Tandems), I am obviously prejudiced in favor of the trail. However, my enthusiasm is enhanced by the benefits I see coming from such a trail. My business is driven by non-locals. For example, during the past year, fully one-third of my sales have been to Canadians. Our northern neighbors are aware of the cycling potential of this area and are enthusiastic about coming here to bicycle.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked about options for riding that are not on our narrow roads, places where families can ride with smaller children, where people who are not very athletically fit could go for a ride, or just a route that would be peaceful and free of traffic noise.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to suggest such rides since they do not exist in this area. That has cost me both rental business and sales. Having this option would be a boon to my livelihood.

As a cyclist, I would relish the opportunity to ride from here to Tupper Lake, and beyond, without the pain and suffering that the hills around here generously provide. I am an avid cyclist but not very fit at 240 pounds. I am gravitationally challenged. I do occasionally bike up Forest Home Road, the railroad’s proposed alternative to the rail trail, but that route is too challenging (read steep and high) for me to ride more than rarely. And many other cyclists are in the same predicament. The elite cyclists we see in the area for the Ironman are not the bulk of the cycling world. Most of us are not able to ride, or enjoy, such challenging routes. But we will come to this area to ride on an improved rail trail that traverses some of the more beautiful and secluded terrain in the Park. And they will come here to do it on multiple trips.

As a resident of Saranac Lake, I look forward to the economic boost the rail trail will provide. This would be a world-class rail trail that will bring people here as the destination, not just as something else to do while in the area. The train is something people might ride once, while they are already here. I know because that’s what my family did. Very, very few people come here for the sole purpose of riding the Scenic Railroad. But the rail trail would be something that will bring thousands of folks here every year. And they will come back repeatedly for this experience.

I have seen this firsthand at the Pine Creek Trail in Pennsylvania as well as on numerous rail trails in Ohio. In Ohio, I have observed rail trails that go for 40, 50, even 70 miles. And as they approach each small town along the trail, there are signs showing the various businesses at which the cyclists can/will spend their money. The cyclists need food, and lots of it, and they need places to stay. When they come here to ride this trail, they will be in the area for several days.

All of the studies point to millions of tourist dollars that will come to our economically challenged area as a result of the proposed Adirondack Rail Trail. Even if those studies are off by a factor of two or three, they still point to a great economic shot in the arm for the businesses along the rail trail corridor.

Please support the transformation of this severely under-utilized rail bed into a world-class rail trail that will attract tens of thousands of visitors, and the resultant economic boost, to the area encompassing the Tri-Lakes to Old Forge.

Rich Shapiro lives in Saranac Lake.