Boosting winter tourism

I read with great interest Matthew Turner’s article about increasing winter tourism. Jim McKenna, who heads the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, is correct in that we have not reached our potential in that area.

Skiing is just one of the main revenue generators that we can promote more of, for sure. Another winter recreation activity that has not been well promoted here is snowmobiling. Part of that failure is due to the lack of appropriate trails that can be properly maintained and groomed, trails that connect many of the towns and villages in the Adirondack Park. While Old Forge and the Tug Hill Plateau do a good job of marketing their areas for snowmobiling, the rest of the Adirondacks are not well known for that activity.

Why is that? It’s because the Adirondacks lack a Canadian-style snowmobile-touring venue that would bring more overnight visitors into all areas of the Park, not just Lake Placid and Old Forge. One problem is the lack of a main trail that can be maintained with large-tracked groomers. While there are snowmobile trails connecting some areas, many of these trails can only be groomed with a drag-type groomer pulled behind a snowmobile because of the width of the trail and/or its location in wild forest areas.

There is already a route designated as the main snowmobile trail, but it has not fulfilled its potential except on a few occasions. That main snowmobile thoroughfare (trail C-7) is the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, the former rail line connecting the southwestern to the northeastern Adirondacks. It is also rated as a Class A snowmobile trail – that is, a main connecting route that can accommodate the wide-tracked grooming machines needed for proper maintenance. All other snowmobile trails coming south from the Tug Hill Plateau, Plattsburgh, Malone and Canton, along with trails running north from Indian Lake, Raquette Lake, Long Lake, Newcomb and North Hudson, connect to this thoroughfare through the Adirondacks.

So why not capture these tourists before they cross the border into Canada? Why not market this experience to our Canadian friends? It’s a known fact that snowmobilers are big spenders. Studies by the New York State Snowmobile Association and others estimate that removal of the rails north of Old Forge would result in another $7.2 million in wintertime tourist spending.

To quote Jim McKenna, “The best customer is a repeat customer.” Snowmobilers come back several times a season to enjoy their activity. According to the Potsdam Institute for Applied Research, the average snowmobiler spends 22 days a year and averages $8,200 yearly on their sport. And snowmobilers don’t just drop money in one community. They might have breakfast in Old Forge, lunch in Tupper Lake and dinner in Lake Placid, where they might stay the night and next day head to Saranac Lake for breakfast, enjoy lunch in Wanakena, then stop in Beaver River before getting back to Old Forge.

Many other combinations are possible. The point is that every one of those towns along the corridor would benefit from an influx of tourist dollars and sales tax revenues that are not being realized currently.

The article stated that outdoor activities continue to be the main draw in the Adirondacks. Another huge economic benefit from removing the tracks would be better, safer bicycling, something we still do not have here. While this is mostly a spring, summer and fall activity, new fat-tire winter biking is becoming popular in other states with long winters. One of the best venues for that kind of winter biking is on groomed snowmobile trails.

We have been missing a great opportunity for tourism development by not removing and salvaging the old, obsolete railroad tracks on the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor. Does keeping the marginal tourist train on the 9-mile section between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake come even close to the potential benefits from other uses of the corridor? I don’t think so, and neither do many others.

The time has come to build the best long-distance bicycle-snowmobile trail network in the East. It’s time to build the Adirondack Rail Trail!

Hope Frenette lives in Tupper Lake and is a board member of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.