State: Stay off rail trail this summer

Construction of trail from Saranac Lake to Santa Clara starts today

A “trail closed” sign is posted at the entrance to the Adirondack Rail Trail on state Route 86 in Saranac Lake on Sunday, April 23. (Enterprise photo — Lauren Yates)

As construction of the second phase of the Adirondack Rail Trail between Saranac Lake and Floodwood Road in Santa Clara starts today, the state is telling people to stay off approximately 24 miles of the 34-mile-long trail between Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Santa Clara as construction gets into swing this summer.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and state Office of General Services Commissioner Jeanette Moy announced on Wednesday that Rifenburg Construction, out of Troy, was awarded the $8.75 million contract for construction on the trail to the west of Saranac Lake.

This construction is set to begin today, according to Adirondack Rail Trail Association Executive Director Brian Woods, who said he got confirmation from the DEC of this on Wednesday morning.

Woods said this is an earlier start than had been previously anticipated, so he is hoping an early start means and early finish.

This trail between Saranac Lake and Floodwood Road will be closed for public use during the construction season. There is an expected “winter shutdown” of work between Dec. 18, 2023, and March 31, 2024.

Kubricky Construction is still working on the $7.9 million first phase of trail work — a 9-mile stretch between the Lake Placid Station Street train station, and the fire-damaged Aubuchon Hardware on Broadway in Saranac Lake. This portion of the trail is expected to be completed in the fall.

“During this time, public use on the Lake Placid to Floodwood Road portion of trail is prohibited for public safety,” according to a DEC press release. “DEC urges the public to refrain from using any portion of the trail while it is closed.

“Currently, walkers and bikers using parts of the trail during its construction are creating unsafe situations in work zones,” it continues. “Please respect posted signage and barricades.”

Woods said, as tempting as it is to see progress made on the trail that has been anticipated for decades, the time to use it has not come quite yet. And to make sure it comes as soon as possible, he says it’s best to wait.

“I want to be out there riding and running on the trail now. I know tons of other people that want that, too,” Woods said. “Everybody wants it to be done yesterday.”

As much as they are all “bummed” about the closure, he feels it is important to respect it. Any injury or disruption could mean a slowdown of work, Woods said. He said he has heard of people ignoring the signs and riding or walking on the trail anyways, but with construction starting up, that’s not safe.

He said on top of the concern of recreators running into operating machinery in active work zones, they could cross bridges under construction and with uncertain structural integrity, or hit freshly laid asphalt at the entrances to roadways.

“We all want to be out there but it has to be done right. A safe time is a fun time,” he said. “A couple more months and we’ll all be able to get out there … and have an awesome fall (season) on the trail.”

The state is planning to pave a 2.6-mile stretch of the trail through the village of Saranac Lake. Woods said ARTA had advocated for this to be crushed stone like the rest of the trail, but at the end of the day, completion of the trail is the final goal.

For those waiting impatiently for the trail to open, he recommends other paths to tide them over — the 10 miles of open trail on the Tupper Lake side, the Bloomingdale Bog Trail (also a former rail line), or any of the Barkeater Trails Alliance trails.

“Worksite safety is always a priority so DEC is reminding visitors and neighbors to avoid use in all closed portions of the trail so workers and the public can stay safe and the project continues to advance,” Seggos said in a statement.

Phase 3 of construction — from Floodwood to the Tupper Lake train station — is expected to start in the fall 2024 and finish in the fall 2025.

In Tupper Lake, the state is allowing “interim recreation … at users’ own risk” since this portion of the trail is still “unimproved.” All-terrain vehicles are prohibited from using the trail. And hazardous conditions or active construction or maintenance may restrict public use at times.

Woods said he has heard of motorbikes entering the trail from the train station parking lot in Tupper Lake, which he’s hoping with stop as the trail is completed and gets more foot and pedal use.

After the state Department of Transportation removed the rails on the corridor in 2021, work converting the raw railbed into a multi-use recreational trail began in late 2022.

The total trail corridor is 34 miles long and 100 feet wide, with a 2.5-foot shoulder on each side.

The finished trail will be 10 feet wide and topped with crushed stone dust. Moy said the trail will be paved even smoother in portions of the village of Saranac Lake and across bridges. Work has also begun on the parking lot at the Saranac Lake Depot.

The contract is funded by NY Works, with an additional $225,000 supported by the Environmental Protection Fund for construction oversight and inspections.


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