Monday, December 29, 2014

Adirondackers Await Rail Corridor Decision

Train_overhead-Nancie BattagliaAfter four public meetings on the future of the eighty-mile rail corridor between Big Moose and Lake Placid, the public seems as divided as ever, and the state now must make a decision sure to leave many people unhappy.

The Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation plan to review the public comments and make a recommendation for the best use of the state-owned corridor. After the public has had a chance to weigh in on that recommendation, the departments will make a final decision.

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which operates tourist trains out of Utica, Old Forge, and Lake Placid, wants the state to retain and refurbish the entire eighty-mile stretch of tracks. ASR says it could then expand its services and spur economic growth in communities near the corridor. Among other things, the railroad says it would transport passengers from Utica, where it’s based, to Lake Placid and points in between.

Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates argues that the train has failed to live up to its economic promise, at least at the northern end of the line. ARTA says the region would see greater economic benefit if the state removed the tracks north of Big Moose and built a trail that could be used by snowmobilers in winter and bicyclists in other seasons.

The state has suggested a compromise: replace the thirty-four miles of tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid with a trail and refurbish the forty-four miles of tracks between Big Moose and Tupper Lake. Under this proposal, ASR would be forced to discontinue the Lake Placid train, but it could continue to operate its other trains and would have an opportunity to expand service north to Tupper Lake.

Neither side is satisfied with this proposal. Rail supporters say it makes more sense to run trains all the way to Lake Placid, which is a bigger tourist draw than Tupper Lake. Trail supporters contend that refurbishing the line south of Tupper Lake would be wasting money on a train that few would ride. What’s more, snowmobilers still would not be able to ride the corridor south of Tupper Lake whenever the snowpack failed to cover the rails.

Train-300x241 Nancie BattagliaThe debate over the rail line has raged for several years. In 2013, the state held a series of meetings to gather opinions on whether to revisit the corridor’s management plan, which was written in 1996. Partly based on the public input, the state came up with its proposal to amend the plan. At the more recent meetings, held in late October and early November, the public was asked to comment on this proposal.

Over the years, some have argued for keeping the tracks and building a trail alongside them. At this fall’s meetings, state officials made it clear that this is not feasible because the corridor is too narrow in places to accommodate a trail, such as where it crosses a wetland or a water body.

Nevertheless, the Trails with Rails Action Committee (TRAC), which is allied with the railroad, asserts that it has a “win-win solution.” It proposes building a trail beside the tracks where possible and, where that’s not possible, building trails that leave and re-enter the corridor.

State officials say they will consider all ideas, including TRAC’s, but they raised several questions about the rails-with-trails concept.

First and foremost, TRAC is proposing a different kind of trail from what the state has in mind. Rob Davies, head of DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests, said the state is considering a “universally accessible trail”—one that could be used by road bikes (perhaps with the exception of racing bikes with thin tires), wheelchairs, and baby strollers. Because it would be in the rail corridor, the trail would be wide, flat, and smooth. It’s possible that all or part of the trail would be paved with asphalt, but ARTA considers packed crushed stone and/or stone dust a more likely candidate for the surface.

McNamara-300x199 Nancie BattagliaTrails like this cannot be built in the adjacent Forest Preserve under existing state-land regulations. Hence, the spur trails envisioned by TRAC would be similar to hiking trails. That is, they could be used by mountain bikes but not road bikes.

Jack Drury, who researched the trails for TRAC, said the network would be designed for easy riding to appeal to families and casual bikers. “If it’s done right, it will be family friendly, but family friendly on a mountain bike, not a road bike,” he told the Adirondack Explorer.

Drury contends that a long-distance mountain-bike route is especially 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 lots of trails for mountain biking. “What we’re looking for is something that’s totally different from all other Adirondack trails,” he told the Explorer.

Critics also point out that TRAC’s proposal assumes that a trail would be constructed next to the tracks in the corridor between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The town of North Elba planned for years to build such a trail, but it gave up the project as too costly, partly due to wetland regulations. Drury notes that the Adirondack Park Agency approved the project, and he insists it can still be done.

Wild_center_train meeting Nancie BattagliaBetween Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, TRAC says, trails would need to leave the corridor in several locations. For example, there would be lengthy detours around Lake Clear and Hoel Pond. Nearly twelve miles of trail could be built—in discontinuous sections—within the corridor, according to TRAC. That’s about half the total mileage between the two villages.

It’s unknown how much the TRAC proposal would cost to implement, but ARTA contends it would be more expensive than removing the tracks and building a trail in their footprint. In some places, TRAC’s plans call for building trails on cantilevers and/or berms beside the tracks, which would be more costly than simply resurfacing the rail bed.

At the meetings, DOT did offer cost estimates both for refurbishing the rails and for replacing the rails with a multi-use trail.

Ray Hessinger, director of DOT’s Freight and Passenger Rail Bureau, said it would cost $11 million to repair the tracks between Big Moose and Tupper Lake and $6.7 million to repair the rails between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. Thus, if the entire line were rehabilitated, the cost would be $17.7 million, which is similar to Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s own estimate.

Kids_train Mike Lynch photoHessinger said building a trail between Big Moose and Tupper Lake would cost $11.4 million and building a trail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid would cost $9.8 million, for a total of $21.2 million.

The estimate for implementing the state’s proposal—refurbishing forty-four miles of tracks and building thirty-four miles of trail—is $20.8 million. Hessinger said the maintenance cost is about the same whether the corridor is used for trains or a trail: $1,500 a mile annually. The $20.8 million does not include the expense of creating snowmobile trails between Old Forge and Tupper Lake, something the state has promised to consider.

DOT’s estimate for repairing the entire line assumes it would be upgraded to class II rail standards, which under federal regulations allow passenger trains to travel up to thirty miles an hour. Critics say few people would want to ride a train from Utica to Lake Placid (140 miles) at that speed. Upgrading the tracks to class III standards, which would allow trains to travel up to sixty miles an hour, would cost $44 million, according to a DOT estimate a few years ago.

If the tracks are upgraded only to class II, Goodwin estimates that the trip from Utica to Lake Placid will take about six and a half hours—too long, he asserts, to interest most people. “It would be at least twice the time it takes to drive,” he said.

But Bill Branson, president of the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, which operates the railroad, asserts that speed is not the objective. “This is supposed to be a scenic adventure. Nobody is going to be speeding through the woods,” he said in an interview last fall.

The state’s $21.2 million estimate for building a trail all the way from Big Moose to Lake Placid is far above ARTA’s estimates. ARTA contends that all or most of the trail could be paid for by selling the rails and other steel fixtures in the corridor. The Iron Horse Preservation Society, a nonprofit organization that specializes in building rail trails, says it could do the work at no cost to the state, using revenue from salvaging steel. “These things can pay for themselves. It’s not pie in the sky; the numbers don’t lie,” Iron Horse President Joe Hattrup told the Explorer.

Rails_trails map by Nancy BernsteinRail supporters say Hattrup is overestimating the salvage revenue and underestimating the cost of disposing of tens of thousands of wooden railroad ties. They also question whether he has taken into account a law that requires contractors hired by the state to pay “prevailing wages.”

Hessinger said he could not explain the vast difference in cost estimates—$21.2 million versus nothing—because he doesn’t know what assumptions Hattrup made in his calculations. However, he said DOT stands behind its estimates (though they may be refined before the state unveils its final proposal). “I am confident of the numbers we put forward,” he said.

Jim McCulley, president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, accused DOT of skewing the figures in favor of the train. “DOT is obviously attempting to keep the railroad for unknown reasons,” said McCulley, who is on ARTA’s board.

Partisans on both sides agree that, although costs should be taken into account, the more important question is what is most beneficial for the economy and future of the Adirondack Park.

“The best-use factors should outweigh all the cost figures being bandied about, especially when each party’s cost estimates are disputed by the other,” said Wayne Tucker, a member of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad board.

As with the cost estimates, the two sides differ widely on the number of visitors that the train or trail would attract and on the consequent economic benefit to communities. In a study commissioned by ARTA, the Rails to Trails Conservancy projected that the rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake could attract 244,000 visitors a year—not including winter users. For the nine non-winter months, that works out to an average of nine hundred visitors a day.

“We strongly disagree with those inflated projections because they were based on heavier population centers than the Utica area and points northward,” Tucker said.

The railroad draws about seventy-four thousand riders a year, according to Tucker, but only sixteen thousand ride the Lake Placid-to-Saranac Lake train. A 2012 report by Stone Consulting, commissioned by ASR, projected that the railroad would draw seven thousand additional passengers a year if the tracks were fixed up to allow people to ride from Utica to Lake Placid.

Goodwin said the additional ridership would not justify the expense of refurbishing the tracks. “The seven thousand additional riders in return for the $16.7 million investment of taxpayer dollars is much less than the projected—at the low end—fifty thousand trail users who come at no cost to the state,” he said.

