The UHRT will be an awesome bike trail running between North Creek and Tahawus on the old mining railroad - 29 miles. Perhaps I can bring everyone up to speed in small doses, but I'll begin with the most recent news.
The right of way crosses public and private lands. The DEC has some work to do to figure out what their responsibilities are for the stretch in the forest preserve. An attorney on the top floor of DEC Headquarters in Albany is preparing an internal memo, so we traveled down to brief him on the project, and our knowledge of the Federal law that makes rail-to-trail conversions possible. We have access to an RTC attorney, one of the few attorneys with experience in these matters. We have time to persuade them to see things as we do, so we were gentle - Federal preemption is not warmly embraced by state agencies, or anyone, really. It should be seen as a way to allow the "right thing" to happen more easily than otherwise. Hardly anyone thinks a bike trail is a bad thing, and it's actually already there - we just have to get rid of the rails and ties.
My sense is that DEC understands that the best use of the ROW is a bike trail, but it might take a bit of arm-twisting to avoid a 10-year process to revise the unit management plan for the Vanderwhacker Forest. (The current UMP is silent on the ROW, which is actually correct and significant - the authors appeared to recognize that the ROW is not subject to forest preserve regulations, which would be a very convenient conclusion for DEC's attorney to reach.) It was a good meeting - we've had only good meetings on this project, which is very encouraging.
That's a small bit of news. We're working on many other fronts. It's very important that we have good, visible public support, and I welcome the opportunity to bring our winter-time friends into the effort. You can help by visiting www.upperhudson.org and signing up, becoming a Facebook fan, or contacting me directly if you wish to contribute your own energy to the project.
- Curt Austin, Friends of the Upper Hudson Rail Trail, Inc. 518 494 9994
Through grass roots, and small, medium and large benefactor contributions — both public and private — my small NJ town of 2200 acquired 100 acres, turned it into open space and a park and a playground that is a kid and parent magnet.
It took ten years, but the developer got full price, and the town got an amenity that actually DRAWS people from other towns, to spend their money here.
Granted our project was tiny compared to this one, but financially the same model could work. And all of our donations came from within a 10 miles radius. (Granted it's a dense area.)
But this project could interest a much broader base of people. This map illustrates 225 miles around North Creek. Maybe it should be 150 miles, but you get the idea:
It would be awesome if the trail could be extended to Minerva Lake, with a broad shoulder and lane paint on the road.
I'm in the same boat as Shaman. I haven't seen or heard much about cost.
It's hard for me to grasp the projects scope without that info. If it's on the site and I missed it, someone point me to it?
According to Parks and Trails New York, stone dust trails run $150K/mile, and asphalt trails $250K/mile. Multiply by 29 and you get an idea. I think those are the costs for a very civilized sort of trail - maybe a more primitive trail is less; in fact, much less if you consider the ROW minus the rails/ties to be a useful trail (just need bridge railings, signs, ATB barriers). The greatest amount of information on the website is in the presentations, including this bit.
Trails have been funded by a wide variety of sources depending on the circumstances. We have some work to do before we can get out the tin cup. In my corporate-trained mind, our current objective is a good pitch to make in front of potential trail developers/operators and sources of funds. The pitch must answer a lot of questions. A big one is "Who owns the ROW?"; we want the answer to be "We do." Or some equivalent. Another is "Is X on board?"; we'll want to be able to say "yes" or provide some assurances for each "X". Have the rails been removed? We'll need a preliminary design and cost estimate. We may need a bridge inspection. Etc.
Of course, this would be a lousy time to give this pitch due to the current economic picture. Our pitch will get better with time, the economy will get better with time, and eventually we'll get the trail built.
I did look at one of the powerpoint presentations online. I have to admit that on my machine, the load time for each slide was long, and I only got through one of them.
Question on the numbers ... $150 - 250k per mile would be to create a trail from scratch? If so ... $4-8 million. One thing about our little project - we essentially got matching funds from a wealthy benefactor and then those funds were matched by NJ open space funds. So on a $3 million total we only had to raise $750k. As I said before, we felt that was a pretty good accomplishment on such a small base. Is there any possibility of state money?
Also I'd heard that the rails themselves — the steel — had value that could defray some of the cost?
Is there time pressure? I have a feeling this was answered somewhere ... that a time limit was specified in the original agreement with National Lead.
