By Zoe Smith, Landscape Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondacks Program
Cycling is synonymous with New York.
A century ago, the Madison Square Garden velodrome drew packed crowds with its famed six-day races. Indeed, ever since the first bike path opened in Brooklyn in 1894, New Yorkers have used this mode of transportation not only for sport, but as a way to reduce stress, to exercise, and as an environmentally friendly alternative to commute to and from work.
Even Robert Moses, New York City’s famed urban planner in thrall to highways, also advocated bicycling and used New Deal funds to build bicycle paths along the Harlem River and the Bronx’s Pelham Parkway; in Hillside Park, Queens; and down Brooklyn’s Ocean Parkway.
By design and demand, cycling interest has gripped New York once again in recent decades. With more than 900 miles of bike lanes spanning our five boroughs today (a number that is rapidly expanding) and a dozen bicycle clubs, it is no surprise that Bicycle magazine named New York the top city for cycling last year, up from number seven in 2012.
This summer, New York City’s cycling enthusiasts will have an opportunity to take their love of riding from an urban landscape to one filled with nature and — in the process — support the protection of the spectacular Adirondack Park.
The Adirondacks represent the largest protected area in the continental United States — larger than Yosemite, the Everglades, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone national parks combined. About the size of Vermont, the Park has more than 100 villages and towns among its forests and lakeshores and is an amalgam of public and private lands.
Between August 23–29, the Cycle Adirondacks tour will provide hundreds of riders the opportunity to help preserve the six million acre park that is home to one of the largest intact temperate forests in the world and where one will find loons, moose, black bear, and a host of other endemic wildlife. Cycle enthusiasts and even non-riders can opt to spend three days, four days or even a full week exploring the Adirondacks.
Cyclists will start and end the tour in Saranac Lake — riding through Star Lake, Boonville, Camden, Old Forge and Long Lake. The daily routes — ranging from 50 to 75 miles a day at an average elevation gain of 2,000–3,000 feet — will allow riders to be immersed in the forests, lakes, streams, and abundant wildlife habitat of the region.
The park currently faces several human-made challenges, including impacts from climate change, acid rain, and backcountry development. These threats have been responsible for forest fragmentation and degradation of ecosystem and wildlife health.
Ecological health in the Adirondacks depends on effective management and land-use planning that balances science-based conservation with local economic needs. If we don’t promote passive recreation like cycling, we risk losing more and more of the Adirondacks to development in the region.
Aside from helping riders and conservation-minded residents become more aware of the region’s ecological riches and challenges, the week-long event will be a boon to the local economy. The route followed by Cycle Adirondacks is part of the region that suffers from under-investment. The tour is one way to disperse additional resources there.
With local vendors participating wherever possible and with riders encouraged to patronize local businesses and stay in local lodging, the expected regional economic impact of the event is estimated to be into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Tour organizers hope to provide a sensational biking experience while opening the eyes of more city dwellers to the outstanding natural assets to be found in their state only a day trip away. We hope that Cycle Adirondacks will lead to new opportunities for nature- and adventure-based tourism in the region and that people will be inspired to visit the area in the future.
New Yorkers have a storied love of cycling. This summer they have an opportunity to extend that passion beyond our five boroughs to protect the wilderness just hours away from the busy city streets they call home. As an Adirondacks resident, I am confident that many participants will be inspired by our natural wonders and return again and again.
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Zoe Smith is Landscape Director for the Adirondack Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).