The future of the corridor has been the subject of public debate for a few years. At issue is whether the rails should be removed to create a multi-use recreational trail.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation held meetings in September to gather input from the public. On Wednesday, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said staff at both agencies have been reviewing and evaluating hundreds of comments.
Martens said a decision is not too far off. “It’s weeks, not months away, I’m hoping,” he told Adirondack Almanack.
The commissioner was in Lake Placid to attend a news conference at which Governor Andrew Cuomo announced two economic initiatives.
Afterward, Cuomo was asked about the railroad controversy. “I have taken no position in the debate,” he said.
A few weeks ago, Martens and DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald traveled the entire corridor. From the south, they took a tourist train as far as Big Moose. From there, they rode in a “hi-rail” pickup—adapted for the tracks—to the corridor’s end in Lake Placid.
Martens said the trip opened his eyes to the beauty of the corridor. “You recognize just how much of an asset it is,” he said. “It brings people to parts of the Park that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to.”
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates seasonal tourist trains near Old Forge and Lake Placid, but some seventy miles of tracks in between are not used. The railroad wants to refurbish the tracks, which could cost tens of millions of dollars.
Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates contends that the rails should be removed between the Old Forge area and Lake Placid so the corridor could be used for bicycling, jogging, and hiking in spring, summer, and fall. It would continue to be used by snowmobilers and skiers in winter. The group says the ninety-mile trail would attract tens of thousands of tourists a year and boost the local economy.
ARTA has called on the state to reevaluate the corridor’s management plan, which was adopted in the 1990s. Most towns along the corridor have asked the state to remove the tracks or at least revisit the plan. Many local businesses also side with ARTA.
If the plan is reopened, DEC and DOT would then decide what’s the best use of the corridor, which is owned by the state.
Map from Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s website.