One thing I love about this project is the recycling aspect. In the past, a huge amount of energy was put into cutting what amounts to a narrow interstate highway through the mountains. That cut through the land will be there for eons, and is ideally suited to this kind of use. It's hard for me to think of a better use for the ROW than the one you are proposing.
Obviously North River landowners may well have a different perspective. IMO that has to be respected. You snag someone's land for the war, promise that it be returned in an extremely long time frame ... those promises should be honored. Not saying that's not the plan. Would love to know what the landowners really think. What are they saying?
"I'm all about Clouding Out. I'm a teleskier now!" —tBatt
Getting off the track
What must be done to create a world-class bike path in the Adirondacks.
By ALAN WECHSLER
Someday, the Adirondacks could boast of a tourist attraction not found anywhere else in the East: a long-distance rail-trail that would enable bicyclists to take multiday trips through protected wild lands.
The route could be used by others as well: trail runners, hikers, and, in winter,
The rail-trail could extend as many as eighty miles, starting in Thendara, near Old Forge, and ending in Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake, or Lake Placid. Along the way it would traverse remote tracts of the forever-wild Forest Preserve and pass by hamlets that could see a boost in tourism.
OK, don’t get excited: this remains theoretical. But those familiar with rail-trail projects say it could happen—if state and local leaders back the idea, if Adirondack residents push for it, and if sufficient public and private funds can be obtained.
Backers of such a project would have to contend with the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which runs a sightseeing train from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake and hopes to extend the trip to Tupper Lake. The railroad uses the rest of the track twice a year to reach its garage in Utica and hopes to one day bring rail traffic to the entire line.
A lot to consider. But rail-trail success stories around the nation show two things:
First, rail-trails are an economic boon. A multiday trail such as the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania or the 225-mile Katy Trail in Missouri can attract tens of thousands of users each season. And, even on smaller routes, businesses follow: bed and breakfasts, bike-rental and repair shops, restaurants, museums, art galleries, shuttle services, etc.
Second, building rail-trails can take time. The Great Allegheny Passage took thirty years from conception to completion. But once a groundswell of support begins to grow, it’s hard to stop.
In the Adirondacks, a short rail-trail already exists connecting Lake George to Glens Falls, but the ten-mile route is primarily a local attraction (the route is also badly advertised to visitors, and the entrances at either end are hard to find).
Farther north, a grass-roots effort is under way to promote a rail-trail from North Creek to Tahawus. The Friends of the Upper Hudson Rail-Trail, which recently held its first meeting, is talking with railroad owner NL Industries about taking over the property. But at twenty-nine miles, the route would be a bit short to be on the national radar. Also, its northern terminus lies in the wilderness, far from ammenities.
In contrast, train corridor between Thendara and Lake Placid offers the opportunity to create a world-class rail-trail. The whole line hasn’t been used commercially since the 1970s, when the state took it over from New York Central. Today, Adirondack Scenic operates two trains: one out of Thendara along the Moose River, which takes in about three-fourths of the nonprofit company’s revenue, and one between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, which has proved less popular. (It also runs short trips north of Thendara.)
The line is maintained mostly by the railroad, but New York State reimburses the company for the work, a cost that runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Despite the state’s fiscal climate, state Department of Transportation officials say no one is considering discontinuing maintenance of the track.
In between the two train routes are about seventy miles of wilderness rail, passing by lakes, wetlands, and forests. If the stretch from Thendara, just south of Old Forge, to Saranac Lake were converted to a trail, the Adirondacks could lay claim to one of the longest wilderness bike paths in the nation. And if it reached Lake Placid—which some local officials would like to see—the trail would be eighty miles long and start and end in two of the most-visited tourist towns in the Park.
Is it worth it? Around the nation, backers of other rail-trails say it is.
Take the 150-mile Great Allegheny Path (see sidebar). Between Cumberland, Maryland, and Pittsburgh was an abandoned rail line. There were more than a dozen huge trestles that required decking and the three-thousand-foot-long Big Savage Tunnel, which had water pouring down from the ceiling in numerous places. “We called it the ‘car wash,’” said Linda Boxx of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, which began promoting a rail-trail more than thirty years ago.
It took three decades, but volunteers eventually raised $65 million to acquire various sections of rail and rehab the tunnel and trestles. Once finished, trails were handed over to local governments to maintain.