Tucker said ASR doesn’t agree with Stone Consulting’s figures. “We have contended from the beginning that they were way too conservative,” he said. “This was borne out recently when we garnered over five thousand riders for a new section of track that ran from Thendara to Big Moose for the 2013 season. That performance alone would justify fixing up the whole line.”

Given the uncertainty of the projections, Tucker added, “why would anybody espouse tearing up the existing infrastructure just to find out whose visitor numbers were more correct?”

ARTA took issue with examples offered by Hessinger of a tourist train and rail trail that he said are similar to those under discussion in the Adirondacks: the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, a tourist train near Cleveland, Ohio, and the Genesee Valley Greenway, a recreational trail in western New York. At the public meetings, he said the train draws about two hundred thousand passengers a year, while the trail attracts seventy thousand users in the Rochester area.

Many observers thought Hessinger was suggesting that Adirondack Scenic Railroad would draw two hundred thousand riders if the entire line were rehabilitated, whereas the rail trail would draw only seventy thousand users if all the tracks were removed. However, Hessinger told the Explorer that was not his intent. He said DOT has not made any projections of the number of people that would use the train or the trail. He expects the department will conduct such an analysis before the final proposal is issued.

Many towns and businesses in the northern part of the corridor agree with ARTA that a rail trail will do more for the local economy than a train.

Hessinger and DEC’s Rob Davies talked about a number of other issues at the meetings, including the following:

■ Ownership of the corridor. The rail corridor was abandoned by Penn Central in 1972. The state acquired it by eminent domain in 1975 and owns it outright. If the state removes the tracks, Davies said, the ownership of the corridor will not (as some have suggested) revert to private landowners.

■ Land-use classification. The corridor is classified as a Travel Corridor under the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. If the tracks are removed, some have wondered if the corridor would need to be reclassified Wild Forest or Wilderness, which would restrict the type of trail that could be built and its uses. Davies said he believes the classification of the corridor would not change.

■ Bringing back rails. Rail proponents say if the tracks are removed, they will be gone forever. State officials, however, say the tracks could be restored, though at considerable expense.

In all, about five hundred people attended the four meetings, held in Utica, Old Forge, Tupper Lake, and Lake Placid. The attendees were not allowed to speak publicly. Rather, after presentations by Hessinger and DEC’s Davies, people had a chance to visit “listening stations,” where state officials wrote down their opinions. The departments also received written comments via email and postal mail.

DEC and DOT will review the public input, do more research, and come out with a final proposal sometime in late spring or early summer. The agencies then will hold public hearings before deciding whether to implement or modify that proposal.

Editor’s Note: Dick Beamish, the founder of the Adirondack Explorer, is active in Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates. He had no hand in the writing of this article.

Photos, from above: The rail corridor between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake (photo by Nancie Battaglia); an Adirondack Scenic Railroad locomotive (Nancie Battaglia); Matt McNamara and Meg Parker check out a map of the rail corridor at the Wild Center (Nancie Battaglia); About two hundred people attended the state’s presentation at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake (Nancie Battaglia); Brothers Galen (left) and Oliver Halasz of Saranac Lake show their support for saving the rails (photo by Mike Lynch); and the Trails with Rails Action Committee has proposed creating a trail beside the tracks where feasible and creating spur trails where it’s not feasible. The proposed route is marked in red – there are two options near Floodwood Pond (map by Nancy Bernstein).

This story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.

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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.

64 Responses

  1. I read today that NY is going to have a budget surplus of 4.2 billion. Yes, that BILLION. The state could refurbish the 80 miles of rails and not even miss the money. But will it?

  2. Bruce says:

    While not entirely happy with the compromise proposal (I’d like to see a train to Lake Placid), it seems the best solution; give everyone a little something. Giving one side or the other the whole ball of wax will seriously reduce the potential for economic growth.

    Based on other, well known scenic rail lines, there’s no reason to believe that with a decent amount of trackage, the ASR can not become as high quality as others. Utica to Tupper Lake is longer than the Great Smoky Mountain Scenic Rail Road (GSMSR), which is highly successful.

    You could also use the same argument that certain bike trails elsewhere provide a high quality experience and benefit local communities, but there’s no certainty that will happen either.

    We tend to inflate projections, and downplay reasons why not.

    I don’t believe a one or the other solution will maximize the potential for economic growth.

    • Big Burly says:

      @ Bruce,
      It is precisely the position of TRAC that the either / or proposition promoted by those wanting rail removal is the least promising. Having both rehabbed rail and investment in an upgraded trail system enhances economic and recreation opportunities for residents and visitors of all ages and interests in a much shorter time frame.

  3. Dan Mecklenburg says:

    Bruces comments are right on. Rails with Trails will be a Win-Win for all Parties involved, except maybe Lee Keats who does not want to hear the train whistle from afar from his backyard. But think of the passersby from the trail – he will have all kinds of new visitors in his neighborhood. Unless that isn’t as big as he says it will be.

  4. Lake Champlain says:

    Thank you Phil for writing an informative, well-balanced article. This topic has generated more comments here, by far, than any other I can recall in the last year. I could almost envision you agonizing over trying to include the disparate points of view on this contentious debate, and I think you ably described the different takes all the sides take on it.
    And I give you credit for trying(not for the first time) to dismantle the railroad proponents ‘compromise’; that is, to build a bike trail alongside the existing track. The state has noted time and again, including at the recent public meetings, that this simply will not work. Not only do the environmental issues make that difficult if not impossible, it would also create a mishmash of two basic types of trails, one that would work only with a mountain bike and the other, which the original proponents support, that road bikes could use. This road bike-friendly trail envisions the larger goal of the bike trail, one that recreational users and families could embrace.
    Keep the dialogue flowing and let’s hope the state will make a decision soon.

  5. Werner says:

    Who in their right mind would walk and bike that remote. Nowadays a very few diehards. I believe the Snowmobile and
    ATV lobby is behind all this, to tear up and down the trail in Summer and Winter. Wonder how many bar owners are in on it too !

    • snowman1 says:

      “ATV Lobby”??? Is there one? The snowmobile community supports NO ATV USE on this corridor EVER! Since it is STATE LAND, and ATVs are not generally allowed on state-owned property then ATVs should be kept off. ARTA has design plans to keep them off. BTW Werner, did you realize that snowmobiles and grooming equipment are allowed for on this travel corridor now? That is, when the rails are covered sufficiently that it is safe to access the “trail”.

  6. Jeff says:

    Werner, ATVs are not allowed any where within the blue line. The ATV association (NYSORVA) in NYS is very week and has little or no lobbying in Albany. Are there a lot of business owners and townships who are feed up with the ASR and NYS empty promises of miracles for the economy for the past twenty years. And the same line on several attempts before NYS purchased the line. Yes. As for the snowmobilers they like the skiers put money on the table for the north country. The snowmobile business has delivered tourism dollars over this past forty years with little or no help from NYS. 868 million dollars per year. I for one would like to see NYS invest half the money they have invested in ASR. The ROI would be far greater. NYS invests nothing into snowmobiling. The sport is paid for by the users at no expense to the taxpayers of NYS.

    • John Warren says:

      There are two demonstrably false claims being made by “Jeff”:

      1 – “ATVs are not allowed any where within the blue line”. False. ATVs are allowed on more than half of the land inside Blue Line. Additionally, if ATVs were allowed on state, county, or town roads, they would have more access than any other class of motor vehicle. The decision not to do that lies with the people and their elected representatives and no one else. They could pass a law tomorrow to allow ATVs on roads, just as snowmobiles used to be allowed on roads.

      2 – “NYS invests nothing into snowmobiling.” False. NYS has contributed tens of millions (at least) to snowmobiling since the 1970s, and not just building, maintaining, and promoting trails. In the 2013-2014 season, $4,802,695 was collected registrations and $4,033,085 was budgeted for the maintenance and development of the statewide trail system (10,317 miles, the largest trail network in New York State). This money is returned to local snowmobile clubs. Snowmobilers also have their own state employee to help deal with their issues, promote their interest, develop the statewide snowmobile trail network, and more, in the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The OPRHP’s snowmobile coordinator is widely recognized by snowmobile lobbyists for their help in creating the current statewide network. It should be noted that snowmobilers get this support from the state not just because they have had lobbyists since the 1960s, but because they created their trail system mostly on private land, effectively policed themselves (at least at the beginning), and persuaded New Yorkers that snowmobiling was not a threat to wetlands and other natural resources.

