Thursday, February 11, 2016

APA Approves Removal Of Historic Railroad For Trail

Crowd closeupThe Adirondack Park Agency voted 9-1 Thursday afternoon to approve a proposal to divide a state-owned rail corridor into a rail segment and a trail segment.

The proposal calls for removing 34 miles of track between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake and fixing up 45 miles of largely unused track between Tupper Lake and Big Moose. The trail would be used by snowmobiles in winter and by bicyclists and other recreationists the rest of the year.

For years a public debate has raged online and in newspapers over the best use of the rail corridor, but the APA focused only on the question of whether the proposal conforms to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

That narrow focus led to some strange results. Dick Booth, chairman of the agency’s State Land Committee, voted against the measure even though he supports removing rails to create a trail. And Bill Thomas supported it even though he would rather see all the rails remain in place.

Afterward, Thomas told the Adirondack Almanack that he thought the APA staff had made a sound case that the proposal conformed to the master plan. “I had to vote against my personal feelings,” he remarked.

BoothBooth, however, argued that the agency needed to amend the master plan before approving the proposal, which was finalized last fall by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the state Department of Transportation.

At issue is the corridor’s land-use classification. The State Land Master Plan designates the 119-mile railroad right of way as a Travel Corridor. In comments to the APA, many rail supporters argued that if the tracks are removed, the corridor will no longer qualify as a Travel Corridor. In that case, the corridor presumably would revert to other land classifications that would not allow the construction of the kind of trail—wide, graded, and surfaced—envisioned by DEC and DOT.

Booth said he supported the rail-trail plan but agreed with the opponents’ interpretation of the State Land Master Plan’s language on the corridor. “It’s talking about a railroad; it’s not talking about something else,” he said.

APA attorney James Townsend conceded that the language could be clearer, but he believes the removal of the rails will not change the corridor’s classification.

Booth moved to delay voting on the measure until the State Land Master Plan is amended, but no one seconded the motion.

After the meeting, Townsend said he is confident that the board’s decision could withstand a legal challenge.

The Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, which runs tourist trains in the corridor, sharply criticized the vote, partly on legal grounds. “We will continue to fight for our position and likely find joinder with other credible groups opposed to the DEC’s headlong run at common sense and the law,” Bill Branson, the society’s president, said in a news release.

Tony Goodwin of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, which pushed for a recreational trail, applauded the APA’s decision, but he added that he won’t be surprised if a lawsuit is filed. “It’s not over until the contractor moves in and actually removes the rails,” he said.

Historic Saranac Lake and Adirondack Architectural Heritage have argued that pulling up tracks will destroy a piece of history. The corridor is on both the State and National Register of Historic Places.

“I am not in a position to say if rail supporters will sue over this decision, but I do think there is the basis for a lawsuit on many grounds, not just on the historic-preservation issue,” said Steven Engelhart, the executive director of AARCH.

The Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, operating as Adirondack Scenic Railroad, runs tourist trains between Utica and Old Forge and between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. If the state’s proposal is implemented, it will have to shut down its Lake Placid operation. However, the length of its excursion trains from Utica eventually could be extended 45 miles.

The railroad’s supporters argue that ending a tourist train in Tupper Lake makes little economic sense because Tupper lacks the cachet of Lake Placid. They pressed the state to refurbish the line so trains could be run from Utica all the way to Lake Placid.

For its part, Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates wanted the state to remove all the tracks between Big Moose and Lake Placid and create a 79-mile trail. Although it didn’t get all it wanted, ARTA has been happier than the railroad with the state’s proposal, which many people view as a compromise.

The state plans to allow Adirondack Scenic Railroad and Rail Explorers USA, which offers pedal-bike excursions, to operate one more season on the northern end of the corridor.

Bob Stegemann, DEC’s regional director, said work on the trail could begin as soon as the season ends. “We’re going to act,” he said. “It’s not going to be languishing.”

The DEC and DOT commissioners must sign off on the proposal, which amends the corridor’s management plan. Under the proposal, DOT will retain jurisdiction of the entire corridor, but DEC will oversee the trail.

Photos by Mike Lynch: (top) the crowd listens to the discussion at the APA meeting, (below) Dick Booth makes a point.

Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

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48 Responses

  1. Lakechamplain says:

    OK, does this augment yet another cycle of back and forth on this issue with the same people restating their same old arguments? Let’s try to look forward to enhancing not only the tourist experience in this beautiful part of the Adirondacks but also kicking up the quality of life for residents of the area as well.