“We went after lots of grants, state and federal opportunities, private foundations, broad appeals to the general public,” she said. “It’s a continual job to raise the money.”
Today, the Allegheny Passage is one of the most well-known rail-trails in the country. Last year, the path brought in about $40 million from cycling tourists, mostly from lodging and food purchases, said Boxx.
The Katy Trail, named after the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, which was often referred to as the K-T, is a 225-mile route that will eventually link St. Louis with Kansas City, extending across all of Missouri. The trail attracts about three hundred thousand users annually, including more than ten major group tours.
“There’s definitely an economic impact,” said Judd Slivka, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. “If you go to Rocheport [a popular trailhead] on a summer day, you’ll see the trail has hundreds of people on it. The trailside café is always packed.”
Pennsylvania’s Pine Creek rail-trail, which is sixty-two miles in length, earns $3 million to $5 million per year for the local economy, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national advocacy group. Other rail trails around the country also have proved to have economic benefit.
Closer to home, the Erie Canal Towpath is not a rail-trail per se, but it is a cycling route from Buffalo to Albany, most of which is on a path. Hundreds of cyclists use parts of the route every day. Each July, five hundred people cycle the trail west to east as part of a group tour. Some towns send out staffers to greet the riders and make suggestions for lunch stops.
Such is the impact of a group of folks on two wheels. Bicycling, after all, generates quite an appetite.
So what would it take to turn the Adirondacks’ longest section of (mostly) unused railroad track into a bike trail?
First step: build support. The state Department of Transportation, which owns the rail, expects to begin updating the master plan for the corridor in the next year or two. (It was first written in 1996.) As the plan is developed, rail-trail advocates will have their chance to be heard—by writing letters, speaking at public hearings, and otherwise arguing that a rail-trail is better for the region than a railroad.
Officials in Lake Placid already have called for replacing the tracks between their village and Saranac Lake with a bike path. Snowmobilers also support getting rid of the tracks, which prohibit sled use when snow is low. They say removal of the tracks would lead to a big boost in snowmobile tourism. Presumably, bicyclists and other recreational users also would get behind the idea.
Of course, there would be opponents. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad has visions of revitalizing the entire line. And Tupper Lake has rebuilt its depot with the idea of expanding the Lake Placid tourist train.
The next step: permits. The Adirondack Park Agency already issued permits four years ago to create a bike path that would run parallel to the Lake Placid-Saranac Lake tracks. Building a new path beside the tracks proved too costly, but the APA’s approval of the project suggests the agency is not averse to creating bike paths that run through the Forest Preserve.
A long-distance trail from Thendara to Lake Placid would require new permits from the APA, along with public hearings. In addition, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and possibly the Army Corps of Engineers would need to be involved (the latter because of wetlands and stream crossings).
Actually, the federal government would have primary jurisdiction over a rail-trail project due to a 1983 law that allows for “railbanking.” The purpose of the law is to preserve right-of-ways for future use by railroads. “It’s a unique, and somewhat complex, mix of federal and state law,” said DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino.
Third step: get rid of the tracks. This is not as expensive as it might seem. In fact, it would likely cost taxpayers nothing. The state might even realize a small profit: the value of the steel rails is high enough that salvage companies would bid for the right to remove them, even though steel prices are not as high as they once were.
“Once the owner decided to sell, we can cut a check within a couple of days and start working within two weeks,” said Jason Feagans, railroad division manager at National Salvage & Service Corp. The Indiana company has undertaken a number of rail-salvage jobs around the country. Barring unforeseen problems, Feagans estimates that his crews could clear the Adirondack line in under two years.
National Salvage uses a variety of heavy machines, including excavators, boom trucks, skid loaders, and bulldozers. It has wood chippers to chop up the ties if they are too rotten for reuse. The machinery could be brought in over the rail line (or the bed, once the rails are removed), leaving the adjacent forest unmolested. In fact, heavy machinery already is brought in yearly to do maintenance on the line.
Fourth step: construct the trail. After the salvage operation, the rail bed will be left as a smooth dirt path. Many modern long-distance bike trails are covered with stone dust, a finely ground stone sand laid down by a machine and packed by a small steamroller. Once tamped, it’s as hard-packed as a dirt road—but it won’t turn into mud after a rainstorm. While not ideal for racing bikes, a stone-dust trail is great for mountain bikes and hybrid bikes and creates a rustic feel in a way that asphalt does not.
