Thursday, November 12, 2015

APA Seems On Board With Rail Trail

rail_bikes_adiks_10-08-15_ncprThe Adirondack Park Agency intends to seek public comment on a plan to remove the railroad tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake to create a recreational trail, but agency officials do not foresee any legal obstacles to the controversial proposal.

The APA has little authority to alter the proposal. Rather, its role is to determine whether it complies with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

If all goes as planned, the state would open the recreational trail in 2017 at the earliest.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation, which drafted the proposal, say the 34-mile trail will be used for snowmobiling and skiing in winter and for biking, hiking, roller-blading, and other pastimes in other seasons. The proposal also calls for rehabilitating 45 miles of track between Big Moose and Tupper Lake – which would allow tourist trains to travel north from Utica through remote wilderness.

Robert Davies, director of DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests, told the APA board Thursday that many communities felt the state-owned rail corridor has been underutilized and that dedicating part of it to a trail would enhance tourism.

Walt Linck, an APA natural-resources planner, told the board that the proposal “has the potential to be truly transformative,”

APA Chairwoman Lani Ulrich lamented that pulling up the tracks would make it harder for people without cars to visit the Adirondacks. “We have a transportation problem in this Park,” she remarked.

Nevertheless, Ulrich agreed with the agency’s staff that the proposal seems to conform to the State Land Master Plan. “I think this is something we can and will probably support, unless something comes out in the public-comment period,” Ulrich said.

Davies noted that under the plan people will still be able to take the train to the Adirondacks, though they will get off in Tupper Lake instead of Lake Placid.

Richard Booth, chairman of the State Lands Committee, said the tracks could be replaced in the future if they are needed.

The 119-mile corridor, which stretches from Remsen to Lake Placid, has seen little use in recent decades except by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which runs excursion trains near Old Forge and Lake Placid. Under the proposal, it would have to shut down the Lake Placid operation by November 30 of next year.

Rail Explorers USA, which began running rail-bike trips out of Saranac Lake this summer, also will be allowed to operate through next November. After that, it will need to move its operation to another part of the rail line or to a different line altogether.

Historic Saranac Lake and other groups have suggested the departments have not adhered to historic-preservation laws. The corridor is on both the state and federal registers of historic places.

Davies said the State Historic Preservation Office has raised no objections to the proposal. To offset the loss of the tracks, the departments envision rehabilitating buildings along the corridor and installing educational signs.

The APA is expected to vote Friday to seek public comments on the question of conformance to the State Land Master Plan.

Davies said the state will need to enter into contracts to remove the tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid, fix up the tracks south of Tupper Lake, and construct the rail trail. It also will solicit proposals from railroad companies to operate the newly refurbished line. He added that the trail might be available for use in the summer of 2017.

The proposal would amend the management plan for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor. DOT will continue to oversee the entire corridor even if some tracks are pulled up, but DEC will manage the recreational trail.

 Photo by Mike Lynch: Rail Explorers USA rail bikes near Saranac Lake.

CORRECTION: The original article attributed the “truly transformative” quote to Robert Davies. It was said by Walt Linck, an APA planner. The article has been amended accordingly.

UPATE: The APA voted Friday to send the plan to public comment. The public has until December 18 to send submit comments by email or letter.  The email address is Comments should address whether the state’s proposal conforms to the State Land Master Plan.


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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.

32 Responses

  1. Keith Gorgas says:

    ok… seem my comments are blocked from this page…cool, I must be famous

  2. says:

    So the Historical Registry sees no problem with this? I’d like to see this in writing. What’s the point of having anything on the Historical Register if you don’t then protect it? In this area where they won’t even let in a Walmart because they want to preserve the local shopping in a quaint setting, they want to rip out a railroad? The entire APA should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this to happen. What next? A road up to Marcy Dam or Indian Pass so 4 wheelers and snowmobiles can get there? Or how about tearing down John Brown’s farm and putting a parking lot there. We can put a little sign that says he’s buried there. Personally, I have a couple of signs I’d like to post once this trail is in.
    WHAT IS THE POINT TO PRESERVATION IF YOU DON’T PRESERVE SOMETHING?? Are these people out of their minds?? Hey, we could rip out the Olympic stadium too. I’d be willing to bet that some hotel chain would love that chunk of land. With all the people headed this way on this trail, they’re going to need it. I reserve the first “I told you so” in about 10 years when they realize they goofed.
    And that guy named Ricahrd Booth that says it can be put back if they need it later? WHAT? Don’t you read buddy? It CAN’T!
    These people have decided the fate of our wilderness on their own. If they think a trail like this will be used by hoards of people, you need further educating. My God people! This just frosts it! Of all the stupid, idiotic, money wasting things this state does, they want to put in another damned trail to cater to groups of people who can afford to have and run a sled or have time enough on their hands to walk miles into nowhere. Good Bye wilderness. Hello urban sprawl.
    Ripping out something that has to true potential to aid in the growth of the local towns and the mountains is down-right narrow sighted. I truly can’t believe there are people this blind running the show. If

    • Boreas says:

      The current compromise will:

      NOT remove the entire train line from Remson, only the last 34 miles.

      Potentially allow renewed train travel between Utica and TL which currently isn’t possible.

      Allow TL to become the terminus of both a train line and a recreational trail which should benefit a community that needs the money more than LP or SL. Lodging, restaurant, and shuttle service (hopefully electric or propane powered) to surrounding villages – not just SL & LP – are just a few potential opportunities.

