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Rails-to-trails interpretation opportunity

March 7, 2012
By Mike Storey

I like the idea of converting the Adirondack railroad to an all-season recreational trail. During non-snow times of the year, it would also afford the great opportunity to be a first-class interpretive trail for the Adirondacks. We already have a linear canoe trail, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, with its interpretive map guides and information kiosks at communities along the route, from Old Forge to Lake Champlain. It has been a great success. A linear recreational trail that roughly parallels that route would hold an even greater potential to tie together the Adirondack story for hikers and bicyclers.

Interpretation spans both natural and cultural history, and both visitors and residents are eager to learn firsthand information about the region they are in. Let's look at the possibilities, just in the segment from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake. There could be an information kiosk at the Lake Placid station inviting people to visit important historic and Olympic venues, businesses, etc., as well as a local map and map of the recreation trail to Saranac Lake and beyond. There could be a distribution box for interpretive trail guides that users could pick up and take that would describe the many interesting sights along the way, such as the Chubb River, Ray Brook, the CCC state forest, an eagle nest and beaver dams. Seasonal wild flowers and shrubs could be identified, as well as views of mountains, such as Scarface. Cultural items, such as the Ray Brook sanitarium (state prison) and the Olympic athletes' housing (federal prison), Pine Ridge Cemetery and Saranac Village at Will Rogers would all be identified and interpreted with posted numbers along the way. The rail station in Saranac Lake could house local history exhibits and an introduction to visit sites and businesses in this community.

Each segment of the route offers unique information for that part of the Adirondack Park. Between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake are Lake Colby, Lake Clear Junction, Saranac Inn, the St. Regis Canoe Area and Spring Pond Bog. The story of both wilderness and early settlement could be told. Farther on, the route passes Lows Lake, Lake Lila, Beaver River, Big Moose and Old Forge. Many abandoned stations are still standing and ready to be converted into hubs of interpretation and local community involvement. What a tremendous opportunity!

Article Photos

This sign for hikers on Mount Jo, near Lake Placid, is one example of interpretation.
(Image courtesy of Mike Storey)

Over the past 40-plus years of my career, I've had the pleasure of designing and interpreting trails in some of the most spectacular places in this country, including Yellowstone National Park, Everglades National Park, Beaver Lake Nature Center, both Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers, The Wild Center, Sacandaga Pathway and the trail to Mount Jo. Outdoor interpretation is educational and also good business. Believe me, interpretation draws people and makes them want to come back again and again.


Mike Storey was chief naturalist for the state Adirondack Park Agency for 24 years, retiring in 2001. He is the author of the book, "Why the Adirondacks Look the Way They Do," published in 2006. He lives in Saranac Lake.



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