    Even if it wouldn’t have an official capacity yet, I call for the mayors of the Tri-towns to get together to formulate a planning commission to how best implement the new trail for all the parties concerned. Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid could all benefit, and if they work together and coordinate their efforts the whole endeavor would go forward faster.

    Is the new trail an economic game changer in and of itself? Of course not, but in a highly competitive market for the tourist dollar, it can be another ‘thing to do’ to add to the tourist websites and travel brochures. Enough of the acrimony.

    • Bruce says:

      Lake Champlain,

      I agree. The people of the North Country, New York State, and visitors alike all need to get behind this and make it work. It’s true there are many trails in the Adirondack Park, but how many of them directly connect 3 major towns offering a full range of services to users in that distance or less, and in a prime visitor corridor?

      This argument is becoming like two children arguing over who should play with a toy and after mama makes the decision, the loser continues to argue to hear themselves talk. I would have liked to see a train all the way from Utica to Lake Placid, but I can enjoy the fact it will be able offer more than is currently on the menu.

  2. Randy Squier says:

    The tracks are being used, producing revenue and bringing in tourists to the region. Another bike – snowmobile trail adds to an already saturated market. There has to be another motive then simply to add another bike- snowmobile trail? I will bring my family this summer to use the rail explorers bikes and never probably visit again as I have too many other options for biking. So long to a still used piece of history. Sad day for the state park that belongs to all New Yorkers.

    • Joe Smith says:

      Sir Squier, I can almost guarantee that your intended ride on the Rail Explorers’ bikes will be a one-shot deal. This new “trail”, if done properly, will be used repetitively by regular bikers because they will be in charge of their ride and will not be confined to staying on the rails, “freedom of the road” so to speak.
      Amen to moving forward!

    • Curt Austin says:

      There’s no need to bring up conspiracy theories to explain the trail movement; there are far more people interested in it than a hobby-run-amuck tourist train. You just have to look inside people’s garages.

      The reverse is not so clear, however: there are people in powerful political positions who prefer to keep things as they are (or rather, maintain the fiction of the imminent return to the past). They’re probably thinking about offering the Governor some kind of deal – the Governor wants money for something downstate, yada yada yada.

    • AdkBuddy says:

      You say the state park belongs to all New Yorkers. The corridor belongs to all New Yorkers too, yet you seem okay with it being monopolized by one small business. As for riding the rail explorer bikes, my niece did that last summer. When asked about it, she it was a fun thing to do. Once.

  3. Joe says:

    I hope this moves in now, ending the conflict..

    • Boreas says:


      Oh, if it were that simple. The discussion will likely move from the court of public opinion to the court of law where common sense is taken out of the equation.

      • Bob Kibbey says:

        Yes!, I’ve been reading this on going back an forth for as long as it’s been going on. Someone once said “Do something, even if it’s wrong, but do something” But in this case APA is right, and Joe an Boreas are probably right. We’ll all now wait as law suits are presented and heard for another year. Too many organizations with too many points of view.

  4. ADKerDon says:

    This is just another reason to abolish the APA and the forest preserve. Only hikers will be allowed in the Adirondacks. Everyone else including our disabled veterans, handicapped, elderly, and everyone less than physically fit will be locked out – denied access! Abolish the APA and the forest preserve NOW!

    • John says:

      Don, Please go troll somewhere else. Thanks.

    • Steve says:

      Sage advice. So crazy

    • Taras says:

      “Only hikers will be allowed in the Adirondacks. ”

      Hey, Mr. One-Trick Pony, did you bother to read the article? FYI: They’re trading rail-riding for snowmobiling, skiing, cycling, and hiking. That’s a broader usage of the land, not narrower.

      Somehow you (always) overlook the fact that “disabled veterans, handicapped, and elderly” are still able to tour the 6 million acre Adirondack Park along its many roads.

      Imagine that! You can drive from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake and enjoy the scenery without having to pay for a rail ticket. You even get to sit in the comfort of the same car that brought you to the Adirondacks.

      My Dad used to take our family on Sunday drives and I don’t recall feeling I was deprived of anything.

    • AdkBuddy says:

      There will be multiple opportunities for everyone to use the trail regardless of physical ability. This is will open the doors to innovative new companies willing to share the trail.

      • Boreas says:


        Precisely. RailRiders could sell or move its rolling stock elsewhere and rent bikes – tandem and side-by-side bikes – as well as bikes with trailers for kids, etc. They could even rent electric conveyances for people with limited mobility. They could do this in TL, SL, and LP and run shuttles if feasible. I would assume they began pondering this option when the trail was announced.

