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It’s Time to Build the Hudson River Bike Trail

It’s Time to Build the Hudson River Bike Trail December 15, 2019
Aerial view of Upper Hudson courtesy of Crown Focus Media

A tremendous opportunity exists for communities in Warren County and northern Saratoga County to build what could be one of the great multi-use public recreation trails in New York and the eastern U.S. A groundswell of support is emerging for the transition of the dormant 55-mile-long Saratoga and North Creek Railway to a public multiuse trail that would connect more than a dozen communities between Saratoga Springs and North Creek. 

What makes this trail especially appealing is that more than 30 miles of this trail would run along the Hudson River, where each bend in the river provides a different great view. Running along  the banks of the Hudson River, this trail would delight as one of the loveliest public trail systems in New York, bringing people through scene after scene of wild natural beauty. 

From bases in Saratoga Springs or North Creek, bicyclists and walkers, among other users, would enjoy a stunning trip with long unbroken sections at the north end. In the summer there are more than a dozen places to swim. In winter months, the trail would be available for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and fat bike riding on snow.

A new public trail from Saratoga Springs to North Creek would connect dozens of small communities such as Corinth, Lake Luzerne, Hadley, Stony Creek, Thurman, Athol, The Glen, Warrensburg, and Riparius, among other hamlets and businesses on the rail line. Such a trail would be very popular and heavily used. As we’ve seen with the Warren County Bike Trail between Lake George and Glens Falls, businesses would gravitate to the trail. 

Rural America is inextricably connected to the global economy. Rural America is littered with discarded industrial facilities. We see this throughout Warren County and the Adirondacks as decisions from everything like papermills, mines, and grocery stores to pharmacies are not made locally but far away.

Across the U.S., rural areas have fewer jobs today than they did in 2009, before the Great Recession, while urban-metropolitan areas not only gained back all jobs lost in the Great Recession, but have added over 11 million new ones. Population growth in the U.S. is heavily skewed towards metropolitan areas.

Americans today are less likely to move than Americans of past generations. Employment is no longer the driving force that sees millions of people move great distances. When people do move quality of life is the driving force. Rural areas that are bucking national trends are those that have invested in, built, and facilitated a broad range of social amenities, from restaurants, art centers, coffee shops, parks, and non-profits. Scenic beauty is a vital amenity. Ample public recreation is another.

The future for Adirondack communities is in building public amenities that are connected to our abundant and accessible natural resources. There is no new technology or app that will render our forests, lakes, and mountains obsolete. The Forest Preserve cannot be picked up and moved to China. The Forest Preserve can’t be closed and shuttered. The public amenities throughout our public lands provide the economic foundation for our region now and in the future. Nowhere is there a better case for this than in Lake George.

The idea of converting this rail line is an idea whose time has come. A transition will not be quick. Protect the Adirondacks is working with local government leaders, businesses, volunteers from the general public, among others, to build support for a feasibility study of the conversion of the 55-mile-long Saratoga and North Creek Railway. It’s clear that at this point that the Town of Corinth has other ideas for its section of railroad, but even a trail from Corinth to North Creek would be a stunner.

It’s important to get good information about the current state of the rail line, the possibilities for conversion, and about the range of issues from different recreational opportunities, potential rate of use, conversion costs, maintenance, management, spillover uses into adjacent communities, protection for private residences along the trail, among many other issues. We believe that a vigorous public assessment process based on extensive public input should be organized to explore this worthy proposal.

The development of a Hudson River Bike Trail from North Creek to Saratoga Springs would be a key amenity and would be a smart long-term investment for the region. Construction is expected to start on the conversion of the railroad from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake to a public multi-use recreation trail next summer. There will be a lot to learn from that experience. Now is the time for Warren County leaders be pro-active and start examining the possibilities of conversion of its rail corridor.

Peter Bauer is executive director of Protect the Adirondacks! Inc.,  a non-profit, grassroots membership organization dedicated to the protection and stewardship of the public and private lands of the Adirondack Park.