Friday, July 11, 2014

State Expects To Solicit Rail-Trail Ideas This Fall

Adirondack Tourist Train (Susan Bibeau)State officials hope to hold public meetings on the future of the Adirondack rail corridor this fall, the state’s environmental conservation commissioner told Adirondack Almanack.

Known as scoping sessions, the meetings will be held to solicit the public’s ideas for the 90-mile corridor between Old Forge and Lake Placid.

Following the meetings, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Department of Transportation will analyze the public comments and develop a draft management plan for the corridor. The departments will hold public hearings on the draft before issuing a final version of the plan.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said he hopes the final plan will be adopted sometime in the second half of next year.

Earlier this week, DEC and DOT announced they would reopen the existing management plan to look at the feasibility of removing the tracks in the 34-mile section between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid to establish a recreational trail that could be used by bicyclists, hikers, snowmobilers, and other outdoor enthusiasts.

At the same time, the state intends to look for ways to expand rail service on the 54-mile section between Old Forge and Tupper Lake and to improve snowmobile connections between the two communities.

Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates tourist trains near Old Forge and Lake Placid, but most of the corridor is rarely used except by snowmobilers in winter.

By all accounts, the Old Forge train is far more successful than the Lake Placid train, which often appears half-empty. Most towns and villages in the northern part of the corridor have called on the state to remove the tracks or at least revisit the management plan. Local officials are convinced that a recreational trail would attract more tourists and do more for the economy than the Lake Placid train does.

Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, a nonprofit group that has been pushing for the removal of the tracks, lauded the state for reopening the management plan, but it still wants to see most of the corridor south of Tupper Lake converted into a trail. Adirondack Scenic Railroad, on the other hand, wants the tracks between Tupper and Lake Placid to remain in place.

Martens said the state will listen to all sides in the scoping sessions and public hearings.

“This is just a proposal. We’re still going to solicit input,” he said.

The future of the rail corridor is hot-button issue. Over the past few years, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise has published hundreds of letters and commentaries on the subject. There also have been lengthy and often-heated discussions on the Almanack and other websites.

Photo by Susan Bibeau: Tourist train near Saranac Lake.



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Phil Brown is the former Editor of 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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