      • snowman1 says:

        John, How about some facts to back up your outlandish claims you have made in your 2nd point above in regards to snowmobiling? NYS has not spent a penny above the Trail Fund Fee portion of the NYS snowmobile registrations that SNOWMOBILERS pay themselves into their own sport! As for the NYS Parks snowmobile unit employee that you refer to…he is a NYS employee who has his salary reimbursed from the snowmobile trail fund fees! You’re welcome! The snowmobile community actually pays for 3 Parks employees, by LAW! And snowmobilers also “have had lobbyists since the 1960’s”??? Really, some fact checking before you type would help with your credibility here. We all know your opinions and have hoped that you would do more research before spouting off about the things you know very little about. Obviously the railroad and snowmobiling are two such things! Yes, snowmobile trails are on about 60% private lands, but that leaves about 40% on public lands. Now, knowing that $434 million dollars in DIRECT SPENDING by the snowmobile community brings in over $16 million dollars in sales tax to the State annually…don’t you think IF the State spent anything from the revenue it isn’t warranted? Also, over $1 million dollars annually (fact-checked) in fuel tax, you know the on-road fuel surcharges the State charges everyone at 8 cents/gallon, is paid to NYS for off-road use of snowmobiles and snowmobile trail groomers. Why not advocate to give some of that back to the snowmobilers John???

        • John Warren says:

          That you are unaware that snowmobilers were lobbying in the 1960s is understandable, but you don’t get to make up the facts and then anonymously pretend my credibility is at stake. I have the sources for everything I’ve said. Actual sources, not NYSSA propaganda. I can assure you, you are wrong. Why don’t you look up the Adirondack Snow Travelers Association or the New York State Council of Snowmobile Clubs and tell us what years they were formed and what they were up to – and then come back here with your tail between your legs and apologize.

          “NYS has not spent a penny above the Trail Fund Fee portion of the NYS snowmobile registrations that SNOWMOBILERS pay themselves into their own sport!” Get beyond your own propaganda. There are dozens of ways – yes including promoting the sport through ILOVENY, planning for its management at APA, and actually building trails with tax dollars – in which NYS has spent boatloads, along with counties and local municipalities, on snowmobiling in New York State – it’s not just building or maintaining trails, and it’s not just the trail fund. Snowmobiles have the most widespread trail network in New York, stop whining that no one supports them.

          “Snowman”. you let your own propaganda get the best of you. If you want to engage with me in public about these issues, stop being a coward and use your own name so we can all see what kind of nonsense your organization is up to.

          • snowman1 says:

            You need to get over your own propaganda and anti-snowmobile stance to see the facts here. IloveNY tourism agency promotes many other tourism opportunities all across the State (mainly in NYC) and until just recently, never did promote snowmobiling much at all. Do you count the dollars they spent and spend on bike riding in NY against that pastime? And how much did they pay into the State to ride bikes anyhow??? Does the gas tax they pay to fuel their bikes help the State in any way? How about their promotion of golf? or wineries? or shopping? or nature preserves? You chose to pick out snowmobiles to try and prove your inaccurate point.

            One of the APA’s job is to manage the Forest Preserve, for ALL users. Do you count their time planning hiking in your slanted world?

            And how many trails built using NYS tax dollars for snowmobile use are ONLY FOR SNOWMOBILE USE?? NONE! So, the next time you and your anti-snowmobile backers want to slam a “snowmobile trail” being built, remember this one important thing…that seasonal snowmobile trail that was built in the character of a foot trail by NYS law is really a foot trail able to be used by hikers and any other users that are allowed to use it in that particular land’s classification. IT’S A MULTI-USE TRAIL MR. WARREN!

          • snowman1 says:

            And what does the Adirondack Snow Travelers Assoc., formed in 1966, have to do with your points? They don’t exist today nor did I include them in any of my posts here.

            And, BTW, there NEVER was a New York State Council of Snowmobile Clubs found in an internet searches. Do you mean the New York Snowmobile Coordinating Group, the former name of NYSSA? Again, if you have proof of that organization, post up the research please.

      • First, I have enjoyed a number of writings by John on the Outdoors, but I don’t understand much of this arguement thread other than argueing. ATV’s? ARTA does not support ATV’s on the potential Rail Trail. Yes, I’m sure there will be incursions, but as in Town of Webb, not enough to justify a decision on that basis. I’m sure ATV use with in the Blue Line is primarily NOT on state owned lands. And “they” are just that, the peoples legislators.
        Then as you point out, the example of $4,802,695 was collected from registrations and budgeted including ~$770,000 retained by NYS for administration. Also, there is no mention of the club system which also supports snowmobiling in cooperation with Parks.
        Since the corridor has been a very active snowmobile trail for ~50 years at NO expense to the tax payers, it stands to reason the removal of the rail and ties would not require further expense to improve the useful season.The bicycle use IS an unknown, but trail popularity in other areas indicates popularity. The proposals for the Moose River planes, a much more remote route, may be a demonstration.

    • scottvanlaer says:

      Jeff, It seems like a great system that the recreational activity of snowmobiling is partly, perhaps mostly self supported via registrations to the fund. I don’t know where every penny goes but I find it hard to believe every dollar spent by the state from equipment, to advertising, trail maintenance and enforcement comes entirely from that fund. I know for certain salary of enforcement personnel does not. Some Rangers and other PD’s in busy snowmobile corridors spend a lot of their time patrolling these trails. I think your argument would be much better supported if your tried not to be so inclusive and decisive with phrases like “no expensive”.

      Snowmobiling is an important tourist draw for sure, especially since it occurs during the non peak season. In terms of overall money contributed to the Adirondack economy it is small. Not unimportant, just a small percentage of the pie.

      • Jeff says:

        Scott, NYS does not spend money for equipment. The 210 volunteer clubs statewide buy,rent or lease the equipment used to maintain the 10 thousand plus miles in NYS. The snowmobile trail maintenance fund averages around 4 to 5 million dollars per year. It helps the clubs pay for their expenses. It does not pay for all of them. The clubs have to cover those remaining expenses with bake sales, raffles, and any other money making ideas. Law enforcement funding for those enforcement agencies that choose to do snowmobile patrol is a percentage of the trail maintenance fund. It does not pay for all law enforcement expenses. The recent economic impact study done by SUNY Canton shows that the economic impact of the sport of snowmobiling is far from small. The figure is 868 million dollars per year. A big junk in the Adirondacks. Small? I think not.

        • scottvanlaer says:

          Jeff, I will have to defer to you on this one. I don’t know where all the money goes. I just find it hard to believe all the equipment, fuel and maintenance associated with that equipment, for for all PD’s and Rangers who do snowmobile enforcement is paid for by the fund? Things like snowmobiles, sled trailers, the gas for the sleds and vehicles to pull them were they go, yearly maintenance of the sleds, radar unit, PBT, helmets, snowmobile clothing items? All this is paid for by the fund? If that’s the case I need to be issued a new sled because mine is 12 years old!

          When I said “small percentage of the pie” as far as economic tourist impact, I was basing that statement on a presentation given a year or so ago at an APA monthly meeting given by Dan Kelliher. It would be available via video on their website. He had some great slides with graphs and pie charts showing showing dollars spent and percentages of tourist dollar spent per activity. Snowmobiling ranked low compared to other recreational tourist activities economic contributions, even in Old Forge. I recall being surprised at how low, as I believe some of the commissioners were based on their questions for him. It was an interesting and insightful presentation.

          • Jeff says:

            Interesting? I would like to know why and where Mr. Kelliher is getting his information from. Sounds rather outlandish.

            • scottvanlaer says:

              He said in the presentation but I don’t recall. I thought it sounded logical when you give it careful consideration. Look how many more people are here in the summer months. Snowmobiling is only possible 3-4 months of the year. Hiking is 12 months. Then look at your ski centers on a busy weekend. Makes since. I recall in his presentation the Adirondacks were broken into zones. Snowmobiling represented a bigger percentage in the old forge region than Champlain region. Why does it sound outlandish? Seems like common sense. Any way check it out see if I am misrepresenting it here at all. It was over a year ago.

  7. Jeff says:

    John, NYS is not making the investment. We the users are. The trail fund is a dedicated fund. Only the users (snowmobilers) pay into it. As you stated. No monies come out of the general fund and go into this fund. OPRHP snowmobile unit operating budgets come from the trail funding. As well as law enforcement funding. Yes NYSSA is the clubs representative at the state level. Our clubs do apply for Federal Gas tax grants for grooming equipment. So tell me what investment NYS has made? None. It is a transfer of funds from the user back to the user.

    ATV’s. Seasonal roads in certain areas. I was not aware there are designated ATV riding areas within the Park.

    • John Warren says:

      Again, it is a false claim that New York State does not spend money (in addition to registration fees) on snowmobiling in New York. OPRHP, DEC, APA, DOT, ILOVENY, as just a few examples, all spend money on snowmobiling. New York State has, since the late 1960s, even before the current registration scheme was created, spent money on snowmobiling. In addition, many counties and other municipalities have also spent tax dollars to promote snowmobiling, to build and maintain trails, and more. The Warren County Trail system for example, was mostly built with tax dollars in 1980s. Every Adirondack county has spent, and/or does spend, lots of tax dollars on snowmobiling.

