The Adirondack Rail Trail is covered in snow and open for business.
As portions of the former railroad corridor are completed — and the whole trail connecting Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Lake Placid is being traversed by snowmobilers, skiers and snowshoers in the winter — a variety of businesses are popping up along its winding path, offering snowmobile rentals, ice fishing, food, drinks, fuel and other trail necessities.
The state is putting more than $30 million into the 34-mile trail. So far, all the railroad lines have been removed, making the corridor more accessible to snowmobiles than before.
In town and deep into the woods, people are starting businesses to support the increased traffic. All of the business owners say they’ve taken a bit of a risk with their investments by banking in this new trail, but they’re hoping that now that the state has built it, people will come.
The 10-mile stretch between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake is now fully open. The rest of it is currently open for winter traffic.
Construction of the second phase — from Saranac Lake to Floodwood Road in Santa Clara — is on track to be complete by the fall of 2024. The third phase — from Floodwood to Tupper Lake — is scheduled to be finished in 2025.
Winter got off to a slow start this year, which was tough for the businesses in their first year. But now with fresh coats of snow nearly every day, business is picking up.
In November 2022, when construction of the trail started, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said the state plans to make the rail-trail a “major destination” and predicted between 56,000 and 800,000 visitors annually, based on a DEC study.
Seggos said he expects state agencies to do a “substantial amount” of promotion of the rail-trail.
Sled and Spoke
Sara Placid Sled and Spoke is a Saranac Lake-based snowmobile and e-bike rental and tour business that opened this winter. It’s owned by best friends and business partners Mac Stratford and Dylan Duffy. Duffy is the numbers guy and Stratford is the “wrench.”
Right now they are only renting snowmobiles, and doing guided tours. In the spring they’ll introduce e-bike rentals. Next winter they’re considering fat tire e-bikes for winter cycling.
Their business is right on the trail where it intersects with Broadway at the north end of town, between the trail and Woods and Waters. Go down the trail one way and there’s the heart of town, go the other way and it’s all wilderness.
Duffy was born and raised in Lake Placid and Stratford in Bloomingdale. They grew up snowmobiling around here. Duffy’s first memory on a snowmobile was hugging his father’s back on a choppy trail to Malone and biting the inside of his cheek. In spite of that, he fell in love with it.
“You can see parts of the Adirondacks you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise,” Stratford said. Especially some remote areas.
The two childhood friends both now live in Saranac Lake. Duffy he moved back to town four years ago to start a family. He now has two daughters, ages 2 and 9 months. Stratford went to college at St. Lawrence University, moved to France in 2014 and moved back in 2015.
The idea of a snowmobile rental business is something they had thought about and kicked around as friends, but it didn’t really happen until the rail trail.
“We saw that there was some efforts being put into the rail trail and then we realized there were a lot of efforts and money being put into it,” Duffy said.
They realized there was going to be opportunities for businesses to support the trail and a need for a snowmobile rental company catering specifically to the trail.
Duffy and Stratford rode this corridor back when it had railroad tracks, but they needed a lot more snow then to pack in the rails, and there was always the danger of damaging the sled by hitting one. Taking up the tracks massively expanded the riding season, Stratford said.
There wasn’t a lot of real estate for sale along the trail, and that which was was selling at a premium, Duffy said. They looked for established businesses with vacant spaces and found a spot leasing from the owners of the plaza, 15 Ampersand LLC. The business is located right next to Woods and Waters, which is in a very similar industry, Stratford said.
Duffy said this part of town used to be commercial as a main stop for trains when they brought riders in. Now, he’s hoping it will be a commercial area again. Sled and Spoke is one of the first businesses servicing the rail trail. Duffy said they wanted to get in early so they wouldn’t be playing “catch up.”
The two recently got approval from the Saranac Lake Development Board to work outdoors in the parking lot and got a contract with Polaris to buy 20 brand-new sleds. This is a substantial initial investment, and Duffy said they’re putting their own capital into it. This is both Duffy and Stratford’s first business. It’s “exciting but stressful,” Duffy said. They had looked a similar business models and done a lot of number crunching.
Duffy said he’s glad winter is finally here. With snow on the ground, they’re getting more calls now.
Helmets are provided but riders must bring their own gloves, jackets and other gear. The snowmobiles have maps pre-loaded with rail trail destinations.
