QUICK UPDATE, December 2019: The northern section will likely be freed from federal jurisdiction due to action by NYS and acquiescence by the owner. NYS has agreed to be the necessary "trail group" for rail banking. It seems destined to become a trail. The middle section may also become the subject of an abandonment application by its owner, Warren County. An abandonment procedure has an uncertain outcome, including purchase by a railroad operator, but the county is in a good position to argue that viability as a railroad has been proved unlikely.
This is a proposed multi-use trail that will run 87 miles between the exciting city of Saratoga Springs and the heart of the Adirondack Mountains. Development of this awesome trail requires that you express your support. Make sure you visit the Action Page. At the very least, visit our Facebook Page and click the "Like" button.
The route uses the corridor of a railroad that ceased commercial operations in the 1950s and 1960s. A mine at Tahawus was the last user, which ceased operations in 1989. An attempt at excursion trains from Saratoga to North Creek ended in 2018 after mounting financial losses. Several efforts to haul waste rock from the old mine were unsuccessful.
Conversion to a trail requires a decision to cease rail operations. This may seem unlikely, but we believe it's inevitable. We are just trying to encourage a timely decision. A similar decision was made for a corridor in the northern Adirondacks: the state has decided to end railroad operations between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid and replace it with a multi-use trail, an idea that was promoted by ARTA, an organization similar to ours.
The ownership of the corridor is divided among the Town of Corinth, Warren County, and Iowa Pacific Holdings. Each owns a different section, as indicated approximately by color on the map at left. Notice that the trail will link to the Saratoga Greenbelt Trail system. Our challenge is to persuade public officials that the best use of this public resource is to make it public: a rail trail.
Iowa Pacific operates the lower sections under agreement with Corinth and Warren County. An initial agreement began in 2011 and ended on June 15, 2016. They agreed to run tourist trains, but they said profitability would depend on developing a freight business. In March, 2015, they revealed that no significant freight business had been developed, that ridership was declining, and they were losing over $1 million a year. After some apparent indecision on their part, they sought a five-year extension and it was granted despite our appeals.
There is a regional marketing effort for the corridor and the Upper Hudson River, the First Wilderness Corridor. It's focus is to improve tourism in all the towns along the corridor. The railroad is the centerpiece attraction of this larger initiative, but according to our surveys, it benefits only a few businesses on Main Street in North Creek, the only stop for passengers from Saratoga.
Warren County residents cannot take an excursion train to Saratoga, only to Thurman; that trip attracts few riders - there is nothing much for visitors at the Thurman station. Much greater service was promised initially, including ski trains and Pullman service.
The situation, then, is that the First Wilderness Corridor is a great marketing effort for the region, but the centerpiece is a weakness rather than a strengh: Rail operations are benefiting few businesses in the corridor. The rail operator itself is not benefiting from its operations - they are losing money. County residents do not benefit from the train, either.
We are proposing a new centerpiece attraction to the First Wilderness Corridor that will provide much greater benefits - a multi-use trail. We can confidently predict about ten times more visitors to the region by considering similar trails elsewhere. Furthermore, these visitors will have greater freedom to travel when and where they like - a boon to the entire region, not just North Creek. Multi-day and return visits are likely, putting "heads in beds". Surveyed businesses greatly prefer the trail option.
Visits will occur in all seasons, too. Snowmobilers will regain 88 miles of trails that were lost when Iowa Pacific began winter operations, according to NYSSA.
Much of the investment in the First Wilderness Corridor will be preserved with the trail option. The stations will be waypoints, frequently visited, true departure points for travel elsewhere. The marketing effort will blossom to include the entire region. As a centerpiece attraction, it will have the stature of other great rail trails in the Northeast.
This is the economic argument, only half of the story. As anyone who has lived along a rail trail knows, they make communities more attractive and encourage a healthy lifestyle. Priceless. Well, there is an economic effect to this as well: property values go up, and recruiting businesses and employees to the area becomes easier. This is recognized by the Warren County EDC.
Our campaign is focused on a favorable decision by the Warren County Board of Supervisors in 2021 when the current agreement expires. We also want to be ready to act should Iowa Pacific pulls out earlier. Corinth's interest in their portion of the corridor is mainly over the prospects of developing the industrial site previously used by a paper mill - no one thinks it likely that a big plant requiring rail service is likely; it is being developed piecemeal. Iowa Pacific's investment in the Tahawus section is no greater than the salvage value of the rails; similarly, taking it over for a trail involves zero net cost after salvage.
If you've read this far, you're interested! Take one more step, and visit our Action Page.