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Existing river trail in Plattsburgh, New York
The Saranac River Trail (SRT) is a non-motorized facility for transportation and recreation from the shoreline of Lake Champlain along the river through the City and Town of Plattsburgh, New York. Connecting the city to the Saranac River is an important opportunity for Plattsburgh’s economic redevelopment, tourism, and quality of life initiatives.
The SRT will create a path through the center of the city that re-defines the community. This project is about more than just building a trail – it will be the catalyst that helps Plattsburgh continue to be a great place to live, work, and play.
This feasibility study reviewed existing conditions, connections to nearby destinations, available public lands, other opportunities and constraints, and considered a series of alternatives. The Saranac River Trail Advisory Committee (SRTAC) participated in the project and is an important resource for moving the SRT forward. The proposed first phase of the SRT will be a three-mile long section between Plattsburgh High School and the Lake Champlain Waterfront. This project will connect the Lake Champlain Waterfront redevelopment area, downtown Plattsburgh, and the SUNY Campus.
The region’s culture and heritage are integral elements of the proposed trail. In the future, the SRT can be extended to connect with both the existing Gordon Bike Trail and the Fleury Bike Trail, and the "Blue" and "Red" single track trails west of the Imperial Dam. The SRT can also serve as a water trail, with improved canoe, kayak, tubing, and fishing access along the river.
Creating the SRT project will take a sustained effort with many partners. In order to advance the project, the following next steps are recommended:
• Preserve the Right-of-Way: The community’s top priority must be to ensure that the proposed alignment for the trail remains intact and in public ownership. This will involve keeping an eye open for opportunities such as the upcoming Saranac Street Bridge project, redevelopment along the Lakefront, and the ongoing NYSEG site negotiations.
• "Early Win" Projects: Support and action at the local level will grow out of small successes that move the project forward. Neighborhood cleanups and ‘adoption’ of future trail sections can help build long-term support. Local organizations and agencies will need to be involved in creating sections of the trail that can be linked over time into the overall concept.
• Initiate Fundraising and Grant Writing: There are a variety of funding sources available for projects like the SRT, and all available opportunities should be pursued, including SAFETEA-LU federal transportation funds. A Transportation Enhancements application was submitted to NYSDOT for the SRT in June, 2006. A Bikes Belong Grant application should be developed as a follow-up to the NYSDOT TE grant.
• Set Up a Maintenance Endowment: Many successful trails establish a fund for ongoing operation and maintenance. Starting this effort at the beginning of a trail project will help sustain the effort in the future. This is also an item to which a local philanthropy, corporation, or individuals can contribute.
• Public-Private-Non-Profit Partnership: Establish a ‘Friends of the SRT’ non-profit organization to advocate for the project, and keep the SRTAC and other agencies involved in advancing the project.
existing natural surface trail along the bluffs
overlooking the river behind Plattsburgh High School
The primary focus area of the SRT is between the Imperial Dam west of Plattsburgh High School and the Lake Champlain waterfront. The study also examines the potential for extending the trail north to Cumberland Head via the Karen Fleury Bike Path and west along the river in the Town of Plattsburgh to the I-87 bridge. This feasibility study is funded with support from the office of New York State Senator Little, and in cooperation with the Saranac River Trail Advisory Group (SRTAG), which includes representatives of the public and private sectors.
Plattsburgh is located south of Montreal and across the lake from Burlington, Vermont, both cities that have created extensive networks of bicycle facilities. In the 1980’s, a trail called the Verdantique Trail was proposed along the river in Plattsburgh. The Verdantique Trail was not fully funded, but the concept is still important. The City has implemented sections of trail along the river, including the linear park across from City Hall. The Saranac River Trail represents an important opportunity for Plattsburgh to create a shared-use path through the center of the city. This project will be the catalyst for connecting a system of paths throughout Plattsburgh.
Existing shared-use paths and bikeways in the project area include the Gordon Bike Path along Lake Champlain (a rail-with-trail project parallel to the CSX / Amtrak line from Montreal to New York City), the Fleury bike path from Scomotion Creek to the beach at Cumberland Head, and the path along Route 9 south of the City. New York State Bike Route 9 also runs through the city, and is part of the Lake Champlain Bikeways tourism corridor and the Lakes to Locks Passage Scenic Byway. New bike lanes are being provided on City Hall Place from Bridge Street to Cornelia Street as part of a streetscape reconstruction project. The SRT will provide intermodal connections to ferry and rail transportation facilities. Bike racks and benches will be provided along the route to improve connections to local bus services.
