St. Lawrence County's New Recreation Trails Promote, Protect Natural Resources
By Deb Christy, St Lawrence County Trails Coordinator
St. Lawrence County has an abundance of beautiful, natural landscapes, but needed a multi-use recreational trail system so that residents and visitors could access and enjoy the beauty up close.
The St. Lawrence County Legislature determined that the creation and management of a county-wide multi-use recreational trail system would benefit both the people of St. Lawrence County and the environment by creating a county-sponsored trail system, making resources available to responsibly manage and maintain an existing recreation resource, and providing insight on potential future trail development. The Legislature formed the Recreational Trails Advisory Board in 2006 and later contracted with a trail coordinator in 2013.
Trail plans were developed to provide and encourage the wise use of bountiful natural resources for a variety of activities, including walking, hiking, running, cycling, mountain biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, snowmobiling and ATVing. Responsible use of ATV's was an important part of trail planning in St. Lawrence County, in response to greatly increased usage and a corresponding demand for safe and legal trails.
The goal of the trails board was to provide guidance and standards in the design of an integrated trail that connects towns and allows greater access to open space and existing resources, to stimulate economic growth, create greater recreation and educational opportunities, increase tourism, and to promote the health and wellbeing of our citizens, while conserving the natural resources for future generations.
Trail plans were carried out with the direct input and assistance of the towns that the trail passes through. The board provides trail construction and maintenance standards in a manner that prevents environmental degradation and protects environmentally sensitive areas. The system includes off-road trails located on public and private lands, as well as county and town roads that presently are opened for such use by the governing municipality. Portions of the trail will also be comprised of long-standing snowmobile trails where such trails are deemed useable during non-snowmobile seasons. The trail includes signage, parking, and kiosks and connects to Franklin County on the east and Lewis County on the w est. The regional approach encourages community connections. This connectivity throughout the county is what makes the system work, both locally and in drawing tourism dollars from beyond county borders.
This year, the board will open the newest section of trail, which connects the scenic Brasher and Ft Jackson State Forests along with the towns of Brasher, Lawrence, and Stockholm. The new section links with the existing East Section of trail, starting at Franklin County and connecting through Hopkinton to Parishville, completing 100 miles of connecting trails. The Multi-Use Trail includes stand-alone trails for mountain biking and hiking.
Business owners throughout the North Country realize the potential the trail brings. ATV/UTV riders clearly want trails that will take them from one destination to another, without having to trailer in between. They want to go from one place offering amenities — food, lodging, entertainment, trail provisions, local attractions — to another, and be able to stay awhile. Long distance trail users will travel throughout the county, extending both their visits and related spending.
St. Lawrence County is encouraging this relatively new and promising recreational and tourism asset which, like snowmobiling, will become a major and welcome shot in the arm for a region bereft of manufacturing jobs. The county's main attraction is its natural resources, its wild and remote mystique, and the entrepreneurship and hospitality of its people.
The trail is part of a county and statewide effort to provide opportunities to exercise, improve cardiovascular health, and reduce obesity. Numerous studies have proven the health benefits of trails to all users, from hikers and cyclists to ATV and snowmobile users. In addition, a good trail system allows for the youngest and oldest of our population to access our wonderful outdoors. People with disabilitiies benefit greatly from easy entry and well maintained terrain.
St. Lawrence County and the towns have worked together to build this economic plan to enhance our regional competitiveness, improve our service businesses, and offer something unique to visitors from outside the area.
A good multi-use trail system creates a new stream of tourists flowing through St Lawrence County and surrounding counties. Visitors are expected to arrive by car and will seek additional services at trail heads. We believe this trail system will increase business traffic at exisiting businesses, serve as a catalyst for new business development such as hotels and restaurants, and increase sales for outdoor recreational businesses. The additional sales tax and income from registrations will help town and county tax bases.
Tourism is already a one billion dollar industry in the North Country. With its low upfront investment cost and quicker returns on investment than many other industries, it is well positioned to drive a new North Country economy while complementing other strategic clusters of economic activity. Year-round tourism promotes a more sustainable, stable economy and more jobs; it's the most likely growth for this region and will attract other types of investment.
If the multi-use trail increases tourism in St. Lawrence County by just one percent, an additional $1.15 million would be added to the economy. One percent would support $440,000 in wages and generate almost $140,000 in local and state taxes. If tourism were to add 5 percent to local tourism, it would generate $5.7 million in spending. Without this trail system there is little incentive for ATV users to register their machines, which deprives the county and state income (if the ATV weight limit was increased to include UTV's their income would double).
The benefits of recreational trails are well researched and documented. Trails contribute to local economies, build pride, and put regions “on the map.” They offer a wide range of both tangible and intangible rewards: physical, mental and emotional rewards that increase the quality of life for trail users and those proximate to them. Most tangible, however, are the economic benefits.