There is a new COVID-safe outdoor family activity like no other in the area. In fact there are only two other New York locales offering anything similar, and they are both in the Adirondacks.
Finger Lakes Rail Riders is on Haven Corners Road in Penn Yan. It had a soft opening on Memorial Day and is now operating seven days a week until mid-September and then long weekends through Nov. 1. Business is very good, thanks in large measure to some favorable media attention.
What exactly are rail riders? They are custom-made, two-seat, recumbent-style bikes that travel along an abandoned five-mile rail (round-trip). Each rider has a freewheel that allows them to coast while the other person is pedaling. It is single-geared so there is little effort involved along the level route. The bike has a water bottle rack and a basket to take along personal items. A full tour would have nine bikes. A guide is always present along with a second one at the home base. They include two-way radios.
One of the main responsibilities for the guide is at the halfway point to turn the bikes around for the journey home. There is a restroom, tent and chairs at that point for use during the brief wait.
And it is not just about admiring the beautiful Yates County landscape. The guide will provide a short history of the area with a focus on transportation. A typical trip lasts two hours.
The brains behind this adventure is Kathy Ferron. Originally from Massachusetts, she has lived in the area for over 20 years. On the offseason from FL Rail Riders, she treats chiropractic patients by way of home visits. Many of her clients are Mennonites who know the value of keeping their body healthy, resulting in more productivity. Ferron says being a chiropractor is tough going in this area because of the Northeast College of Health Sciences (formerly New York Chiropractic College) in Seneca Falls. Many graduates stay in the area resulting in a large number for the number of residents.
Ferron, like everyone, knows how popular the wineries and breweries are, but they are not exactly family friendly. And renting a boat for a day can cost a bundle. Her solution was rail riding. Her bikes are adaptable for children and toddlers.
It was not so easy in the beginning. She needed to get permission from Finger Lakes Railway to use that section of track. Two years of discussions took place. Ultimately, it came down to railway owner Mike Smith, who people should know is an extremely nice guy. He basically overruled any worries by others from Finger Lakes Railway and said, “Give her what she wants.” She signed on to an initial two-year lease.
After Ferron was given the go ahead, a lot of clearing along the abandoned tracks was needed along with reconstruction of a bridge damaged during the floods that hit Penn Yan a few years ago. Mennonites were involved in the construction of the bikes. A parking area was created along with an office and restroom facility.
After things got going early on and a tour was ready to leave, a man arrived on site. He introduced himself as Mike Smith — whom Ferron had yet to meet. Naturally, she was greatly appreciative of his support and offered him a rail ride anytime.
The tours run seven days a week, rain or shine at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. For reservations and any other information, go online to www.flrailriders.com or call (315) 279-4330.
You don’t have to be an athlete or in any kind of great physical shape. I can testify, after riding the rails, that there was little to no exertion needed. It was a pleasant, country experience that can help add to the flavor of the Yates County tourism experience.