Jack Drury says the Trails with Rails Action Committee (TRAC) has a win-win solution to the controversy over the future of the rail corridor between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid: keep the tracks and build a network of bike trails that run alongside or in the vicinity of the tracks.
Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA) also envisions a bike trail between Tupper and Placid, but its plan calls for removing the tracks.
The bike trails proposed by TRAC and ARTA are fundamentally different. To many observers, it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison.
ARTA seeks a trail surfaced with hard-packed crushed stone and/or stone dust that would be suitable for most road bikes (excepting, perhaps, racing bikes with thin tires). As a matter of fact, the state has not ruled out paving all or part of the trail.
TRAC’s proposal calls for building spur trails in the adjacent Forest Preserve where building a trail beside the tracks is impossible, such as where the rail corridor passes through wetlands or over water. Since it’s illegal to build road-bike trails in the Preserve, the spur trails would be similar to hiking trails.
In short, the TRAC network would be usable by mountain bikes but not by road bikes.
Experienced mountain bikers probably would have little interest in riding along a rail corridor with occasional detours into the woods, but Drury contends that TRAC’s network would appeal to casual riders and families.
“We’re not talking about hard-core, single-track mountain bikers,” Drury told Adirondack Almanack last week after a public meeting on the future of the rail corridor.
The spur trails would be about six feet wide and designed for easy riding. Under TRAC’s plan, a trail would be built beside the tracks between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. Between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, however, the bike route would leave the rail corridor in a number of places. Click here to see TRAC’s map of the route.
“If it’s done right, it will be family friendly, but family friendly on a mountain bike, not a road bike,” said Drury, who helped research and map the routes.
Drury contends that a long-distance mountain-bike route is appropriate for the Adirondack Park, whose appeal lies in its wildness.
“That’s something we can market and sell as unique to us rather than the traditional rail trail,” he said.
At the same time, Drury said, road bikers would be able to ride parts of the corridor.
But Tony Goodwin, a member of ARTA’s board, said the Adirondack Park already has plenty of trails suitable for mountain biking. “What we’re looking for is something that’s totally different from all other Adirondack trails,” he told the Almanack.
Whether you like TRAC’s idea or not, it faces several obstacles.
First, it’s a different kind of trail from what has been proposed by ARTA and what is contemplated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Department of Transportation.
DEC and DOT have suggested replacing the tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid with a universally accessible trail–usable not only by road bikes, but also by wheelchairs, baby strollers, and snowmobiles.
Jim McCulley, president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, said the type of snowmobiling experience the corridor offers–riding on a wide, smooth, and groomed trail–would not be possible on the spur trails. Presumably, the dirt spur trails also would not be usable by wheelchairs and baby strollers.
Another issue is cost. The state estimates that refurbishing the tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid would cost $6.7 million. To date, there are no estimates for what it would cost to build a a network of side-by-side and spur trails. In places, TRAC is proposing to build the side-by-side trails on berms or cantilevers.
The state has estimated that removing the tracks and building a road-bike trail would cost $9.8 million. ARTA contends this figure is high. In any case, ARTA contends that refurbishing the tracks and building trails in addition would be far more expensive.
“Why would we build something extra? It’s just crazy,” McCulley said.
Finally, TRAC’s proposal assumes that a side-by-side trail will be built between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake even though the town of North Elba tried unsucessfully for years to get such a trail constructed. Although the Adirondack Park Agency approved the trail, the town abandoned the project as too costly–owing in part to wetland regulations.
Given these problems, Goodwin regards TRAC’s proposal as a non-starter.
But Rob Davies, head of DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests, said the state will look at all ideas–including TRAC’s–before making a decision on the best use of the rail corridor.
Over the past two weeks, DEC and DOT sought input at four public meetings on the state’s proposal to remove the tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake and refurbish the tracks south of Tupper Lake to Big Moose The agencies plan to review the public comments, do more analysis, and come out with a final proposal next year.
Under the state’s plan, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad would be forced to abandon a tourist train that runs between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. However, it could continue to run a tourist train out of Old Forge and would have the opportunity to expand service as far north as Tupper Lake.
The railroad wants the state to refurbish the entire line between Big Moose and Lake Placid. Sunita Halasz, a member of TRAC, contends that removing the tracks is short-sighted and in the long run could hurt the Adirondacks economically. “The railroad is literally the backbone of our Park,” she said. “To pull out a backbone causes anyone to collapse.”
ARTA contends that the Park would benefit more from a recreational trail. It wants the state to remove all of the tracks from Big Moose and Placid. This plan would not affect the tourist train in Old Forge.
NOTE: Dick Beamish, the founder of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine, where I work, is one of the founders of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates. However, he had no hand in the reporting of this article. Adirondack Explorer is the parent organization of Adirondack Almanack.
Photo by Phil Brown: Galen and Oliver Salasz show their support for the railroad at a meeting in Lake Placid last week.