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From Rail to Trail

A Sneak Peek at the Adirondack Rail Trail

“Under Construction”
Sneaking a peek at the rail trail
Facing the trestle from Pine Street

First things first:

Yes, I can read. The sign clearly says, “Trail Closed” (Although someone has moved it.) And yes, I have read the NYSDEC notices & bulletins urging folks to stay off the trail until work is completed.

I realize the NYSDEC’s concerns regarding safety and unnecessary work interruptions are legitimate. But in my defense, I took these photos on a weekend. No work crews were present, all the equipment was parked, and I snapped most of these photos from road junction vantage points.

My trip’s itinerary actually began with a plan to attend Saranac Lake’s homecoming football game. I don’t generally return to my high school alma mater for homecoming, but this year, three championship football teams (1975, ’76, & ’77) from my era were being inducted into Saranac Lake’s Athletic Hall of Fame. While I did not play on any of them (my varsity football years were ’79 & 80), I knew a number of the players being inducted, and I was in the stands as a high school freshman, banging cymbals & drums in Mr. Baker’s band for that ’77 team.

However, there was no band (or cheerleaders, for that matter), at this game. I guess they don’t do that anymore. Not quite certain why that is, but it seems to me to be in some ways a shame.

I watched the game unfold until halftime, at which point, with our home team down two touchdowns, I watched and listened to the Hall of fame Induction ceremony. After chatting with a few old teammates and friends, I left to seek a nice quiet place where I could hook up to my feeding tube.

Where did I go to find such a spot?

Of course!

One of my all-time favorite Saranac Lake Zen hangouts:

Triangle Park.

My usual parking spot in the little pull-off across the street from the house I grew up in was at that particular moment otherwise occupied.

Lower Pine Street, all the way down across the bridge past Denny Park to Bloomingdale Avenue, was in the process of being repaved and thus closed.

So, I parked up top, by the trestle, hooked up to my feeding tube, then settled in for some lunch and a nap.

Judging by the steady stream of traffic passing by on the “closed” trail as I took in my nourishment and dozed, I can with confidence report that the village of Saranac Lake maintains a healthily diverse population of Adirondack Outlaws.

Having, during my numerous bottle diving ventures over the course of the summer, sat in that park a number of times while work crew construction and paving on the rail conversion was ongoing, once my tube feeding and nap were complete, I decided to take my own sneak peek at the new trail.

I began by snapping a few shots at the trestle. I must admit, just as are many other folks with whom I have spoken, up to that point I was highly skeptical of the whole project. Why did Saranac Lake NEED another trail? Weren’t there trails enough around already? It all seemed to me like a bit of a boondoggle.

However, my mind changed almost immediately when I saw the progress that has been made on the trail section crossing that span since July. The aesthetics and quality of materials and work are all truly impressive.

The only apt term I can conjure to describe its construction is,


The Trestle
View from the Triangle Park side

The wooden railings had not yet been installed the last time I was there. Nice solid pressure treated lumber, securely fastened together using heavy bolts and not screws, running the length of the trail from the trestle into town, their construct is a testament to the high level of commitment and workmanship going into this project.

The river views from both sides of the trestle are equally impressive.

The upriver view from the trestle towards town

The downriver view of the rapids towards Pine Street

As a boy, crossing that span of chipped, splintered railroad ties with wide gaps was one of my most feared events. My friends would all run across laughing, often scooting out to the edge to peer over while I crossed, frequently in tears, often on my hands and knees, trembling in terror, while they all made fun of me.

If the trestle had been paved over and equipped with these sturdy wood railings when I was a lad growing up, I could have avoided a childhood filled with scared to death of heights trestle crossing nightmare causing trauma, an echoed earful of jeers from my “friends” and admired my old river friend’s flow free of anguish.

I encountered a steady flow of traffic on the trail, including pedestrians, joggers and dog walkers. There was also a varied array of rail trail bike traffic, including conventionally biked kids scooting past, individuals out for a leisurely spin, and a stream of folks whirring by at startlingly high speed on electric bikes.

Judging by the number of these electric bikes I encountered in my short time on the trail, if I was a betting man, I would wager that if they haven’t already, once this trail is officially open for business, electric bikes will quite quickly become all the rage, a “must have” item for those traversing the trail, and a highly coveted big-ticket item locally.

My only question though, regarding their presence on the trail is this.