The most common trail users to be expected on the Saranac River Trail in Plattsburgh are people walking and bicycling. The trail will provide for a wide range of short distance utilitarian trips, including travel from the SUNY Campus to downtown, from residential neighborhoods to the elementary, middle, and high schools, and travel from downtown to the Lake Champlain waterfront. The trail will also provide water trail access to people using the Northern Forest Canoe trail for fishing and boating along the river. Winter use will include cross-country skiing, and the SRT will provide access to nearby single track
The existing path along the river near the marina shows the potential connection between the SRT, the Amtrak Station, and the waterfront redevelopment area. mountain bike trails so that people will not have to drive from the city to nearby trailheads. The shared-use path will be designed to meet NYSDOT, AASHTO, and ADA guidelines.
Phase 1 of the Saranac River Trail (SRT) will create a three-mile long, non-motorized facility for bicycle and pedestrian transportation from the shoreline of Lake Champlain along the river between the Imperial Dam site west of Plattsburgh High School and the Lake Champlain waterfront near the Plattsburgh Amtrak Station. This phase will connect schools, the State University of New York at Plattsburgh (SUNY), downtown Plattsburgh, residential neighborhoods, and the lakefront redevelopment area. The trail is proposed to be a 10-foot– wide, asphalt, paved, shared-use path from a new trailhead at George Angell Drive / Saranac High School through the SUNY campus, along the River at Stelzer and Pine Streets to a trailhead at the existing pedestrian bridge at Saranac Street at the Middle School. From Saranac Street Bridge, the trail will follow an interim route using existing sidewalks and an enhanced on-street bikeway (with new signage, striping, and pavement markings) along Pine and Margaret Streets and across the river on the Bridge Street bridge. At Green Street, the shared-use path will resume, utilizing a short section of abandoned rail line on the north side of the street and the existing at-grade crossing of the CP railroad tracks. On the east side of the tracks, the shared-use path will continue along the shore of Lake Champlain to the new lakefront hotel and the Amtrak station.
The SRT supports the City’s current planning and economic development efforts, including downtown revitalization, making the Saranac River into the ‘heart’ of downtown, and the ongoing redevelopment of the Lake Champlain waterfront. Phase 2 will include the proposed new pedestrian bridge at the NYSDEG site and potential improved access along the river on ‘floating’ sections beneath the three existing downtown bridges. These sections will require additional engineering analysis to determine feasibility and cost. The interim on-street connection between the Middle School and Green Street will enhance connections into the Margaret Street commercial area, and will continue to be an important linkage when the trail is fully connected in the future. Future phases will include an improved route alignment along the downtown riverfront and connections to the growing trail system in the community. Ultimately, the SRT will also extend west along the river in the Town of Plattsburgh, and to a network of shared-use paths and single track trails throughout Plattsburgh.
It is important to note that the SRT project is planned to capture the heritage and history of Plattsburgh as an integrated element of the trail design. Interpretive sites, themes, and icons were developed through research into the community’s internationally significant local history. The Saranac River Trail will tell the story of Plattsburgh, including the region’s Native American heritage, the American Revolution, the Battle of Plattsburgh in the War of 1812, the Strategic Air Command during the Cold War, and the natural history of the river itself. Two upcoming events of national significance are directly related to the completion of this project.
The 200th anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh (which took place on September 11, 1814) will be featured at the trail’s endpoint at the Lake Champlain lighthouse, which will feature a ‘Peace Point’ commemorating the events of September 11, 1814 and September 11, 2001. The SRT will also feature a significant connection to the 400th anniversary of the voyages of Henry Hudson and Samuel de Champlain, which will be commemorated in 2009.
The SRT is about more than just a trail for walking and bicycling— it is also about redefining Plattsburgh and ensuring a connection between the past, present, and future. These concepts are based on the work of the SUSTRANS national bikeway system in the U.K., and the efforts of the United States Millennium Trails program. The SRT will be a unique example of capturing the heritage of a community as an integrated element of the trail design, and will serve as a model project for other communities in New York State.
Proposed interpretive sites along the SRT will include destinations along the trail commemorating the region’s Native American, British, and French heritage; a ‘B-52’ park; ‘Peace Point;’ an interpretative installation of the USS Saratoga; and a ‘fish’ themed playground along the river. These interpretive elements are not part of the Phase 1 funding request. However, they are integral to the community’s vision for the SRT and will be developed during future phases of the project.
Opportunities and Constraints
Key opportunities and constraints were identified using Geographic Information System (GIS) data provided by the City of Plattsburgh, aerial photos, property ownership information, existing flood plain and wetlands delineations, and a review of existing plans and documents. Property acquisition, environmental issues (including historic preservation), public involvement, land coordination with other agencies (railroads, utilities, regulatory agencies, etc.) will be part of the process to ensure that this project can be successfully implemented.
Download the complete 62-page plan with maps and diagrams (pdf 6.9 mb)