LAKE PLACID - Unsuccessful so far in their effort to get a bike path built along the railroad corridor between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, local officials have another plan up their sleeve.
The town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid are working with the Lussi family and a group of volunteers to establish a recreational mountain biking trail for both residents and visitors on a 600-acre tract owned by the Lussis located just outside the village.
The public-private partnership behind the project, which is just one of several mountain bike trail-building initiatives in the area over the last two years, is a sign of mountain biking's evolution from a little-known activity to a mainstream sport. It is also something people have come to expect in resort areas like Lake Placid.
Arthur Lussi stands next to a section of singletrack mountain biking trail cut earlier this year next the the driving range for the Crowne Plaza Lake Placid Resort’s golf courses. The town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid are working with the Lussi family and a group of volunteers to establish a recreational mountain biking trail.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"What's going on in resort towns in the Northeast and across the country is that it's kind of an expected amenity to have a mountain biking path or a community bike path," said Arthur Lussi, an avid mountain biker for 20-plus years.
North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi outlined plans for the mountain bike trail at Tuesday's town board meeting. The 5- to 6-mile loop would be built on Lussi family property south of state Route 86 (Wilmington Road), where most of the Crowne Plaza Resort's Links Golf Course is located.
"There is open space surrounding and in between those golf course areas, a portion of which is presently improved with a bike trail," Politi said. "The concept would be to create an extension and a loop system throughout that property for the public to utilize in perpetuity."
The loop trail would largely follow the perimeter of the Lussi's property and could be accessed from several points: across from the Cobble Mountain Lodge at the intersection of Northwood Road and Route 86, where an old Lake Placid Club bridle path runs between the golf course's sixth and seventh holes; a parking lot at the golf course's driving range; or via a bridge on River Road where the Jackrabbit Ski Trail crosses over the Chubb River. Mountain bikers could also park at the train station on Averyville Road and ride up Sentinel Road to Powerhouse Road to connect to the loop, Politi said.
One-third of the trail, which runs along the former bridle path, is ready to use, Politi said. Other portions of the route would need to be improved, he said.
"We're looking at a situation where the Lussis are willing to finish cutting out the overgrown road areas and the town and the village would work as partners to finish the surface of the trails," Politi said.
Politi said the trail could be used in connection with other current and future recreational trails.
"The thought is that this, in combination with the proposed bike trail along the railroad corridor and with Henry's Woods, would allow the community to have a bike trail that would be of interest to visitors and in competition with other resort areas that offer the same type of attraction," he said.
There would be no fees or permit system associate with biking on the trail, which could also be used for cross-country skiing in the winter, Politi said.
Village Mayor Craig Randall said the Lussi family was approached after he and Politi had a discussion about reusing the old bridle path for bikers or cross-country skiers.
"Within a matter of a week or so, the Lussis, the supervisor, (code enforcement officer) Jim Morganson and I got together to discuss the possibilities," he said. "The family was very interested in what we're talking about."
Lussi said his family's land south of Route 86 was already being used by mountain bikers. Following this year's Xterra Triathlon race, part of which took place on the property, Lussi was contacted by members of the Barkeater Trails Alliance (BETA), a newly formed mountain biking advocacy and trail-building group, which noticed that many local people had started mountain biking on the property.
"But what was happening was people were ending up on golf course roads and would be in the line of fire, so to speak, of golfers," Lussi said. "So, these guys said, 'How about if you let us design a trail system that avoids the golf course?' and we said, 'OK.'"
BETA mobilized a group of volunteers and has been building a 15-mile network of what is called singletrack - narrow, challenging trails that wind through the woods.
"As it has become more popular with local people and visitors, some people thought it's too tough and narrow and suggested we do a community-level recreational path for people that aren't world class mountain bikers," Lussi said.
The recreational path will have an easier grade and, most likely, a gravel surface that's free of hazards like large rocks, stream crossings and downed trees.
"Clearly, when we pick this community loop, it's got to be terrain that is gentle, and it can't be extremely hilly," Lussi said. "We also have to be very cognizant of the environment, so it's not going through boggy areas or places like that."
The project also got going because, despite all the other recreational opportunities the area has to offer, from hiking to fishing to skiing and snowmobiling, there are, by comparison, few places for people to mountain bike locally.
The state Olympic Regional Development Authority offers mountain biking on the ski trails of Whiteface Mountain Ski Center and Mount Van Hoevenburg during the summer. Lussi said the recreational trail will provide a very different mountain biking experience and won't take any business away from ORDA.
Apart from ORDA's facilities, the only other areas with designated mountain biking trails are the Flume trail system in Wilmington, which opened last year, and a series of trails off of nearby Hardy Road. The Logger's Loop, and other trails on the Lussi property are used frequently. There are several mountain biking trails in the Saranac Lake area, and BETA is also involved in a plan to develop trails at Dewey Mountain Cross-Country Ski Center.
Since 2002, a plan has been in the works to put a multi-use recreational path along the railroad tracks, but the project has been held up due to rising engineering costs.
"My dad (Serge Lussi) is a proactive person and is very frustrated by the bogging down of that process," Arthur Lussi said. "He heard Roby and Craig were trying to work together on that project and said, 'If we're having a hard time trying to get that done, let's try this idea.'"
The town board raised no objections to the plan during its meeting Tuesday and voted to move forward with the project.
"It's a great offer the Lussis have given us," said Councilman Derek Doty. "It gives us another great attraction for the biking community."
BETA member Bill Frazer, who's helped build the singletrack network of mountain biking trails on the Lussi property, thinks a more mellow recreational trail will be a great addition.
"It would be great for families," said Frazer, who works at Placid Planet Bicycles in Lake Placid in the summer. "There's so many times that families come and rent bikes (at Placid Planet), but there's really nowhere safe to take families. We'd be willing to help make it happen."
Frazer said his group is working to create a map and improve the signage for the existing mountain biking trails on the Lussi property. They've also submitted a request to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to designate mountain biking trails on adjacent state land.
Frazer said there's a growing enthusiasm for mountain biking in the area.
"I've definitely seen a huge increase in the number of people riding mountain bikes," he said. "There's a lot of momentum and a lot of people that are willing to put in the time to build trails. Hopefully, down the line, we'd like to advertise this area as a destination mountain bike area for the Northeast."
"I think Lake Placid is late putting this kind of stuff together," Randall said. "I think we should have been doing it years ago. But now the impetus is there, and it's coming to us through the bicycling community."
The recreational trail will also help take some of the bicycle traffic off the main roads in Lake Placid, Randall said.
Politi said the next step is to secure easements for the trail from the Lussi family.
"It would be a flexible easement in that if portions of the golf course or holes on the golf course were modified or changed, the bike trail could be shifted," he said.
Lussi said his family doesn't plan to charge the town or village anything for the easements.
The town and village would be responsible for maintaining the trail system over time, Politi said.
"We're also going to try to enlist the help of the bicycling community to help maintain these trails," said Morganson. "It's not going to be a burden."
Politi said work on the trail could begin as soon as the easements are secured. Lussi said he thinks the project could be complete by fall of next year.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.