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Rail with trail promotes recreation and accessibility

November 22, 2011
By Sharon O’Brien , Adirondack North Country Association

The new recreation path that will be built alongside the tracks within the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor will retain access to nature observation for key groups of people typically underserved: people with mobility challenges, as well as families with small children and senior citizens. As currently planned and funded, the recreational path will connect Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, two communities along the 170-mile Olympic Scenic Byway. This exciting project allows us to begin implementing local and regional goals from three adopted management plans for Adirondack North Country Scenic Byways, including improved accessibility.

The project will serve the interests of all and does not neglect those with limited access to wilderness due to mobility challenges. The town of North Elba, with ANCA's assistance, will be constructing a path for walkers, hikers, cross-country skiers and bicyclists while maintaining a corridor for snowmobilers. Of importance, this trail will work in conjunction with the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which has been using its open-air car to provide a safe and up-close view of nature for those with mobility issues. One coach car with lifts at both ends and wide doors is also available on every summer run. It has been adapted as the dedicated "Access Car" and holds up to six wheelchairs.

Adirondack Scenic Railroad staff and volunteers are also able to assist people using walkers who want to take the train to enjoy nature but are unable to walk or bike a recreational trail. Others who make routine use of the excursion train include the new market segment of grandparents traveling with young children, and clients of the Adirondack Arc and North Star, who enjoy pleasant outings on the train at a discounted price.

I recently learned from an Adirondack Scenic Railroad staff person who worked on the Saranac Lake-to-Lake Placid run over the past summer that as riders departed the train they commented that without the excursion line, this sort of family activity in the outdoors would not be possible. We have the opportunity to become the preferred destination for outdoor recreation for all.

For years, the Adirondack North Country Association, with federal funding through the New York State Department of Transportation, has marketed natural and built features in communities throughout 15 northern New York counties. Our maps, interpretive brochures, signage and two byway websites have raised awareness of the region as a travel destination which brings new and repeat visitors into our communities.

ANCA is now working to improve accessibility to the historic, cultural and recreational resources located along three byway touring routes that offer remarkable travel experiences. The new rail with trail project will give visitors and local residents the opportunity to enjoy outdoor recreation while accommodating the needs of a typically underserved section of the visitor market.

According to ANCA's 2009 Scenic Byway Market Trend Assessment, the No. 1 reason visitors come to our area is to view beautiful scenery. ANCA is committed to improving recreational access for those who want to spend time in nature but have physical challenges that limit their ability to get into the outdoors. In fact, allowing broader access to open space was a key factor in winning the $1.2 million grant that was recently awarded from the federal government to complete Phase I of the trail with rail.

A line in "America's Byways Vistas 2006" says it best: "To the 54 million people in the United States who have disabilities, as well as to their families and friends, and to our aging population, accessibility means the opportunity to enjoy experiences together."


Sharon O'Brien lives in Saranac Lake and is the byway program coordinator for the Adirondack North Country Association.



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