Taking a closer look at Trail User Survey

To the editor:

On Aug. 4, a column appeared in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise submitted by James Falcsik of Irwin, Pennsylvania, with the headline “Report disputes trail booster claims.” The report cited was “An Analysis of the 2015 Trail User Survey and Count” conducted by the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. This report is a follow-up to a similar OPRHP Trail User Survey conducted in 2008, for which I provided technical assistance.

The column author cited statements made in the report from the “statewide results,” which began on page 52. The statements that were selected for the column, however, were only those that served Mr. Falcsik’s purpose, which clearly was to cast doubt on studies that support the development of the Adirondack Rail Trail for its tourism, public health and economic development potential. The Adirondack Rail Trail, which will extend for 34 miles through the northern Adirondacks and connect the Tri-Lakes area villages of Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, could be a leading recreational attraction in the Adirondack Park and rank as one of the nation’s best rail-to-trail conversions.

I commend the New York Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation for conducting trail user surveys and counts to gain knowledge regarding trail user characteristics, demographics and economic benefits. Agencies across the country are also conducting trail user surveys to better understand the growing popularity of multi-use trails.

Taking a closer look at this study at the individual trail level, however, reveals why it has not been showcased in support of the Adirondack Rail Trail. Six of the 15 trails studied are less than 10 miles in length. These community trails provide an important resource but can hardly be expected to attract tourism. That said, in some cases they have still added to their communities’ economy with the opening of a new business here and there to provide services to local trail users.

The Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation wanted a broad sample of trails from across the state. Surveys were made available during August and September of 2015. For nine of the 15 trails, the number of completed surveys was less than 100. Trail user surveys conducted by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, on the other hand, with an eye to statistical validity, shoot for a minimum of 300 completed responses.

In short, the comparative trails that were examined to support development of the proposed Adirondack Rail Trail were, by definition, “destination” trails, such as the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail that runs through portions of the Jefferson National Forest or Pennsylvania’s 60-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail that runs through the Tioga and Tiadaghton State Forest.

One last point. Having biked nine of the 15 trails in the OPRHP report, I can claim firsthand knowledge of the important role they play in their communities.

Carl Knoch

New Freedom, Pennsylvania