NEWCOMB - Now that the papers are signed for the $30 million state easement on 89,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn land in the central Adirondacks, Hamilton and Essex County tourism officials are hoping the new snowmobile trail that cuts through the easement, from Newcomb to Indian Lake, will boost winter business.
The 14-mile trail, known to snowmobilers as Trail 538, is now open along logging roads on lands owned by ATP Timberland Invest, which recently signed the landmark deal with New York state. The Newcomb Snowmobile Club is grooming the northern half of the trail, and the Indian Lake Snowarriors club is grooming the southern half.
Snowmobiling has long been a popular sport in the Essex County town of Newcomb, and it's been a source of income for some small businesses, like the Newcomb House Bar & Grill and Aunt Polly's Bed & Breakfast. But Newcomb has traditionally been seen as a "dead end" by the snowmobiling community, a destination, yes, but on the way to nowhere. Two main factors added to this perception: No gas pump in town and no through-trails for snowmobiles.
This winter, that's all changed, and Newcomb is poised to become a haven for snowmobiling.
The Northwoods Diner and General Store in Newcomb recently opened a gas pump - the first one in town in almost a decade - and the new snowmobile trail from Newcomb to the Hamilton County town of Indian Lake is now open. This is being seen as a perfect recipe for economic opportunity in Newcomb, now that sledders can drive from the town of Long Lake to Newcomb to Indian Lake and destinations south. It creates a long-distance loop for snowmobiles traveling from Inlet and Old Forge, known widely as the "Snowmobile Capital of the East."
The new trail has only been open less than a month, and early snow wasn't optimal for a smooth-riding base. Yet there has been some interest in Trail 538.
Alexandra Roalsvig, director of the Long Lake Tourism Department, recently spoke to some snowmobilers who were gassing up at the local Stewart's Shop, and she liked what she heard.
"They came to Long Lake because they knew they could get to Indian Lake from Long Lake," Roalsvig said. "By hooking up with Indian Lake, we're getting a whole new audience."
There are more than 100 miles of free, groomed trails in the town of Long Lake, home to the Moonlighters Snowmobile Club. There are no permit fees, which could draw sledders from other areas, such as the towns of Old Forge and Inlet, where permits are required on the hundreds of groomed trails there. And connecting to Indian Lake can draw long-distance sledders from as far away as Speculator.
Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Harding, co-owner of Marty's Chili Nights restaurant in Indian Lake, said she hopes the new trail will attract more snowmobilers to her town.
"It should be a help in the long run," Harding said, adding that the chamber has already received some inquiries about Trail 538.
Any town with restaurants and lodging has an opportunity to draw the snowmobiling crowd, especially those who want to travel long distance. Long Lake and Indian Lake are ready, but Newcomb today only offers a couple of choices in the winter. Newcomb Supervisor George Canon said he hopes that will change with time and that Trail 538 will spark some economic development. There is even talk about extending snowmobile trails to Minerva and North Hudson.
When the Nature Conservancy announced the $30 million easement purchase in a press release on Dec. 30, 2010, officials said the agreement - which limits development, allows for the harvest of timber, and opens up the land to outdoor recreation - "supports timber industry jobs, boosts the state's recreation and tourism economy and, at the same time, preserves 89,000 forested acres concentrated in the geographic heart of the Adirondacks."
In the release, tourism officials beamed with excitement over the possibilities for increased tourism traffic. One after the other, they lined up to offer their take on the purchase.
Jim McKenna, executive director of the Lake Placid-based Adirondack Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism said, "The Adirondacks are repeatedly picked by AAA as New York's number one destination for leaf peeping ... Many of the lands protected by this agreement are the very places people travel here to see in all of their autumn splendor - helping to increase economic activity to our communities."
Barry Hutchens, Indian Lake town supervisor said, "Indian Lake has been paying to lease snowmobile trails on an annual basis ... Now, with the uncertainty associated with year-to-year leasing erased, we see these trails as permanent and valuable assets that can help our struggling winter economy and our town budget appropriations."
Canon added, "This easement is a step toward making Newcomb a central hub for snowmobiling and winter recreation. It's pretty great to get some real economic benefit from it."
Canon, Roalsvig and Harding all believe that their towns can become snowmobile hubs thanks to Trail 538. But will it make an economic impact this year? They all say it's too early to tell.