      BTW, in 1972 there were 180,000 registered snowmobiles in NYS, currently there are about 116,000. Snowmobiling is in decline, as it has been since 1975. In 1975, the peak year of snowmobile sales, there were 8,311 snowmobiles registered in Herkimer, Warren, and Essex counties.

      • Bruce says:

        John, when I read elsewhere about declining snowmobile registrations, I was shocked. Proponents’ arguments saying the sport is booming in NYS just doesn’t seem to hold water.

        I was part of the early 70’s “boom” when I lived in Oswego County. There were over a dozen snowmobile manufacturers, some good, some not so good. Now it appears we’re back down to the few which made their names with snow machines: Bombardier, Arctic Cat, and Polaris. I had a ’65 Cat, it was a monster.

        I know for example, the Town of Webb, Inlet and others have been pushing for a winter snowmobile-based economy. Whatever happened to that? Speaking of Old Forge, it seems ludicrous to me the Snowmobile fest is held in March, usually after most of snow is gone.

        • John Warren says:

          Thanks for your comment Bruce.

          Actually in the mid-1970s there were more than 200 snowmobile brands. I was also part of that boom.

          When I was in Old Forge last year researching the history of snowmobiling in the Adirondacks for a forthcoming book, I was surprised to learn that everyone I talked to understood that the snowmobiling economy was in decline. Many former snowmobilers (including some active in early clubs) told me they no longer snowmobile because they considered it dangerous now that there are much wider trails which allow for much higher speeds. The rate of snowmobile accidents declined through the 1980s but in the 1990s began a new surge and is now as high or higher than it was in the 1970s. I attribute that to wider, faster trails, less self-policing, and much more powerful machines.

          • snowman1 says:

            John, again…more needed fact-checking on your anti-snowmobile claims! According to the NYS Parks most recent report on snowmobile accidents, the numbers have come down recently. I know, it goes against your false belief that snowmobilers are all out for the noise, to destroy the environment, and to go as fast as possible. Read up here and then make accurate responses in the future please:

            • John Warren says:

              Smarten-up snowman, the numbers have come down recently. No kidding, because they had gone so high.

              You just can’t get over your own propaganda can you?

              • Jeff says:

                Several of the clubs that I belong want to know where this extra monies you claim they are getting from NYS. They have no records of any other funding except from the OPRHP trail fund monies. The United States Snowmobile Association {USSA} was a snowmobile racing sanctioning body that had nothing to do with the snowmobile clubs or trail development. The eastern division is not defunct. Propaganda and an anti snowmobile agenda sounds like is at work here.

                • John Warren says:

                  I didn’t say that the clubs get all the money that’s spent. I said, it was wrong to say that no tax money from NYS, counties, and municipalities is spent outside the trail fund. As scottvanlaer pointed out, there are monies being spent in his areas of expertise that do not come from the Trail Fund. There are obviously others. Who pays to create the maps at APA for proposed snowmobile trails that are going through the UMP process? It is not the trail fund. If you want to debate how much is actually spent, you’re not going to get very far, because we don’t know. But, it is certainly demonstrably false that NYS does not spent a single penny on snowmobiling in NYS beyond the trail fund scheme. It has since the 1960s. The first time was producing the original maps for snowmobiling on state land – I believe, before snowmobile trail maps existed anywhere in NYS (possibly a local effort near Old Forge came out with a hand drawn map at the same time).

                  When we consider the history of snowmobiling in New York State and how it developed, we don’t stop at money that only came out of the trail fund since the late 1980s, we don’t start with the lowest numbers of registration in 1991. Generally speaking snowmobiling began here in the 1920s. In the early 1960s and 1970s many of the major developments took place that affected the industry, clubs, and trails here. Today’s snomobiliers in NYS are mostly informed by what has happened since the 1990s when sales went up, clubs were reformed, trails adopted and connected. There was 30 years of the development of snowmobiling before that which was the basis for what exists now. The last 20 years is not the history of snowmobiling, the last nearly 100 is. You don’t get to claim that nothing that came before the 1990s matters. I might argue that most of the trails today already existed in 1990, it’s just that now they are on maps, have been widened, and maintained, and some rerouted. Today’s trail system was likely largely not created after the trail fund, although that’s a common assumption by people who don’t know the history.

                  Your assertion that “The United States Snowmobile Association {USSA} was a snowmobile racing sanctioning body that had nothing to do with the snowmobile clubs or trail development” is simply flat wrong. For example, the newly formed Empire State Snowmobile Association (ESSA) received a major boost in September 1971 when the Ronald Bourgeois, Executive Secretary of the Eastern Division of the United States Snowmobile Association announced they would be recognized as the official statewide representatives of New York State snowmobilers. (Rome Daily Sentinel, Sept 22, 1972). That’s one example, that USSA was the body that clubs looked to for recognition when they organized statewide lobby associations. That’s all that’s required to show you are wrong, but I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of how USSA, even though they are largely an sanctioning organization, affected snowmobile development in NYS.

                  So your claim that “The United States Snowmobile Association {USSA} was a snowmobile racing sanctioning body that had nothing to do with the snowmobile clubs or trail development” is wrong.

                  You want to keep attacking the proof I provide by claiming I’m anti-snowmobile, which is BS. I support snowmobiling, my family has a long history of snowmobiling stretching back to the 1960s. I raced snowmobiles in the early 1980s. I rode with some of the early clubs, like the Black River Raiders. The only reason I haven’t been out lately, is because in Warren County we haven’t had the snow at the time when I can ride.

                  Argue your point honestly. Do you really expect us to believe that you’ve researched the political and social implications of USSA’s involvement in snowmobiling in NYS? I have, I’ve written and lectured about it. I’ve consulted available secondary sources and primary sources, I’ve gone to research repositories, consulted newspaper collections, and conducted interviews. You haven’t, and your talking about things you think you know, but haven’t really studied in any serious way, and you’re making false claims as a result.

                  • Jeff says:

                    I was around back then and USSA had nothing to do with the clubs or trail development of any kind. Your proof a single press release in the Rome newspaper is ludicrous. Yes, I did my research because I was a member of USSA back then sir. It was racing only. Perhaps you should check your research more closely. Directly from the current USSA website. Expert? Hardly.

                    • John Warren says:

                      Who do you think you are kidding? You were a member? That’s your research? An “about us” webpage?

                      It wasn’t a “single press release” it was a interview at a meeting. It was widely reported, as was the run-up to the decision.

                      Here are two more sources which show that the USSA was lobbying for the 1970 NYS Snowmobile Registration Law:

                      “Snowmobile Bill Passes Assembly,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, March 27, 1970;
                      Larry P. Cole, “Sportsmen’s Corner,” Watertown Daily Times, September 17, 1970

                      Your brains are showing.

      • Jeff says:

        John, All OPRHP funding comes directly from the snowmobile trail maintenance fund. NO other funds. If you have proof I would like to see it. Law enforcement monies also come out of the trail fund. NYSDEC also applies for money for snowmobile trail projects. I have never heard of NYSDOT applying for monies from the trail fund for building anything snowmobile related. The APA? Old Forge has a private trail system which is payed for by the snowmobiler user. Warren county has turned their trails over to the local clubs who access funding from the trail maintenance fund. Do those counties use other monies I do not know. In the golden age there where over 200 manufacturers and yes a lot more people where out there riding. Ridership has leveled off over the past thirty five years. There is over 10k miles of trails in NYS maintained by 210 clubs. There are four manufacturers Arctic Cat, BRP, Polaris, Yamaha. The reason for the Old Forge SnoFest in March is because the manufacturers release next years models. The recently completed NYSSA commissioned snowmobile economic impact study shows a healthy 868 million dollar a year business. Not sure where your figures are coming from? Another thing snowmobile trail mileage in the ADK Park is capped at under 1000 miles.

        • James Falcsik says:

          The following statement is right off the NYSSA web page:

          “What follows is a short list of some of the things we do:…Ensure that snowmobiling receives it fair share of federal RTP grants.”

          A newsletter produced by the South Warren Snowmobile Club notes the importance of federal RTP Grants to snowmobiling in New York State:

          “This important program, administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in concert with state agencies like the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), has brought more than $15 million in matching grants to fund trail projects and equipment in New York State. Snowmobiling in New York has benefitted immensely from the RTP grants as well. The program has provided grants to local clubs to purchase much-needed grooming equipment in order to help keep our trails safe.”

          • snowman1 says:

            RTP grants are FEDERAL GRANTS Mr. Falcsik. NOT grants from NYS tax-payers. They are derived from on-road gas taxes paid to the Federal Govt by motorized off-road enthusiasts. But guess what? 2/3 of the grants are made available to non-motorized and/or mixed-use trails. The non-motorized user-groups benefit from a Federal fund paid into solely by motorized engines designated for off-road use, snowmobiling being one such group.