Covering a trail with stone dust costs around $150,000 per mile (as opposed to $250,000 per mile for asphalt), according to the Upper Hudson group. For an eighty-mile trail, that works out to $12 million. Granted, that’s not exactly pocket change, especially given the sorry state of New York’s finances. But with fund raising, corporate donations, grants, and the help of local governments, it’s doable. Keep in mind that the Allegheny folks raised $65 million. In New York, we already own the property and we have no expensive tunnels or giant trestles to rehabilitate.
Once the trail is built, who would maintain it? The Great Allegheny Passage is kept up by the counties who benefit from the sales-tax revenue. The Katy Trail, however, is maintained by the state of Missouri. Perhaps the Adirondack trail could be maintained through a partnership of New York State and local counties. Volunteers also could chip in, picking up litter and conducting safety patrols. They might even perform bike repairs on busy weekends (which would be sure to generate positive word-of-mouth).
While cyclists might salivate at the possibilities, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad has different plans. Chairman Bill Branson said the railroad had a good season last year in spite of a bad economy. This summer, the company expects to accommodate its millionth customer.
Branson doubts that rail-trail advocates will get their way. “It’s a historic corridor,” he said. “No one’s going to be in a hurry to rip it up. I just don’t think it’s a practical question.”
The railroad hopes to expand its southern tourist route north to Big Moose and the northern route to Tupper Lake sometime in the future. In the longer term, it would like to rehabilitate the entire line and perhaps lure freight and passenger trains back to the Adirondacks.
Branson said engineers estimate that it would cost $32 million to restore the line between Thendara and Tupper Lake and $6 million to restore the section between Tupper and Saranac Lake. The railroad hopes to for state and federal aid to help pay for the work. “There’s more potential in developing it than not,” he said.
Branson has a point in that most rail-trails are built on abandoned rail beds, not ones still in use (even if that use is seasonal). Nevertheless, in a region dependent on tourists, a rail-trail north of the successful Old Forge line offers tantalizing potential.
In early June, the North Elba Town Board agreed to hire a consulting firm to investigate the comparative benefits of a rail-trail versus the train. “I’m going to be amazed if the findings don’t indicate that the railroad’s a boondoggle,” said Supervisor Roby Politi.
If Politi is right, the study could persuade more people, including perhaps the decision-makers in Albany, to get behind a bikeway proposal.
I have been meaning to make a donation to the Friends of the UHRT. I am going to their site right now to pitch in some $$$. I don't know how much can be done at this point but I am a strong believer that developing a bike trail for the area will be much better than a 5 mile rail line for Barton and a "possible" 30 mile tourist train extension. My 2 cents is that enough money has been spent on the dadgome railroad. A bike trail would bring in way more business to the area.
Thanks for posting those links. At the end of the day, I doubt Iowa Pacific will want to own this track - they will not own the track to the south and they'd be stuck with it if that franchise did not continue. I am also hopeful that Barton's will eventually do some sound business analysis someday, and figure out if it makes sense for them to spend money on the southern section (probably not, according to what I can figure). I am somewhat concerned that Warren County officials could apply for a grant to subsidize train operations on the Tahawus extension, which would delay conversion to a trail. I say "delay" since it will certainly, someday, become a trail - the historical trends regarding rail transportation and our rural economy are not going to change. The future of rail corridors has been bike trails for the past twenty years.
What can you do? Talk it up, let people know what you think, join our Facebook page (go to upperhudson.org), become a member, ride your bike (not now!) around North Creek. We just have to let the "powers that be" know how awesome this trail will be. (But there's also some more specific things volunteers can work on, and that would be immensely valuable. A little money would help, too. Send me a note, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I hope to provide more info here in the coming months, now that my busy season is over.
I should mention that folks in Lake Placid, led by Dick Beamish, founder of the Adirondack Explorer, have got an economic analysis well underway regarding their rail corridor to Saranac and Tupper Lake. My contact at Rails to Trails is involved, and he tells me the study will be provided in January. For them, it is needed to foster a thoughtful, informed train vs. trail decision. The results should be relevant to the situation here, except our decision is far easier, between "trains, no bikes" and "trains and bikes".
But I don't think it is that complicated. Here's my own graphical analysis, comparing the two possibilities in terms of cars in the parking lot, at two different times: