Parks & Trails New York

Saratoga Greenbelt Trail

Frequently asked questions

Q: Who owns the corridor? A: The southern 16 miles is owned by the Town of Corinth. The middle 44 miles is owned by Warren County, stretching from Antone Mountain Rd to North Creek. The northern 29 miles is owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings. An interesting historical artifact is that Warren County owns the underlying land for two miles beyond North Creek, but IPH owns the railroad right of way on those two miles, and beyond.

Q: Where would the money come from to develop the trail? A: Trails get built from a variety of funding sources. These rarely allow full development of an entire trail in one step. But as soon as the rails and ties are removed, the corridor becomes a useful trail. The process of improving the trail then begins, often a somewhat opportunistic affair.

Q: How will the trail be surfaced? A: Initially, it will have the surface left by the rail salvage operations - the ballast stone, graded and perhaps rolled. The improvements to this surface typically come as funding is found by the municipality responsible for each section. The first step might be a layer of finer gravel. The next step is often trail mix (aka stone dust). In areas of high use, asphalt is best.

Over long periods, asphalt and stone dust cost the same according to an RTC study; stone requires annual smoothing and re-application at five-year intervals - if you want to keep it nice - while asphalt lasts 20 years and requires less maintenance. Asphalt permits additional uses, such as roller-blading and roller-skiing, and better accessibility. The high first-cost of asphalt is a barrier, however. The accelerated wear of asphalt from the studded tracks of snowmobiles must also be considered.

RTC has a Trail of the Month feature on its website; it must be noted that about 80% of these are asphalt, 10% are stone dust, and 10% are unimproved. Some people believe stone dust is more natural and therefore more appropriate for rural or wilderness trails.

Q: How would the trail be maintained? A: It is common that rail trails span multiple municipalities. The most common arrangement is that each of them takes responsibility for their section, but many other arrangements are used. A particularly simple arrangement is to develop a trail as a "linear" state park. That is essentially the way the recently announced Tupper Lake to Lake Placid corridor will be developed as a trail. This could be how our trail is developed; Corinth, Warren and IPH could deed their corridors to the state.

Q: Isn't the situation different for the northern section? A: Yes, quite different. First, the corridor is a right of way, not owned outright (in fee) like the two other sections. Normally, reversion to adjoining property owners would occur if the rails were removed. But a 1983 federal law known as the Rail Banking Statute can be invoked that allows provisional use as a trail without reversion. The law is intended to preserve rail corridors by facilitating rail trails; it is supported by both rail and trail supporters.

Q: Which municipalities are on the route? A: From the south, you start in Saratoga County, in the City of Saratoga Springs. Going north, you pass through the towns of Greenfield, Corinth, and Hadley. In Warren County, you go through Stony Creek, Thurman and Johnsburg. Beyond the hamlet of North River, you briefly enter the Town of Indian Lake in Hamilton County, and then enter Essex County on a 314-foot bridge over the Hudson. You pass through a remote area of Minerva, then arrive in Newcomb. Whew!

Q: Won't the trail be over-run with ATVs and other unauthorized users? A: Legal users do not tolerate trail abuse, and they all have video cameras in their pockets. Keep in mind that we're probably talking about neighborhood children riding their parent's machines. In any case, there are thousands of other trails where the issue has been adequately addressed with barricades and other measures.

Q: Will snowmobiles be allowed? A: 88 miles of snowmobile trails were lost when the train began winter operations. That includeed trails that connected to the corridor. Those trails will likely be restored to service. Potentially, other parts of the corridor will be found useful and appropriate to snowmobile use.

Q: Will horses be allowed? A: The corridor is only 8-feet wide in most places, and will eventually have a variety of surface treatments. It will probably be a decision for the municipality for each section after studying the feasibility of widening the trail in places.

Q: Isn't it wrong to be tearing out what few tracks remain to make just another bike trail? A: First, we think it is a local decision, to be made the same way as elsewhere. Rail advocates are unhappy with this trend, but for us the question is about the best use of our corridor here. To make a rational decision, the prospects of a return to traditional rail service must be considered: is there a good reason to think, for example, that passenger service will be more popular now than when it ceased in 1954? Should a tourist train be regarded as serious rail service? Are there any businesses along the corridor that need freight service? For our corridor, the answer has been "no" to these questions, for a very long time.

Regarding the "just another bike trail" phrase, which we often hear: There are only a few miles of bike trails in all the Adirondacks. Cape Cod has five trails! We would very much like to have "Just another bike trail".

Q: The trail is in my backyard! Won't it be a problem for me? A: It may take some time to understand the real affect a trail might have on the enjoyment of your property. There are possibilities that seem disturbing at first. But here is an interesting observation: Trails are often built with fences at the request of adjoining property owners. After a few years, these fences will have openings and gates cut into them, so the owners can get to the trail.

Another observation: real estate listings never fail to mention if a property is "on the bike trail;" it’s widely considered an attractive feature.

You might think you won't ever use it yourself, but you almost certainly will. You probably should! Your visiting children and grandchildren will use it, for sure.

Q: The railroad has been a boon to the North Creek. How can you justify taking it away? A: We're replacing it with something better! Similar trails in similar locations have proven very successful. The users of a trail do not need to follow a schedule; they will come on days the trains don't run. They can get around without a shuttle - the benefits will reach beyond main street. They'll go north one day, and go south the next - they'll spend the weekend, or the week. They are young, old, they’ll bring their families. They'll come with snowmobiles and skis.

Furthermore, the greater activity in North Creek is only partly from the train; the general economy has improved. Neighboring Chestertown is enjoying a similar resurgence. There is even a new business in Horicon catering to cyclists, which is doing quite well. It's a bit snarky to say, but the most notable new business in North Creek is SNCR itself, and it's not doing well.

Finally, whatever benefit the area is experiencing from the train is limited in time and space to Main Street North Creek, for a few hours after the train arrives. Most of Johnsburg does not benefit, nor the other towns of the First Wilderness Heritage Corridor - the Saratoga train does not make intermediate stops. The North End Local potentially impacts Thurman, but is not getting many riders. Trail users have mobility and flexibility, and there will be more of them.

Q: You're crazy to think you can displace an operating railroad. A: It does seem a little crazy, but it just happened nearby! A group like ours persuaded the state to replace a tourist train with a trail on the northerly 34 miles of the Remsen-Lake Placid corridor. Construction will begin soon on a fabulous multi-use trail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. The group persuaded all the towns and villages along the way to support their efforts to have the state review their planning document. Rail advocates fiercely defended rail operations, but their data couldn't support them. In most respects, the situation is the same for our corridor.

It's also not crazy since Iowa Pacific Holdings is losing money and their ridership is declining. They put in a spectacular effort, as has Warren County, but it hasn't worked out financially. They admit that something has to change. If they leave, the county is unlikely to find a better operator.

Q: What would become of the First Wilderness Corridor? A: We believe a multi-use trail would make a great centerpiece for the First Wilderness Corridor. Visitors would enjoy a more intimate experience, and more freedom - no schedules, no ticket required, greater mobility, open seven days. Currently, trains skip most of the stations - these would become a favorite destination for trail users.

Q: I don't really want my town over-run by thousands of trail users. Why do this? A: It won't seem over-run to you - even on a busy trail, the users are spread far apart. (In fact, we regard this as a big plus compared to a train that - if it were successful - would deliver awkward surges of visitors to a town.) Our region needs added economic activity to remain healthy. Trails can attract new residents, which is vital to maintain the tax base at levels that can support local services and schools.