            • James Falcsik says:

              FEDERAL GRANTS, Mr. Snowman, from the federal Highway Administration are from taxes collected on all fuel sold and other contributions from taxpayers nationally, and congressional finance allocations. To say New York tax payers do not contribute is wrong, even if the funds do not come directly from the NYS treasury. That is the same ridiculous reasoning as the rail-trail conversion would be “free”, and then the trail groups lobby hard for federal grants to pay for it. It is actually far worse when you realize only about 19 cents of every tax dollar comes back to a program recipient after paying for the federal bureaucracy; but that is another subject.

              I understand your member dues are kicked back for trail projects and maintenance, but right on your web page your group states you benefit from federal grants. That clearly opposes the statement “NO other funds” contribute to your organization. I don’t know what year the article was from, but $15M is a sizable chunk of money. How much would you have to raise your dues and registration fees to continue your activities without RTP grants?

            • James Falcsik says:

              By the way, the statement in the newsletter article referenced states “more than $15 million in matching grants to fund trail projects and equipment in New York State.” A matching grant usually indicates the receiving organization needs to put up an equal amount of money. So how did the NYSSA match the $15M in federal RTP grant money? Was this by registration fees alone? Fundraisers? Some other source of grants?

              • snowman1 says:

                NYSSA didn’t receive 1 dime of those RTP grants. Sorry, … but those matching grants, 80-20% in most cases with a maximum limit, were directly to 501c3 snowmobile clubs/corporations who paid for the equipment in full first then received the grant after the purchases.

                The money that comes back to RTP applicants is ONLY the portion of fuel taxes that the FHA estimate to be from OFF-ROAD TAXES paid into the entire fund. Guess what? It’s far less than what is truly paid into the FHA fuel tax pot by all US gas purchases. So, no…NYS tax-payers did not fund those grants to snowmobile clubs UNLESS those NYS tax-payers were also OFF-ROAD users, like snowmobilers. And then non-motorized RTP projects also were funded by the OFF-ROAD FUEL TAXES paid into the program by off-road users paying fuel taxes to begin with!

      • snowman1 says:

        John, again…you of all people should be fact-checking your claims! OPRHP and DEC receive funding for snowmobiling projects from the SNOWMOBILER’S portion of the Trail Fund registration fees that each of the snowmobilers pay into NYS through the DMV per sled. What does APA and DOT spend on snowmobiling anyhow? IloveNY is a TOURISM AGENCY…promoting ALL tourism like bicycling, wineries, casinos, hiking, mountain climbing, etc. So now YOU don’t think they should promote snowmobiling in this State? lol Since 1990, the peak snowmobile registration numbers in NYS was 172,000 back in 2002-03. I’m not sure where you got your 180k registration figure from for 1972 (not questioning your figure, but I sure would like to see where you found this out), but in 1990, the NYS total was less than 50k! So your claim that “snowmobiling is in a decline, as it has been since 1975” is WAY OFF John! Yup, the economy of the Country and this State certainly has something to do with it since 2003. No doubt! And yes, NYS has lost a considerable amount of residents since the 2000 census as well, with some obvious snowmobile owners. All leading to a decline since then, but from 1990 to 2003, there was a HUGE INCREASE! Let’s not twist the truth in your attempt to discredit the economic benefit that snowmobiling brings to the State of New York!

        • John Warren says:

          The 1972 figure comes from RESEARCH – you should try it sometime instead of just parroting what people tell you. You sound foolish.

          The 1990 number was 50,000 because it was a low point of sales in the history of snowmobiles. Look it up, and get beyond your own NYSSA website for the facts. A single maker in the early 1970s made more sleds than all makers combined today, that’s a fact. The seven biggest years for snowmobile production and registrations were in the 1970s, that’s a fact.

          • snowman1 says:

            So, you can sit back and CLAIM your research but can’t prove it? lol That’s the pot calling the kettle black, isn’t it? Prove your numbers HERE, and then come crawling back with YOUR tail between your legs and apologize.

          • snowman1 says:

            Post the link to your RESEARCH then. Prove us wrong!

            So, between 1990 and 2003, snowmobile registrations went up 351% but your claim was (in quotes as they are YOUR WORDS!) “Snowmobiling is in decline, as it has been since 1975.”. Hmmm, try twisting that quote.

            Since 2003, snowmobile registrations have declined about 30%. As I stated and you fail to recognize, there has been a significant economic downturn in upstate NY and a mass exodus of residents from the entire State. See here: (btw- THAT’s a LINK from doing my RESEARCH. You should try it sometimes. It helps others to actually know where your figures are coming from)

            • John Warren says:

              1) Your claim: “NYS has not spent a penny above the Trail Fund Fee portion of the NYS snowmobile registrations.”

              You’ve made an obviously false claim and then proceeded to qualify it six ways to Sunday. What you mean to say is that MOST of the money NYS spends comes in the form of registration fees that are refunded to users – a situation no other user group enjoys, and a situation that has only been the case since the late 1980s (I believe the year is 1987). There have been full-sized snowmobiles, motor toboggans, and snowmobiles in NYS since the 19th century – don’t pretend we’re all so simple minded to believe that NYS “has not spent a penny”. Who produced the guidebook series “Snowmobile Trails In NYS” beginning in the 1960s? It wasn’t NYSSA, you were still in diapers. Most of the money you pay in registration fees is returned users, plus the state spends additional monies outside the snowmobile fund, as they have since the 1960s.

              2) Your claim: Snowmobilers did not lobby in the 1960s, and “there NEVER was a New York State Council of Snowmobile Clubs found in an internet searches”

              The Adirondack Snow Travelers Association was one of many groups lobbying on behalf of snowmobiliers in the 1960s. Here’s a pro tip: just because YOU can’t find something on the internet doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Google “New York State Council of Snowmobile Clubs” and do some deeper research and you’ll find they were founded in 1968 to lobby statewide on snowmobile issues. They were one of many groups – how do you think snowmobiles got the right to travel in the Forest Preserve in 1965? Through a long process of lobbying. The Conservation Council, the Council of Snowmobile Clubs, International Snowmobile Industries Association, International Snowmobile Congress, the Adirondack Snow Travelers Association, and Northeastern Division of U. S. Snow-mobile Associations basically wrote the snowmobile law of 1970. So yes, snowmobiliers were in fact lobbying in the 1960s.

              3) Your claim: Snowmobiling is not in decline. Since 1975 snowmobiling has declined. You are using a single source, State Parks, but the registration data they always show begins with 1991, the lowest point in snowmobile history (about 50,000) – so of course it looks like it’s gone up from then. In 1972, according to Ronald Bourgeois, Executive Secretary of the Eastern Division of the United States Snowmobile Association there were 180,000 snowmobilers in NYS (Rome Daily Sentinel, Sept 22, 1972); today there are about 116,000 (

              Read Leonard S. Reich, “Ski-Dogs, Pol-Cats, and the Mechanization of Winter: The Development of Recreational Snowmobiling in North America,” Technology and Culture, Vol. 40, No. 3 (July, 1999), pp. 484-516. Reich explains much of the decline in Snowmobiling to 1999. He shows for example, the signs of the decline actually started in 1968:

              “For the 1968 model year, an unpleasant statistic, called ‘carryover,’ crept into the industry’s production and sales figures. That year, 170,000 machines were produced but only 165,000 sold to consumers. The remaining 5,000 awaited the following year in dealers’ hands. The next year carryover increased to 35,000, then shot up to 100,000 in 1971 on a sales volume of just under 500,000.”

              500,000 units sold in 1971 (and more, something like 600-800,000 were sold in 1975). How many units sold in the 2013-2014? According to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, 157,106 snowmobiles sold worldwide; 54,028 in the US. (

              Got that?

              500,000 sold in 1971 to 157,000 today; 180,000 snowmobilers in 1972, to 116,000 today. There are now fewer snowmobile registrations than there were 15 years ago. So again, that’s a decline. There are half as many snowmobile clubs as there were in the 1970s. In the 1970s there were multiple snowmobile race events on areas lakes each weekend in January and February – how many are their now? The only increase has been in trails – there are nearly four times the miles of trails as there were in 1972.

              • snowman1 says:

                Again John, fact proving isn’t just you rattling off names and dates. You did supply one link I see, albeit the same one I already posted in a reply to you about the Parks reports, but why not include links to the other sources? Like the NYS Council of Snowmobile Clubs. Again, I Google searched it to no avail. I discussed it with other snowmobile historians and noone remembers that particular name. I’ll gladly apologize and acknowledge learning something if you only post up the proof.
                The 1972 registration numbers…there must be some web-link or a scanned page somewhere that you mined that info from too, unless it was just made up? Post it for us please…

                As for your claim that “since 1975, snowmobiling is in a decline”. My point was that you stated this unequivocally and that it is not actually honest. Yes, snowmobile registration numbers today are lower than they were in 1972 (me believing your claim) but since 1975 there was obviously a decline (again, using your claimed numbers)until around 1990, then a steady as well as SIGNIFICANTLY HUGE upswing until 2003, and more recently a decline. Let’s look at the factors that may have dealt the blows to the industry numbers here in NY though: in the late 70’s, the gas crunch and economic downturn effected more than snowmobiling. After the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the wars we have had, the economy again has caused a significant issue to upstate NYers, a good majority who either used to be or still are snowmobilers. Lastly, the population of NYS as a whole has drastically declined since 1975 as well, again negatively affecting the upstate NYers, who many of were snowmobile owners. See, it is not as dismal as you tried to paint it, but we are at the same place now. In 2009-10, there was hardly ANY snow all across the entire State. We dropped down to less than 100k users that year. So if one only looks at the past 4 years, snowmobiling could be stated to be on the upswing. Or just looking at the past 25 years, snowmobiling has increased it’s numbers in NYS by over 20%! Why not use those facts??? I wouldn’t make those kind of statements either, but if you only look at one year compared to the most recent, one could state anything they wanted to. You are obviously doing that. The increase in registration fees in 2006 also resulted in a 20% decline in registration figures that following season. Many snowmobilers, viewed while riding the trails, now chose to ride the trails illegally as unregistered. So the numbers we see today are not actually that accurate either. We need more LEOs on the trails to enforce the laws on snowmobile registration and safety enforcement.

                Your claim to ME in #1,… my point is that NYS has NEVER given the Trail Fund a penny above the Trail Fund revenue that snowmobile owners paid into that fund themselves in the registration fees that go back to the development and maintenance of the designated snowmobile trails to municipalities and clubs. Yes, NYS does pay for some snowmobile-related projects above what they take from the fund (by law) such as I mentioned already. DEC has indeed used some funds (EPA???) on multi-use trails that others usergroups enjoy as well. So don’t classify them as “snowmobile trails” please or attach that monetary figure as going only to snowmobiling…it’s being dishonest.
                Also, some State LEO agencies such as DEC, Forest Rangers, State Police, and Parks Police all do not receive any funding for patrolling snowmobile trails from the Trail Fund. Let me ask you this…do any of those agencies receive funding from the bicycle trail groups? The hiking groups? Or any other usergroup that any of these agencies might have to be called into action for? Sowmobilers pay their own way MOSTLY! I don’t see you calling out any of those other groups for rescues that cause our LEOs to have to spend time away from patrolling the roadways? Patrolling the lands of the state open to the public IS part of their jobs and should not be included in your attempts to assess a monetary value towards snowmobiling either.
                As for the APA…again, it part of their jobs to regulate and work with the DEC and the usergroups. So when the APA is busy working alongside the ADK MT Club, they should attribute their hours directly to that usergroup now by your rules? I personally don’t think so. They are there for ALL Forest Preserve users.

                Half as many snowmobile clubs now as in the 1970’s, but 4x as many miles today. Clubs mostly didn’t maintain trails in the 1970’s. The 2 clubs my parents belonged to were snowmobile racing organizations, more like “social clubs” that took rides now and then when there weren’t any races. Today, all 10,500 miles are signed, maintained, and groomed. BIG DIFFERENCE!

                And the major reason why clubs don’t hold races today is the same reason most volunteer fire dept.’s don’t hold field days…INSURANCE COSTS skyrocketed! Please consider the other factors instead of just categorizing snowmobiling as a fading pastime. The $868 million dollar per year Economic Impact Study was just completed 2 years ago…and the numbers have NOT changed much since then.

                • John Warren says:

                  Your claim: “You did supply one link I see, albeit the same one I already posted in a reply to you about the Parks reports, but why not include links to the other sources?”

                  I provided you with four specific sources, not one, plus specific instructions on Googling another. These included: NYS Parks Report; ISMA report; the Rome Daily Sentinel newspaper of Sept 22, 1972; and Leonard S. Reich, “Ski-Dogs, Pol-Cats, and the Mechanization of Winter: The Development of Recreational Snowmobiling in North America.”

                  I also provided you primary source materials to investigate including two major events: the 1965 effort to get snowmobiles onto the Forest Preserve and the 1970 NYS Snowmobile Registration Law. They prove my point that there were people lobbying on behalf of snowmobilers in the 1960s, which you denied using the following language, but have refused to acknowledge that you were wrong.

                  “And snowmobilers also “have had lobbyists since the 1960’s”??? Really, some fact checking before you type would help with your credibility here. We all know your opinions and have hoped that you would do more research before spouting off about the things you know very little about.”

                  On your continued false claim that there was no New York State Council of Snowmobile Clubs. Let me Google that for you:


                  On the 1972 registration numbers – I PROVIDED THE SOURCE, if you think I made it up you are clueless. I’m not some anonymous joker on the internet. Again, the source is Ronald Bourgeois, Executive Secretary of the Eastern Division of the United States Snowmobile Association from the Rome Daily Sentinel, Sept 22, 1972.

                  Here is another source for you: “The number of snowmobiles registered in the state declined from more than 150,000 in
                  1975 to less than 61,000 in 1985… New York snowmobile registrations hit a low point in 1990 at just under
                  50,000.” (

                  After the Clinton boom years of the 1990s, the high point since 1972 was in 2002-2003 at 172,000. It has declined since then to its current 116,000. That is, according to the United States Snowmobile Association a decline of 64,000 from the 180,000 in 1972.

                  That’s a decline, you can explain that decline any way you want, but the fact is it’s a decline. Focusing on the a small bump in registrations during the biggest economic boom since the end of World War Two simply makes you look foolish. It’s down overall and has fallen for 5 of the last 10 years. Period.

                  As for your continued false claim that “NYS has not spent a penny above the Trail Fund Fee portion of the NYS snowmobile registrations.” You have parsed it six ways to Sunday, but you are wrong, as is made clear in the comments above.

                  The rest of your claims are simply more half-truths and you’ve provided no sources for any of it. For example, your nonsense about insurance being the driver in the decline in snowmobile racing.

                  “I think as soon as exotic machinery gets involved and factory teams begin to participate, the average man realizes he doesn’t have a chance,” Warren Daoust, president of Scorpion said in 1971 about snowmobile racing. “Last year, there was ample evidence of this in that both crowds and participation dropped noticeably. The average guy is no longer interested when he doesn’t have a chance.” (SNOWsports Dealer News, Vol. 2, No. 3. (August, 1971).

                  Did you read that? In 1970, there was already a noticeable drop in “crowds and participation” in racing – that’s borne out in newspaper reports of local races which were at their peak in the 1960s. Look it up, if you can figure out how to use Google.

                  So much for that theory of yours.

                  And also so much for this “discussion”. I’m not going to waste anymore of my time on an anonymous internet commenter who is in fact paid to lobby on behalf of snowmobiliers, especially one who has done none of the research required to engage in a reasonable discussion, but simply goes on what he has been told and wants the rest of us to believe, because you said so.

                  • snowman1 says:

                    Hmmm, you use 1970 newspaper articles as PROOF OF YOUR SOURCES??? Did you ever read an article that misspelled a name of a company? New York Snowmobile Coordinating Group…look them up!

                    Racing…I ran seventeen years (17 years! Did you read that?) of racing events for snowmobile organizations in my area. The sole reason they are not running now is INSURANCE. That comes from experience my friend! Not some 1970 opinion from someone that had a good viewpoint at THAT time. Yes, factory racing did hurt the races for a time…but then official snowmobile race sanctioning organizations introduced and continue to run “stock classes” where entry level racers or “locals” run their TRAIL sleds against other trail sleds. Did you even know that snowmobile racing had a huge increase in the 1990’s and going forward? It IS indeed dwindling again now and the races are fewer and far between. There are many reasons for it, including insurance and the cost to run successful racing campaigns and the need for Sponsors to do that. Watch the snow-cross races on ESPN if you really think snowmobile racing is actually dead though. You can be educated there too.

                    More education for you…on Ronald Bourgeois, Executive Secretary of the Eastern Division of the United States Snowmobile Association that you take as a source for the 1975 NYS snowmobile registrations. USSA was a RACING ORGANIZATION! Do you take NASCAR’s count of NYS vehicle registrations as a FACT? Wow!

                    Thanks for the other sources that you provided John, although you haven’t answered all of my questions about your claimed figures. I do appreciate the little bit of info that you have provided. It’s too bad the Almanack allows such an anti-snowmobile activist to write about snowmobiling. You do this state and the sport a true disservice!

                    • John Warren says:

                      The New York Snowmobile Coordinating Group is a different organization than the New York Council of Snowmobile Clubs. The Group was founded in 1975, the Council was founded in 1968. They are different organizations, they operated at different times. I provided you with some sources, now you want to claim that those sources were misspelled. You are tiresome. I see why you won’t use your own name, because you’re an embarrassment to your organization.

                      USSA was the organization which recognized the Empire State Snowmobile Association in 1972. Here’s a direct quote from a different source: “With 180,000 snowmobiles in New York State alone, we need a solid state level organization,” Bourgeois said. “When we have one group to deal with, we will be able to spend time with them on recreational snowmobiling. If a situation existed with several state organizations claiming sanction, there would be a wasteful duplication of effort both on their parts and ours.”

                      “we will be able to spend time with them on recreational snowmobiling” – got that? USSA concerned with recreational snowmobiling! How could that be Mr. Expert? Could you be wrong again? Not to mention that I provided you with a second source that the number was 150,000 in 1975.

                      Here are two more sources which show that the USSA used to be more than just a race sanctioning organization – they were lobbying for the 1970 NYS Snowmobile Registration Law:

                      “Snowmobile Bill Passes Assembly,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, March 27, 1970;
                      Larry P. Cole, “Sportsmen’s Corner,” Watertown Daily Times, September 17, 1970

                      Instead of continuing to insult me for helping you understand your own history, why don’t you spend some time researching the exact number from DMV for the 1960s and early 1970s and come back and tell us what the numbers they reported were? Because you are incapable?

                      I really don’t care about your anecdotal story about the decline of racing you experienced in your area. I gave you one quote from the President of Scorpion Snowmobiles out of dozens of details I have to back it up (from actual research, not pull it out of your ass ‘this is what I believe’ anonymous internet commenter nonsense). You are an utter fool to think that racing has not declined since the 1960s. You said the reason was insurance, I proved to you that a leading snowmobile figure of the time did not point to insurance at all – because it wasn’t the reason, though it may have been the reason for a latecomer like you and your buddies in the 1990s. You don’t cite nationally televised races to show that local racing circuits did not decline – you go to the newspapers, read the reports, compile the data, as I have, so you won’t sound so ignorant of the facts and you might represent snowmobilers better.

                      Here is a SAMPLING of the evidence, which you can look up for yourself to confirm. Or you can hire me to do it for you, but I’m done doing your research for free.

                      In January and February 1967 there were more than 20 snowmobiles races in the Adirondack region, despite the fact that no organized sanctioning body had been formed to keep records and plan events. Races included those at Malone, Chazy Lake, Madrid, and West Potsdam; at the lake-front Municipal Park in Tupper Lake; at Charles Merchant’s Cranberry Lake Inn; on Lake Colby during the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival; and the Diamond Trophy Snowmobile Races at Lake Placid’s North American Festival. Warren County was an excellent example of how popular racing had become. In late January through mid-March there were races in Lake George (Schaefer Cup), Hague, Chestertown, Pottersville, Schroon Lake (technically Essex County), and Warrensburg. In 1967 the Boonville Snow Festival again hosted the New York State Snowmobile Championships and races were also held in Old Forge, organized by the Central Adirondack Association; and on Lake Pleasant.

                      Those were just the organized races, not including the smaller club events and the list is not comprehensive. How many races will there be in the Adirondacks this January and February?

                      Keep putting your foot in your mouth, you’re doing a great job insulting me and making a fool of yourself.

      • snowman1 says:

        BTW- no one appreciates your condescending attitude to those that don’t agree with you. That is your style though, and has been for quite a while now. Get over yourself and your anti-snowmobile stance by answering the question about your CLAIMED 180k snowmobile registrations in NYS for the year 1972! In your rhetorical answers, you have somehow tried to twist your claimed numbers with a DEC document that cited 150k in 1975. THAT DOES NOT ANSWER THE QUESTION MR. WARREN…How did you come to YOUR claimed conclusion that “in 1972 there were 180,000 registered snowmobiles in NYS:??? And if your claimed number was correct, shouldn’t you update you other claim that “snowmobiling is in decline, as it has been since 1975” and change the date to 1972?

        If you weren’t the founder of this media source, you should be fired for your lack of citing appropriate sources!

        • John Warren says:

          It’s typical that you call me a liar, say I have no idea what I’m talking about and repeatedly insult me and then pretend I’m the bad guy.

          I’ve answered your question several times now about where I got 180,000, your refusing to accept the evidence I provided does not mean it’s not evidence. So I took five minutes to look into it one more time to provide you with some additional sources:

          As I said at the beginning, the 180,000 number for 1972 was widely reported by various sources, these are just the most important ones.

          The Empire State Snowmobile Association, which claimed to represent 150,000 snowmobilers reported “There are an estimated 186,000 machines registered in the state” in 1972. 7/Clinton Courier/Clinton NY Courier 1972 – 1972 Grayscale.pdf

          During an interview with Ronald Bourgeois, Executive Secretary of the Eastern Division of the United States Snowmobile Association he said ““With 180,000 snowmobiles in New York State alone, we need a solid state level organization” (Rome Daily Sentinel, Sept 22, 1972).

          Charles C. Cross, director of communications, New York State Parks and Recreation Safety said that in the 1971-1972 season there were “a grand total of 131,731 snowmobile registrations in the state… He said the figures were based on the last breakdown from his department’s computer, but estimated that as of this year the active registrations have jumped to 180,00” ( 23/Rome NY Daily Sentinel/Rome NY Daily Sentinel 1972/Rome NY Daily Sentinel 1972 – 7168.pdf)

          So who is lying? Empire State Snowmobile Association? Ronald Bourgeois, Executive Secretary of the Eastern Division of the United States Snowmobile Association? Charles C. Cross, director of communications, New York State Parks and Recreation?

          Or you?

          I used 1975 in my first comment which spun you into a tizzie because registrations more than likely went up through 1975, since production and sales skyrocketed to an all time high in those years. I happened to have the 1972 number handy.

          If you do some research yourself you may learn that registrations in 1975 were over 200,000, almost twice what they are now. That does not even count what was also reported to be vastly under-counted registration numbers – the registration law was new, and many riders opposed it and refused to register. This is all borne out in specific studies that were conducted around accidents which revealed that large numbers of riders involved in accidents were riding unregistered sleds.

          Today there are about 116,000 – that’s a decline, so just get out over it.

          So just to recap, I proved you were wrong that snowmobiliers did not lobby in the 1960s, wrong that snowmobiling hasn’t declined since 1975, wrong that the USSA was not involved in recreational snowmobiling, and wrong that racing hasn’t declined since the 1960s.

          Was there anything you got right while insisting I didn’t know what I was talking about? No, there wasn’t.

          • snowman1 says:

            Still a self-proclaimed know-it-all you are John:

            United States Snowmobile Association Inc
            12935 County Road K
            Cato, Wisconsin 54230
            United States
            Company Description: The USSA was founded in 1965 and sanctioned its first event at Crandon, Wisconsin in December of 1967. The year 2000 marked the beginning of the fifth decade for the organization. The USSA is the original and the only continuous snowmobile race sanctioning body since organized snowmobile racing began. The founding charter called for the establishment of uniform racing rules, improvement of safety and to provide trained officials for organized racing. The USSA has sanctioned events in 25 states and several Canadian Providence’s across the snowbelt during its many years of existence. In the 60’s and 70’s it was not uncommon to have a dozen sanctioned races taking place on the same weekend in different sections of the country. In the late 60’s there were 117 brands of snowmobiles powered by 26 different engines names and races were staged almost anywhere a group could gather. It soon became evident that competing with a sanctioned organization was important. It was there that you ran against better racers and if you won you had some real bragging rights. A uniform set of rules became important for the establishment of consistency in racing classes, verification of specifications and track safety. The USSA continues to lead the way in the development of equitable competition and their rules are often implemented by other racing organizations in the sport. The USSA now sanctions one event on any given day to assure the success of each race. A group of trained race directors supervise every event. Directors meet with local promoters to plan the building of each racetrack to maintain safety standards. Assistance is provided for event promotion and pre-race advertising. Registration of entrants and the schedules are also handled by the USSA staff. On-track operations are managed by a trained and experienced crew to provide continuity and safety for the competitors. The technical inspection staff attends regular seminars to remain current on machine specifications and measuring equipment to assure that all regulations are enforced equally. The USSA has led the way in the area of insurance coverage for its members. USSA has been the innovator in the use of safety shut-off switches on racing machines, as well as safety vest (approved upper body protection), leg guards, leather suits and approved helmets on drivers. The association has the endorsement and full cooperation of the four major manufactures to stage quality events for race competitors, promoters and spectators. When you attend a USSA sanctioned event you are watching the best that the snowmobile racing world has to offer.

