Something’s missing in rail/trail debate

Is it just us, or is there something missing from the discussion of rails and trails? Why is the discussion of trails limited to one rail bed (of many within the Park) rather than exploring the larger question of, “What are the trails needs Park-wide?”

Rather than looking at the rail/trail issue in isolation from the larger issue of creating and enhancing recreational opportunities within the Adirondack Park, we should focus on exploring the idea of an Adirondack Park Community-Based Trail System. The rail/trail issue can and should only be addressed after we have acknowledged and prioritized our Park-wide trail needs. What follows is a vision for such a trail system in the Adirondack Park and, although the process for such an effort needs to be determined and articulated, it is a vision that would benefit the entire Adirondack Park and its communities.

Adirondack Park Community-Based Trail System

Goal: To create a community-based trail system in the Adirondack Park that will link communities via multi-use trails by utilizing existing trails, the railroad corridor, highway rights of way and newly created trails.

Background: It is estimated that there are more than 4,000 miles of different types of trails in the Adirondack Park; however, by and large, these trails are either concentrated in certain areas or haphazard in nature. A system is defined as a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole. With few exceptions, the Park’s trails are not part of a system.

By community-based trails, we mean trails that have a number of features:

1. They allow travel throughout the community to various points in a town or village (e.g., home to grocery store).

2. They allow travel to scenic and recreational points within or near a community (e.g., hotel to summit of nearby mountain, home to cross-country ski center).

3. They allow travel between communities and public lands (e.g., community to community, hotel to wilderness area trailhead).

4. They allow travel from trailhead to trailhead, not just to interior destinations (e.g., from trailhead through a wilderness area to another trailhead).

5. They allow looped trips that don’t require retracing your travel (e.g., rather than a trail that goes to a pond, perhaps it goes around the pond and comes back to the starting point via a different route).

6. They may be side-by-side with existing roads and rail corridors, or intersecting them.

7. Trails can be accessed locally without the need to get in an automobile.


A variety of state agencies and nonprofit organizations manage, advocate for and maintain the Park’s trails. Most would agree that they are underfunded and lack a comprehensive, Park-wide vision.

The Adirondack Park Recreation Strategy called for a more comprehensive recreation strategy to “Establish recreational linkages between communities in the Park … Create a system of destination trails that weave between the regions of the Park … (and) Identify and develop recreational opportunities within communities.” In addition, it suggested that “a dedicated fund devoted to maintaining recreation infrastructure” be established.

The reasons for such a system distill down to two fundamental points:

It makes good economic sense.

It improves the quality of life for residents.

Possible next steps

1. Host an Adirondack Park Community-Based Trail System Summit to explore the idea in more depth.

2. Develop a process for gathering public input and collecting data.

3. Develop a plan for the development and implementation of this system.

4. Explore funding opportunities.

Jack Drury lives in Saranac Lake and celebrated his 40th anniversary as an Adirondack guide in 2012. He is a professor emeritus of North Country Community College, having founded the college’s wilderness recreation leadership program and having directed it for nearly 20 years.