Arctic Out Post
In Fish Creek, a 10- to 15-minute ride off the rail trail, over a unique and narrow trail going over bridges and through dense parts of the woods, people can get to the Arctic Out Post, which is exactly what its name implies. It’s a place surrounded by ice and snow where people can stock up on everything they need for their travels, or sit by the fire with coffee and hot chocolate.
Chris Dorman grew up working at the Trading Post at Fish Creek Ponds. Its owner, Phil Knapp, was his first boss. Now, they’re partnered up, with Knapp running the Trading Post seasonally during the summer and Dorman running the Arctic Out Post seasonally during the winter. He said Knapp is super-knowledgeable about the industry and has lots of connections, so he had an avenue for getting into the business.
They bought a trailer for office space, but seeing the rail trail taking off, decided to convert it into a snack shop satellite of the Trading Post.
To Dorman’s knowledge, they are the first winter operation in Fish Creek in the past 21 years.
Dorman said the Arctic Out Post would not exist without the rail trail. There wouldn’t be enough traffic. Fish Creek is bustling during the summer when the state-run Fish Creek and Rollins Pond campgrounds are full of campers. But when the campgrounds close, he said, it’s a “ghost town.” The area is “underutilized” in the winter, he said.
But recently, the state opened parking at the nearby Fish Creek and Rollins Pond campground for day use and trailer parking for snowmobilers.
Dorman said he wants to make Fish Creek a winter destination. It’s in a remote area, but he hopes the rail trail will bring people through and he wants to meet them with warm food, cold drinks and community.
Inside, the walls are filled with treats — sandwiches, drinks, soup, hot chocolate and coffee — as well as outdoor essentials, fishing bait and snowmobile parts like spark plugs, oil and batteries.
Dorman said he’s providing daily essentials for locals living in the remote area, too.
Collaborating with local businesses is important to Dorman. He said he wants them all to succeed.
The Arctic Out Post has partnered with the 1892 Bar and Grille in Lake Clear. If snowmobilers fill up at the Out Post, they get a drink chip.
“That’s seriously the biggest thing in small business, is supporting each other,” Andrew “AJ” Beaudoin said.
Beaudoin runs BattleFish Charters in Tupper Lake and is building an “ice village” on the frozen surface of Fish Creek across state Route 30 from the Out Post.
The two met three years ago when Dorman bought a house across from Beaudoin. Now, they’re merging their endeavors together.
Beaudoin’s passion is to teach tourists, children and veterans about ice fishing. He wants to make Fish Creek an ice fishing stop for people traveling on the rail trail, and has set up a “village” of tents out on the frozen surface.
He’s has been guiding for years since he graduated from Paul Smith’s College with a fish and wildlife management degree. He’s come to realize that, most of his clients being tourists, they want more bite-sized experiences. His long guiding trips aren’t as popular. So he’s meeting people where they are and offering an easy introduction to the sport.
On the frozen creek he has installed seven huts with insulated floors he says he can keep at 70 degrees. They’re all in a little community encircling a fire pit. Beaudoin estimates he can get 50 people at a time out on the ice.
Beaudoin and Dorman have put a lot of work into maintaining the ice — shoveling it off, pouring water on it.
Both of them said they want this to be a family-oriented, kid-friendly business. Dorman said having the Arctic Out Post right across the street makes people comfortable being on the ice, too.
“I mean, we are in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
Having a place for safety or to eat, gear up and warm up brings security.
For Beaudoin, more than the fishing itself, he likes the community, friendship and conversation that come with the sport.
“This is where I found my peace,” Beaudoin said.
He said he lives by three “P”s — purpose, patience and perception. Fishing gives him purpose, taught a “high-speed Army guy” patience and informs his perception of life. As a disabled vet, he said fishing has brought him a lot of peace, and he wants to pass that on to others. He’s got Homeward Bound booked for a weekend coming up.
Beaudoin plans to start a “Battlefish University” to help veterans transition back to civilian live. He said as people get out of Army, some go back to the life they were trying to get away from by joining, and end up getting in trouble. There are between 100,000 and 200,000 veterans in prison, he said, while less than 1% become small business owners.
Floodwood Outpost is a “homey” place. It’s literally at Dave and Rivka Cilley’s home on the rail trail in Lake Clear.