            Hmmm… but YOU say that USSA represented recreational snowmobilers due to a newspaper article from 1972 that was discusing the fact that there were different associations claiming to represent NYS snowmobilers…and they supported 1 group. I think the USSA’s own website would be the place to go for that accurate info. USSA is now called USSA-ProStar and STILL continues to be a racing sanctioning body. Oh yeah, you stated inaccurately that there were no sanctioning racing organizations in the 60’s, didn’t you? Read up, as the exact info I posted above is right there in black and white on the USSA’s own page:

            I never claimed that snowmobile racing hasn’t declined. Here is what I wrote: ” It IS indeed dwindling again now and the races are fewer and far between. There are many reasons for it, including insurance and the cost to run successful racing campaigns and the need for Sponsors to do that.” My dad raced back in the 70’s and we went all over every weekend just in CNY. One can never find that anymore. As I stated, there was a huge boom to sled racing in the 1990’s and early 2000’s that has dropped off recently due to INSURANCE among other reasons, but ask those that ran races recently…it’s due to insurance costs.

            So, you claim in 1972 there were 180k registrations. Then you provide research that said there was 131,731 registered in 1972 and maybe close to 180k in 1973. Then you cite a DEC report that stated there were 150k in 1975 and now you claim in 1975 there were over 200,000 registered. So which is correct? Know this, … a report stating that there are 180,000 snowmobiles in NYS during any given year and another that shows there were 131,731 in that same year are not counting the same things, OBVIOUSLY! Yes, there probably were over 180k in 1972 (or 1973, whichever year you want to change it to now) but there were officially 131,731 registered during the season that ended in 1972 by the State agency responsible for the official yearly tally. That’s according to your NEW research that I prodded you for from the beginning and you finally found it. Your welcome! Who looks like the fool now? You can try to twist and spin it all you want, but your numbers were inaccurate…just as I stated to begin with!

            I never said there wasn’t a decline in snowmobile registrations. You should go back and read my posts before you continue to mis-quote me! I obviously know there was a decline from the 70’s to the early 90’s and then a continued increase up until 2003, then a decline to where we are now. Twist those words…

            So, I’ve proven you wrong again and all you can do is call me childish names as well as keep spouting off inaccurate figures and 1970 newspaper articles as though you are right. You can have an opinion, but you don’t have the right to make up your own facts! So, I’m done with you on this topic. You won’t admit you were wrong EVER anyhow.

            • John Warren says:

              You are outrageous and should be ashamed of yourself.

              Go troll somewhere else.

              • Running George says:

                After reading the ridiculous and self serving arguments by the snowmobile proponents, I find that I am so outraged that all I can come up with for a comment is the worst sort of obscenity. Instead I will go to bed and let the logically perverse arguments of snowman 1 stand as evidence for the advisability of doubting what snowmobile advocates put forth as evidence in support of their questionable activities.

        • Paul says:

          “Get over yourself and your anti-snowmobile stance”

          How is trying to state some facts make you “anti-snowmobile”. I have never seen here where John would come across as that?

          I would find it difficult to believe that someone who writes on the history of the sport would be against it?

          • snowman1 says:

            Have you read his 5 part series? I have!

            • John Warren says:

              Thanks for the promotion!

              It’s more than seven years old now, but after a full year of research, including a talk a Adirondack Museum, I’ll be publishing some new posts on the topic soon.

            • Paul says:

              I did. Thanks. It brought back some interesting memories for me.

              The point here is that providing INFORMATION is not taking a stand one way or the other.

  8. Kevin says:

    Compromise, compromise, compromise. While I hike and wouldn’t mind a rail-trail, I’m not against other options.
    I don’t hunt, but stay out of the woods for hunting season. I don’t have an ATV or snowmobile but believe there should be more trails for both. I have hiked snowmobile trails in winter. It’s nice because you don’t need snow shoes in deep snow. I step off the trail when I hear snowmobiles (as it is their trail) and still they slow down cautiously as they pass. Why not a public vote ? Majority should rule in a democracy and not just for some one’s greed.

  9. Bruce says:

    Kevin, how would you go about putting it to a vote? This issue doesn’t just affect the Adirondack Counties, or residents of NYS. If Adirondack economies were dependent on just local money, then yes, take a vote. I think the methodology being used, public meetings, hearing from outside the Adirondacks by e-mail, postcards, letters and public comment pages like these, is the best way for all interested parties to express their views.

    BTW, we don’t have a Democracy, we have a Constitutional Republic.

  10. Paul says:

    No matter how this votes goes most people will welcome an end to the debate. Drove through Old Forge the other day to avoid the lake effect snow machine. The train sitting at the rail yard in Thendara (right next to all those snowmobiling opportunities) was an interesting sight.

  11. M.P.Heller says:

    I support the rails. My building was built by the Raquette Lake RR. Big Moose Station is around the corner. It’s meaningful to many of us here who own businesses and live in the Fulton Chain area to maintain and promote as many modes of transportation as possible so that as many different types of people from as many different walks of life as possible have transportation access to our region. Snowmobiling, hiking and backpacking, paddling, and regular sightseeing are things we support and wish to see continued growth in. This can only happen if a thoughtful compromise is made on this issue so that future generations have as much opportunity to use and enjoy this wonderful resource as we have all had the good fortune to have had.

    M.P Heller
    Guide #5180
    Inn at Eagle Bay

  12. snowman1 says:

    Mr Heller, I support putting the railroad tracks back through Eagle Bay. Will that help your business???

    • M.P. Heller says:

      That line was torn out in 1933. It is now known as trail #5 in the Town of Webb Trail System. I admire your enthusiasm for trains in Eagle Bay, but Carter Station to Raquette Lake is now a snowmobile trail. One without rails. The Eagle Bay Station is owned by my neighbor where he operates a construction firm, and the building which was once the operating offices in Eagle Bay is now my Inn. I do have an original 1870’s railroad safe in my office and many of the beams in my basement are railroad timbers 100 years old. Aside from that. The trains in Eagle Bay stopped running long ago.

  13. bob says:

    This whole debate is being fueled by the big R railroad lobby, and their local PR agency, ARTA. Rails to trails.

    The one, most interesting “fact” to come out of the recent meetings was that the state didn’t “buy the railroad” as they said they did for going on 30 years.

    They took the railroad, through eminent domain.

    They can’t even come up with an internally consistent story on how the state ended up with the RR.

    Did the state tell the ARTA this? If Rails to Trails no longer applies, why is ARTA still sending money to the national rails to trails lobby group?

    Could it be that the national Rails to Trails group (big R railroad lobby) wants NYS to fight its legal battles? Rails to trails is relatively new, unsettled law.

    By getting the state to propose the idea of a trail, the national rails to trails group now has set NYS up for a very long, costly legal battle.

    I think that was the point from the start. Get NYS on the hook for legal fees and try to set more precedent, through the courts, in favor of rails to trails.

    What ever they might spend on an ill defined “trail” will be dwarfed by the legal costs that will be incurred.

  14. Hawthorn says:

    By the way, excellent article! Best summary I’ve read about this. I was undecided, but I’m leaning toward the ARTA side–too many smart people who live in and know the situation intimately are supporting ARTA. I can remember one “scenic railroad” trip I took and I kept thinking “this is so darn slow, wish I were on my bicycle instead.”

  15. Paul says:

    Personally I lean toward some type of rail use (obviously something more than is there now) but it sounds like my ideas (the crazy idea of an electric train that could be used by hikers and paddlers was the nuttiest!) are maybe economically impossible.

    When people who would normally never support something like improved access for snowmobiles into Wilderness areas like this trail would provide (eventually) get on the same page with the sledders maybe that is telling us something?

  16. I have not read all the comments, but I found Phill’s article to be quite well balanced. Yes, public monies have been spent to build trails and local governments have been involved in snowmobile infrastructure development; the question is not if, it is why!
    From the Old Forge area, there are two significant incomes in the Webb budget: Taxes and Snowmobile permits(.). Yes, the number of snowmobile registrations has declined since the 70’s when registrations were $5.00 and a good room in the area might be $25 and a Snowmobile was
    $8-1,100.00 ( I know, cars went up too )but I , and the statistics, would argue that the economic impact has increased exponentially. There are more restaurants, lodging facilities and shops open and seasonal rentals and related constructions than ever. The only down side is that the machines have evolved to the point where operators are not satisfied with local trail systems and look for even more distance; hence the popularity with Canada and the West. Connecting Old Forge to the Tug Hill region has been a boon. Why do we suppose there is such a push to connect other Adirondack Regions? Times up, it’s the economics. We do miss the train, it was the only way Dad had to get to Utica to sign up for unemployment before snowmobiling!

  17. Given the terribly slanted and uninformed nature of the introduction to the”listening Sessions”, the public had no platform from which to comment and without public debate, the is no way to tell if the comments received will be accurately and fairly interpreted and applied to the decision making process.

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