Being led astray

Tony Goodwin’s Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates letter in the Enterprise of April 5 contains some troubling statements. They’re troubling because they lead people astray. Somebody familiar with other rail trails but unfamiliar with the Lake Placid-Remsen corridor would be disappointed at best if they took Tony’s words at face value.

Tony says there is public access from Lake Lila. (It’s probably only a typo, but for the record, Lake Lila is south of Sabattis, not north, as Tony’s description implies.) When you think of public access to a trail, what comes to mind? Now compare that to what you’ll find at Lake Lila. Yes, there is public access – but not for automobiles and not for bicycles. The road approaching the tracks at Lake Lila is gated beyond the parking lot. It runs through land classified as wilderness and is off limits to all unauthorized mechanized vehicles. You would have to walk your bike to or from ARTA’s trail. This is not a hop, skip and jump. It’s 2-and-a-half miles to an old “carriage road” which branches off to access the corridor. While the presence of traffic to and from private inholdings might tempt a cyclist to ride, that would be breaking the law, just as it is if a snowmobiler drops off the corridor and goes racing up and down Lake Lila – not that any would ever think of doing that.

From the Lake Lila parking lot, it’s 5-and-a-half miles of rough, narrow, dirt road (closed late fall to late spring) to an intersection with the Sabattis Road, where there is nothing. Then it’s 10 more miles (much of it unpaved) to New York State Route 30, where there is nothing. Then it’s 12 more miles to Tupper Lake or 7 to Long Lake, where, finally, you can get a burger or a bottle of bug dope or a room for the night. There actually is public access at the other locations Tony mentions, though the situation is the same – in the middle of nowhere with no amenities (except Piercefield, which is only on the edge of nowhere). And if you think hotels and restaurants and outfitters are going to spring up at all those places once the trail is built (like we’ve been told they did on other rail trails), just take a look at the Adirondack Park Agency land classification map.

Tony says, “Most cyclists would agree that 44 miles is not a difficult day’s pedal.” That’s a pretty broad statement. What kind of bike? On what kind of surface? Many rail trails are paved at least in part. ARTA proposes a compacted, crushed-stone surface north of Piercefield and a rougher, graded ballast surface south of Piercefield. You can ride a road bike on compacted stone, but it’s not as good as on pavement. If you are going south of Piercefield and you don’t have a mountain bike, you’ll be walking. And who are these “most cyclists?” Are they most families with children? Are they most senior citizens?

Now let’s assume you’re a family, and you want to bike the five miles from Mount Arab to Horseshoe Lake. All you have to do is look at a road map to see that, as a one-way trip, it’s not going to happen unless you bring two cars. Are you really going to drive two vehicles up from the city so you can ride 5 miles of trail? Your alternative is to turn your bikes around and pedal back the way you came, and the 5-mile trip becomes 10 miles. Still very doable (though the kids are becoming ornery because of the deer flies), but it’s not what one is tempted to envision reading Tony’s claim that “the other access points make possible many shorter trips.”

Tony writes, “Once the tracks and ties are gone, any emergency vehicle could access the entire corridor” making “corridor safety issues very easy to deal with.”

So let’s say somebody has a problem between two of Tony’s access points – Sabattis and Lake Lila, for instance – and let’s say that, for whatever reason, a helicopter is not available. Tupper Lake or Long Lake rescue has to drive all that distance to Sabattis and then, presumably, down the trail. And once the rescue squad is at the scene, how will they get back to Sabattis? Much of the rail bed is significantly above grade and too narrow to allow a vehicle to turn around. Will they have to drive out in reverse? For how many miles? Will the trail be designed with turnarounds every quarter-mile? And if rescue continues forward to Lake Lila, coordinating with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to have the gate unlocked, they will still have to travel the 18 rough miles to Route 30 and then 33 more miles to the hospital in Saranac Lake. And that’s “very easy”?

Now here’s the thing. Sure, it can be done, and maybe many cases would be less difficult, but it isn’t like our first responders have nothing else to do. If only one half of one percent of ARTA’s projected visitors needs help, that’s more than 1,200 extra rescues annually. These are not about picking up somebody across town. Most will be long-distance, time-intensive rescues. Think about that, town and village decision makers. Is that a supportable burden on a human resource that’s already stretched thin? And how are you going to absorb the additional cost in driver’s overtime and wear on equipment, etc., even if just a quarter of the projected visitors materialize?

There are other points in Tony’s letter I could address. Alas, space does not allow.

Phil Gallos lives in Saranac Lake.