After several years of public debate, the state has decided to consider tearing up the tracks and establishing a bike trail in at least part of a 90-mile rail corridor that cuts through the heart of the Adirondack wilderness.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation announced today that they would reopen the management plan for the corridor and look at establishing a recreational trail in the 34 miles between the villages of Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. In addition, the state will examine the possibility of expanding rail service on the rest of the line between Tupper Lake and Old Forge.
“Our goal is to protect our natural resources, while also exploring ways to increase opportunities for people to enjoy outdoor recreation activities in the Adirondacks,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a news release. “We recognize that the future of the Remsen-to-Lake Placid Travel Corridor is important to local residents, communities, and the regional economy.”
The state owns the 119-mile corridor between Remsen and Lake Placid, but the public debate has been over the best use of the 90 miles north of Old Forge.
Today’s decision is a partial victory for Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, a nonprofit organization that has been pushing the state to remove the tracks to create a trail that could be used by bikers, hikers, snowmobilers, and others.
ARTA President Joe Mercurio, a Saranac Lake resident, applauded the state’s decision, saying the local economy “will benefit enormously” from a recreational trail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid.
Although the state envisions keeping the tracks in place south of Tupper Lake, ARTA believes this section of the corridor eventually will be converted to a recreational trail. “Once public use and enjoyment of the first section is clearly established, the public will overwhelmingly support extending the trail from Tupper Lake to Old Forge,” Mercurio said in a news release.
Adirondack Scenic Railroad (ASR) operates seasonal tourist trains near Old Forge and Lake Placid. Although the Old Forge train is seen as successful, the Lake Placid train often appears half-empty. This year, ASR postponed the start of its Lake Placid excursions, in part because of poor ticket sales in past springs.
Most towns and villages in the rail corridor have called on the state to remove the tracks or at least reopen the management plan. In addition, ARTA says it has received support from 408 businesses that want the corridor converted to a recreational trail. Snowmobilers also are in favor of removing the tracks since the rails make the corridor unusable for much of winter.
In the news release, DEC and DOT say they will explore ways to improve the snowmobile connection between Old Forge and Tupper Lake through the creation of trails in the Forest Preserve and on lands protected by conservation easements.
The debate over the rail corridor has been waged incessantly online and in the pages of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, which in the past few years has published hundreds of letters, commentaries, and articles on the subject.
ARTA does not object to keeping the train near Old Forge, but it maintains that the region would be better served if the rest of the corridor were converted to a “world-class recreational trail” that boosters predict would attract tens of thousands of visitors throughout the year.
Those who oppose removing the tracks argue that, given dwindling supplies of oil, trains may be needed someday to transport freight and passengers to and from the Adirondacks.
ASR wants to see the tracks rehabilitated along the entire line. It contends that a trail could be built beside the tracks where feasible and where this is not feasible, the corridor could be linked to existing trails and roads.
ARTA counters that rehabilitating the tracks and building new trails would be prohibitively expensive. In contrast, it says selling the rails as scrap would pay for much of the cost of establishing the recreational trail.
Click the link below to the read the DEC-DOT news release.
Photo by Susan Bibeau: tourist train near Saranac Lake.