The signs all clearly state:

“No motor vehicles except snowmobiles”

Are electric bikes not, in fact, motor vehicles?

As I pondered that question while folks on these seemingly(?) motorized conveyances came up from behind yelling “passing left!”, I decided to continue traversing the trail down towards where it crossed Bloomingdale Avenue.

Rail Trail View: Coming off the trestle down towards Woodruff Street & Bloomingdale Avenue.

I became more impressed with each step.

They had even taken pains to incorporate a rail trail access to the Belvedere Restaurant!

“Bicycles Welcome”
But what about snowmobiles?

It looks to me like, at this juncture, the paved trail portion ends just beyond where it crosses Margaret Street. I took a few steps down towards the old train station, taking great pains not to exceed the area speed limit.

Rail Trail Sneak Peek from Margaret Street

My understanding, gleaned from comments made by folks I encountered along the trail, is that current construction plans involve paving the trail through town all the way down beyond Aubuchon Hardware.

However, at this point, not wanting to venture further along a section clearly under construction, I retraced my route back to Triangle Park to where the Rail Trail crosses Pine Street.

I encountered a young spikehorn buck peacefully grazing in someone’s front yard as I crossed.

“No ATV’s or Horses Allowed”
But folks are okay if their steed is a snowmobile.
Does anyone else besides me find that somehow incongruent?

I continued following the trail on down past the Moody Pond Bridge.

It’s now hard to imagine, but, when my friends and I were growing up, nearly every afternoon after school during hunting season, we would congregate at my house on Stevenson Lane with our shotguns, trapse across Carpenter’s Field and up the hill to cross onto the tracks right here by the bridge, from which point we’d walk carrying shotguns out towards Ray Brook, loading our shotguns and hunting rabbits and partridges along the tracks once we passed Pine Ridge Cemetery.

A spooky stroll after dark!
Pine Ridge Cemetery from the Rail Trail

At this point, I heard a strange engine noise coming up behind me and turned. A small red car was behind me, on the rail trail! I stepped aside in surprise as it continued on by me before making a turn into the cemetery.

I was suddenly confronted by this small red car that came up behind me on the trail from Pine Street.

They must have moved the “trail closed” sign. There’s a perfectly good cemetery access road paralleling the trail, so I’m not quite certain what compelled them to do so.

Forensic Evidence:
Tire track marks where the little red care turned off of Pine Street onto the trail.

Undeterred, I continued my travels. I paid respects to Pine Ridge Cemetery’s contingent of Norwegian Sailors.

Then inspected the raspberry bush status along the side of the trail. I used to pick raspberries and blueberries by the bucketful for my mom to make pies, muffins and jam when I was a kid. I bet this construction project may prove a boon for new growths of trailside pieberries.

I continued to where the trail crosses over the road once again and heads out towards Ray Brook.

That section of trail looked to be fully paved, but my legs aren’t as young as they used to be, so I opted to return to Triangle Park and complete my sneak peek scouting trip by scooting down McKenzie Pond Road and taking a look at the other end of the project via my truck.

Out on the Ray Brook end, things are clearly still under construction. They are putting in nice parking lots on both sides of Route 86. The right-side parking lot portion of the trail heading towards Lake Placid, where the paved portion of the rail trail currently ends, looks to be nearly complete.

It’s hard to believe that the left side of this trail was once a huge, mature growth conifer swamp, where on one ill-fated snowshoe rabbit hunt during the 1980 Olympics, my best friend and I once heard State Troopers yell “FREEZE!!!” and we forever became “Olympic Outlaws”.

The parking lot on the other side of the trail, however, is clearly still very much under construction.

Rumor has it that eventually this trail will be paved all the way to Lake Placid. I don’t know if that’s true. I have no inside info and am not privy to any future Rail Trail construct plans. The DEC’s sign by the road says “Completion Date: Fall 2023”.

I’m not sure how to interpret that. It could mean the trail will be officially open next week. From what I see though, it’s more likely it will be completed just in time for this year’s influx of snowmobiles.

Be that as it may, it occurred to me as I made my way back to Triangle Park. This new rail trail project forges its path through the center of my childhood memory’s heart.

That said, with my sneak peek complete, my initial skepticisms have all been allayed. I look forward to the rail trail’s completion. In my humble assessment once finished it will be, in a word…AWESOME!!!

In the meantime,

I’m proud to have my banner stand sentry.

Now all I need is one of them newfangled bicycles.


Until Our Trails Cross Again: