To see a great rail trail, look to Wisconsin

To the editor:

Now that the state of New York has signaled support for an Adirondack Rail Trail, Adirondack residents can begin to look forward to a difference-making economic shot in the arm.

Naysayers who don’t want to give up any train track will say that these benefits are a fiction. They will claim that a recreational trail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid will be too rural and too long, that few dollars will make their way into the coffers of local business. These negativists ought to pay a visit to my current state of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s Elroy-Sparta Trail is a 32-mile route through a very rural part of the state. In 1970 you could not have found anyone outside the area who knew what Sparta or Elroy were. There are no major tourist draws in the area, the population is sparse, and there are no large urban areas nearby. Sound familiar?

Then the rail trail went in. Dozens of new businesses sprouted up, from bike shops to coffee shops. A raft of hotels, motels and B&Bs run so brisk a business that they book a year in advance. The annual economic benefit of this trail is well over a million dollars per year for these communities, a figure that has been measured consistently for years.

Every recreational cyclist knows about the Elroy-Sparta Trail now. Do we care? Well, since recreational biking – which is difficult or impossible to do safely in much of the park – is the fastest growing recreational activity in America, worth billions of dollars, I think we do. Tupper Lake, are you paying attention? Saranac Lake, you folks want to fill that new hotel space? Imagine if an Adirondack rail trail was as well known as Elroy-Sparta.

Wisconsin countryside is pretty, but it is not nearly as scenic as the Adirondacks and it lacks the population centers within a day’s drive that we have. The Adirondack Rail Trail would eclipse Elroy-Sparta if it were properly promoted to the millions of bicyclists who would be thrilled to ride what would be the premier wilderness bike path in the United States.

Naysayers will have their voice in the upcoming public hearings. But what this rail trail needs now is support, not negative bickering, and it needs a promotional plan worthy of the economic shot in the arm it can deliver to Adirondack communities that so deeply need it.

Pete Nelson

Keene Valley and Madison, Wisconsin