The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is calling for submissions of ideas and plans for use and public access to the historic Saranac Lake Union Depot building on the former New York Central Railroad Adirondack Division line in the village of Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks.
The Depot is on the newly established Adirondack Rail Trail, a former railroad line being transformed into a 34-mile multi-use trail connecting the villages of Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid.
Built in 1904 by the Delaware and Hudson Railroad, Saranac Lake’s 3,900 square-foot Union Depot Station became the largest station on the New York Central Railroad, Adirondack Division line north of Utica. The site also includes a contemporary 1,200 square-foot Freight Building.
At its prime, the station handled up to 20 trains per day. Passenger service ended there in 1965 and the Depot was renovated in 1979-80 for use by the Adirondack Railway during the Olympic Games.
The New York State Department of Transportation oversaw a multi-million-dollar renovation of the Depot in 1997 for use by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad (now known as the Adirondack Railroad) until 2015. The Adirondack Railroad still operates over former New York Central Railroad trackage between Utica and Tupper Lake.
The rail trail and depot buildings are managed as part of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor. The Corridor is encompassed by the New York Central Railroad Adirondack Division Historic District, which is listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
The district was listed in 1993 and found to be primarily significant “for its role in shaping the social and economic history of the Adirondack-Northern New York region between 1891 and the Second World War.” It was determined to derive additional significance “as a distinctive collection of railway, buildings, structures, and infrastructure reflecting engineering design and practices during a transitional period when wood, stone, and iron were replaced by concrete and steel.”
In an announcement sent to the press, DEC Region 5 Director Joe Zalewski said, “DEC is committed to providing opportunities for public input throughout the Adirondack Rail Trail project. The Saranac Lake Depot is a major gateway for public access along the 34-mile Adirondack Rail Trail with significant potential for a unique partnership that will enhance both the trail and the local community. We hope to hear from a wide range of diverse stakeholders about how this historical landmark could be used to ensure it has a prominent place in the region’s future.”
DEC is seeking plans and ideas that address site objectives as laid out in the Unit Management Plan, including preservation of this historic structure, opportunities for historic interpretation, facilitation of a welcoming outdoor experience for the public, and activities or operations that complement the Adirondack Rail Trail.
The RFI offers extensive background and information about the site, including its zoning and land use, site images and building floor plans, and the existing conditions of the infrastructure.
The first phase of the trail connecting Saranac Lake and Lake Placid is scheduled to open for year-round public use later this year. Subsequent phases of the Rail Trail are expected to open in 2024 and 2025. The rail trail is designed for walking, running, cycling, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. The trail will be open to the public all day, year-round once complete. There are five primary trailheads (access points) to the rail – Tupper Lake Depot, Saranac Lake Depot, Fowler’s Crossing, and Lake Placid Depot.
DEC asks that local residents and visitors avoid the Adirondack Rail Trail during construction. The area is closed for use and should be avoided until the project is complete.
DEC will accept questions about the Depot and the RFI process, as well as requests for a site tour to better inform submissions, through October 16, 2023. “All questions will be answered in a publicly available online document that will be posted on the Adirondack Rail Trail webpage no later than one week prior to the close of the submission acceptance period,” the DEC press release said.
RFI submissions are being accepted through November 3, 2023. RFI submissions, questions, and tour requests should be sent to Comment.DepotRFI@dec.ny.gov
Illustrations, from above: Saranac Lake Union Depot (NYS Cultural Resource Information System photo provided by DEC); the Depot site (hatched area), including the depot, freight building, lawn, public spaces and parking (courtesy DEC); and the depot in ca. 1909 (Library of Congress).