    • Marco says:

      I am afraid you are really out of touch with reality. Please stop annoying everyone.

  5. Tim-Brunswick says:

    ADKer Don’s on target once again!

    I don’t care if they abolish the Forest Preserve. Call it anything you want, but I sure do care about increasing access for all of us, not just hikers, etc. who are physically fit and capable of hiking miles upon miles before they can see so-called wilderness areas. Much of todays “wilderness” many years ago, before creation of the Forest Preserve, harbored lodges, hotels, camps, etc. that were accessed by “roads” and “horse/buggy trails”.

    Heaven forbid someone like ADKer Don should dare to actually express what many others feel…..really!

    • Boreas says:


      What does this have to do with opening up 34 miles of free, flat, handicapped-accessible nature trail?

      • Bob says:


        Yes!, What does this have to do with opening up 34 miles of free, flat handicapped-accessible nature trail? You’d think this rail and trail was the only way into the Adirondacks.

        • Larry Roth says:

          Actually it IS the only way by rail into the central Adirondacks.

          Are you telling me there are no handicapped accessible trails anywhere in the Adirondacks, and this will be the first?

          • Boreas says:

            The excursion rail service from Utica to TL will still be available – a longer stretch than is even available now. What is the complaint? Passenger service from Utica to LP no longer seems to be a point of discussion.

            • Larry Roth says:

              The complaint is simple. It’s like finally getting a bridge to connect two separated cities – but being told you have to stop when you cross the bridge.

              It’s like taking the train to the someplace you’ve been trying to get to for years – but being told you have to get off 34 miles from your destination.

              It’s like watching Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back – and then being told you can never see Return of the Jedi.

              It’s like finally taking the training wheels off your bicycle – and having your rear tire go flat.

              Does that begin to give you an idea of why some people think this is a big deal?

      • Keith Gorgas says:

        I spent years hunting and skiing from Lake Clear to Saranac Lake. The railroad is anything but flat and level. Lots of curves and ups and downs. Overall, Lake Clear Junction is 85 ft higher than Saranac Lake train station, but there are many hills and dales inbetween. If you want flat, there are plenty of other places to look for it. Bloomingdale Bog trail, barely used and not a tourist draw, which connects Saranac Lake with Montreal, would be a good place to start.

        • Boreas says:

          OK Keith – ‘relatively’ flat. Curves aren’t really an issue and add to the experience – certainly something that even AdkerDon would consider “access”. I am beginning to think some people’s view of handicap access is a Disney ride or a moving sidewalk conveyor belt.

    • Tom says:

      If you don’t like the idea of Forest Preservation, maybe you belong in a city. This is what the Adirondacks is… and it will continue to be forever.

      As for the access, it isn’t changing at all. It’s going from a railroad bike to a real bike, ie MORE FREEDOM and FREE!

  6. Larry Roth says:

    After 20 years of giving lip service to the idea of rails with trails but never providing any resources to actually make it happen – zero trail development – DEC’s rail starvation strategy has finally paid off.

    Better – they got 20 years of work out of ASR on the corridor they didn’t have to budget for. What a deal.

    Now ARTA can move on to Phase 2: making sure no money ever gets budgeted for the promised track work up to Tupper Lake.

    • Boreas says:

      Yes, the Resistance is setting charges as we speak. ; ) But seriously folks, if this is what the powers in Albany are pushing for, rail advocates are going to have a tough row to hoe to reverse the compromise plan. Just sayin’…

      • M.P. Heller says:

        It will end up in a long protracted legal battle that is going to take years to complete. The real rancor is about to begin.

        • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

          Hey M.P., how’ve you been? I’m heading to BML soon for a thing, now that I live here maybe at last I’ll come a little further and meet you.

          So we have an approved plan that produces a better, longer and more robust rail infrastructure along that line than has been the case in decades, plus a world-class rec trail that will bring lots of new business, especially if it’s promoted correctly and supported by the communities through which it passes.

          If the business development organizations in the park who are aligned with opponents of this plan support a protracted legal battle, then someone ought to ask hard questions about why an economic winner is being held up for political reasons, thus positioning them in opposition to their own missions. You can be damned sure I will, anyhow.

          People use the word “balance” around here like it’s some sort of talisman (mostly propaganda of course). Then along comes something that actually does make balanced sense and it turns into a massive cat fight. Go figure

          It’s time to grow up, drop the fight and make this plan sing.