When the two sold St. Regis Canoe Outfitters in Saranac Lake in July, they focused their time on Floodwood Outpost, which they had operated as part of that company. It’s now a “retirement business” which Dave said provides the socialization he misses from the store.
The outpost is mostly a warm season operation for cyclists and paddlers. It is not open currently in the winter but will reopen in spring.
The businesses is open four days a week — Thursday to Sunday. But as long as they’re home, they can help out travelers in a pinch.
Dave describes the outpost as a small general store with a natural history slant. He and Rivka have both spent years researching the natural world, being in the woods and working as guides. They are a great source of info and knowledge.
Dave said this transition had been their plan for years, and he’s glad it has coincided with the opening of the rail trail.
“The rail trail is kind of a funny thing. I mean, they’ve talked about the rail trail for 25 years,” he said. “I often wondered if it would get done in my lifetime. But it appears it is going to.”
He describes Floodwood Outpost as an “oasis” in the wilderness with treats, picnic tables and a fire pit. They sell anything needed for camping, have a bike repair station, ice cream, cards, paddling packs for long trips. Dave said they also sell a lot of outdoors-related books — particularly children’s books.
Dave also creates maps. He’s designed a comprehensive one for the rail trail with detailed views of the villages, and optional additional canoe and bike loops. He envisions people doing bike trips on the rail trail with canoe or hiking excursions.
“The combination possibilities on this rail trail are really unique,” Dave said.
As neighbors of the trail, Dave and Rivka have concerns about its increased use. They live on it so they’re concerned about safety. Dave hopes the DEC will implement a speed limit near homes. He can remember 20 years ago when a woman was killed when her snowmobile crashed into a tree 70 feet from their house.
Dave is glad the DEC has committed to keep all-terrain vehicles off the trail.
He also said the trail will need lots of maintenance, adding that the DEC needs to assist private organizations in stepping up to keep it beautiful.
RiverTrail Beer Works
The Lake Placid Pub and Brewery is opening a new location — RiverTrail Beer Works — in Saranac Lake, on Woodruff Street, a stone’s throw from the rail trail.
Brewery co-owner Chris Ericson said he and his wife and co-owner Catherine were looking for a place to expand into Saranac Lake, and building a brewery as close to the rail trail would be good for business. The location is also walkable from downtown and along the village’s River Walk.
The building’s construction has happened quickly in recent weeks. Ericson said the brewing and cooking equipment is all ready to be installed when it is finished. Ericson said they are shooting for a July 1 opening date.
The brewhouse will have 18 taps with in-house and guest beers, as well as a canning plant to put their small-batch brews into four-packs.
This will be Lake Placid Pub and Brewery’s third active location with the pub and Big Slide Brewing in Lake Placid.
There isn’t direct snowmobile access from the trail currently, but Ericson is expecting traffic from sleds, and said snowmobiles will be able to park at their 40 on-site parking spaces. There is also plans for parking across the street in the laundromat parking lot.
They’re also planning to have radiant heaters on the patio outside.
“We figure that some of those snowmobilers or cross-country skiers aren’t going to want to be inside where it’s 75 degrees … so they don’t have to gear-down completely,” Ericson said.
Grants for businesses
Franklin County Economic Development Council CEO Jeremy Evans said the EDC is pursuing a program to support businesses which service the rail trail.
He said the EDC is in talks for a partnership with the towns of Tupper Lake and Harrietstown where they would seek state Community Development Block Grant microenterprise funding grants which could be regranted to for existing and new businesses through a competitive process.
Evans said this is to spark the results that were promised when the state built the rail trail. One of the goals of the trail was to attract visitors and grow the local economy.
“If a rail trail user comes and goes and doesn’t spend any money, there’s no impact,” Evans said.
He said businesses need to form or adapt to provide products and services that attract rail trail users. This effort started late last year with a survey before the holidays to gauge the potential. He said they see potential and the grant process could happen this summer.
Through this program state money granted to the town, administered by the EDC, would be regranted to businesses servicing the rail trail. Evans said there could be a maximum of $200,000 provided per town.
He said entrepreneurs often have ideas but might not have the capital. This grant program would allow people to take that risk.
To voice interest in these grants, Evans said to contact EDC Community Development manager Rachel Child at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Adirondack Rail Trail is covered in snow and open for business.