          • Bob says:

            There’s an operative word here that may help get the finances
            for and help move this rail and trail project along

            It’s “Lobbists” (now I’ll go wash my moth out with soap)

          • M.P. Heller says:

            I’m good Pete, thanks. Yes it’s been awhile. Glad to hear things are going well in your new place.

            I don’t mean to sound overly pessimistic about the process, just that any time things go this far, the issue ends up in court. NYCO, Essex, Shingle Shanty, et. al. ; Not mention the fate of the Boreas tract, which at this point remains very much up in the air.

            Yes, let’s see some movement here. There has been far too much stagnation in the process.


            • Larry Roth says:

              It seems to me there’s an obvious solution here. Restore the tracks to Tupper Lake first and see what happens – especially if that’s enough to let trains run the full length of the line to Lake Placid. The compromise calls for that track work to be done anyway, so why not do that first and actually find out if it will work or not?

              The trail can always be built at any time – but this way the area will definitely find out what it has been missing, what it will be losing, and whether or not the rail people have a case. Instead of guesses, everyone will finally know if the tracks are worth keeping. There will be real data instead of guesses and estimates.

              This, of course, will never happen because A) it makes too much sense, and B) the trail people don’t want to risk it.

              • Dave says:

                Got to find a business that is willing to take over management of the rail line first, before a single dime is spent on fixing the rails

  7. Keith Bednar says:

    It is a shame that there are no trails for bicycles in the region. It will be a sad , sad day when the rails are gone. What are they thinking ?

  8. Doug Vensel says:

    I think they should use the corridor from Lake Clear north to Malone as a gauge to how popular it’ll be. That one’s been gone since 1963 and it sure as hell didn’t help a single entity all the way up north to the border and into Canada. It’s identical in every respect. It goes from Lake Clear, through Gabriels, Mountain View, Owls Head, Whippleville, and Malone. Then on up to Constable and Trout River. I think the APA should ask the local folks how much use this trail gets in a year’s time. No one hikes or bikes this except on a local level.
    What is wrong with these people? They have GOT to be blind to all this or paid off very well.

    • Bruce says:


      One clear difference…the places you named are not exactly regular tourist destinations on the same order of Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid. If they are, they’ve been keeping awful quiet about it. I’ve been coming to the Adirondacks for over 10 years, and the only ones I’ve heard of are Lake Clear, and of course Malone.

    • Boreas says:

      Is the trail suitable for road bikes? I’d like to check it out unless it is sand & grass like the Bloomingdale Bog trail. All the bridges in?

      • Paul says:

        I don’t think you wanna use a road bike on that trial. You could probably use a cyclocross bike on it. Watch out for ATVs, they use it.

    • MC says:

      The stretch of RR you mention between Lake Clear and Malone is, if I’m not mistaken, private land and not NYS land.

  9. Don Engelbrecht says:

    The article fails to mention that there are 6 million acres in the Adirondack Park, more than enough to develop WITHOUT permanently removing the already previously established infrastructure of the railroad that had been used. The entire track system was utilized during the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, and then abandoned by the state after that event. By removing the tracks in question, and not having a continuous railway from Utica to Lake Placid, it will forever remove the possibility of commercial revitalization by the railroad, or as a way to again access Lake Placid by railroad should the location be chosen again for hosting another Olympic Games. To me, this shows great shortsightedness of judgment for those who are in the decision making process. I would encourage the railroad to continue legally fighting the absurdity of this decision.

    • Hope says:

      Nothing is forever.

    • Boreas says:


      I believe your view is short-sighted. Revitalizing the lower section to TL and re-purposing the last 34 miles will add new usefulness to the corridor more than maintaining the status quo.

      DEC simply doesn’t believe in the long-term viability of the corridor, and doesn’t warrant the expenditure to turn it into a passenger train with a small village as a destination. Future Olympics in LP are highly unlikely, and even then the rails would only offer transportation for a matter of weeks.

  10. Paul says:

    The APA didn’t approve of the removal of the RR it simply said that the plan was consistent with the law.

  11. John says:

    If it was me & I was in charge of the NYS DOT, if anyone takes this issue to court, I would immediately pull the leases for ASR & the Rail Bike Explorers to use the tracks until the courts decide the overall issue once & for all. If the rail folks want to fight this in court, I’d STOP them dead in their tracks from using any portion of the rails until a court decides the case!

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