      Allow the rail line to prove its viability in today’s market – whether for historical or commercial interest.

      Allow studies to be done to determine the future of the corridor – all rail, all recreation, or a mix of both.

      In the future:

      If the recreation trail proves to be utterly unsuccessful, rails CAN be relaid to SL or even LP if it proves economically desireable.

      If the rail line proves to be utterly unsuccessful, the taxpayers can decide what to do with the remaining corridor.

      • Hope says:

        A voice of reason amongst all this angst. Let’s move forward and let the chips fall where they may.

  3. says:

    You can bet that there will be people following the cost of this trail and its subsequent usage statistics.

  4. Richard McCarthy says:

    I would suggest Rail Explorers look outside New York State.
    New York is one of those states that bends to the whims and wants of the wealthy and well connected.
    Please remind me to come back up to saranac lake once you folks roll the sidewalks up.

  5. John says:

    About dam time. Sucks we have to wait another year before the crap is finally pulled up.

  6. Keith Gorgas says:

    Just cause you aint paranoid, don’t mean they ain;t out to get ya

  7. Andrew says:

    What a load of hypocrisy, why threaten the railroad? The tea party types aren’t threatening roads for not being profitable! Trails are ok, but build them next to the track or on some other trajectory.

  8. Tim says:

    Phil: Has the APA ever reviewed a plan and decided that it did NOT comply with the master plan?

    • Phil Brown says:

      Well, some board members are raising questions about the Essex Chain UMP, which is also before the board this week. We’ll see what they decide on Friday.

      • Tim says:

        It seems like the questions they are raising are pretty clear master plan issues like allowing bikes where bikes aren’t allowed, but it seems like they are still going to approve it anyway. It also seems like both agencies hash out most issues ahead of time. I can’t recall them ever not approving a management plan, can you?

  9. Bruce Y. says:

    Would it be fair to say that no one asked The Nice People in Ray Brook about the plausibility of side-by-side rails AND trails?

    • Tim says:

      If you are refering to DEC, yes. They met with trails and rails group, reviewed their proposal and concluded it wasn’t plausible. If you are refering to APA, no. It’s not their job.

    • Bruce says:

      No, it’s not fair to say, because it was discussed in the early going, and it was basically decided that a trail alongside the tracks would involve making causeways, trestles and bridges significantly wider, or constructing new bridges so people using the trail have safe clearance near a moving train. There was also some question about the legality of such construction in certain APA designated areas crossed by the tracks.

  10. Bob says:

    more snowmobiles/bikes/skiers would use this trail in one season than all rail road riders in ten years lets let people get the chance to get out there and see this amazing country

    • Bruce says:


      I would like to see the figures on your assertion.

      • Marc Wigle says:

        And so would I. lol

        • John says:

          I’d like the see the rail folks provide any TRUE facts that prove the rail has been anywhere near profitable, or that it can be profitable in the future. And please don’t quote that biased study!

          • Bruce` says:


            No one can predict either the future of the railroad, or trails for that matter.

            You said the economic impact study done by the ADKRR was biased. Can you show us unbiased data proving that?

  11. Tim says:

    Given the approval to allow NYCO to open another strip mine, they should at least donate free wollastonite for the trail.

  12. Bellota says:

    Now I have to hang on (I’m 74) another couple of years to enjoy a beautiful and safe bike ride through the Adirondacks instead of driving to Quebec or Burlington.

  13. John says:

    And not to burst any rail folks bubble, but what does NY State law say about rails & trails side-by-side. I know NY State Law PROHIBITS snowmoblie trails runiing next to a active rail line & we all know the rail folks want 365 days a year trains running on these tracks!

    • Bruce says:


      As I mentioned above, I believe the primary problem with any trail next to active tracks is one of safety, a matter of space. It’s the lack of available space which is one of the reasons the compromise was reached. A moving train is rather unforgiving when something goes wrong.

      As far as running trains all year, that could be a possibility given the increased trackage between Big Moose and Tupper Lake, allowing for longer and more interesting runs which will draw people. We’re not there during peak season, but just before or just after. Right now except for a few specials, the off-peak trains are rather tame, although we still enjoy the ride. We would love to see runs to and from Tupper Lake for shopping, the Wild Center, dinner, etc.

      My understanding is that snowmobiles are allowed on inactive trackage when there’s enough snow.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you Governor Cuomo for making the right choice here.

    A few years ago, we purchased a property near the corridor – we had lived in other parts of the country, so we knew exactly why and how an accessible wilderness rail trail supports health, recreation, and local jobs. (It is proven that such amenities also enhance property value). With a little bit of marketing from ROOST and I Love NY, **thousands** will come to experience a nationally unique wilderness rail trail. They will want bike rentals, cozy places to stay, good meals, and service with a smile. Some will stay and invest even more. This is not rocket science.

    Poor-quality hospitality in the Tri-Lakes area is a real problem. (A recent visit to a restaurant in Saranac Lake – now closed – was embarrassingly bad.) Fresh blood and young talent are urgently needed to reinvigorate local restaurants, inns, and shops here – a world class wilderness rail trail will attract newcomers who know what it means to support four season recreation, tourism and an amenity-based small town economy. Let’s build this trail!

  15. Marc Wigle says:

    I think this is terrible news for all those people who worked on the ASR and those of us who have travelled the route from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake. I sure that it can be saved and expanded through Tupper Lake and beyond.

  16. Art Mills says:

    The real tragedy is the state never invested in the line to allow regular Utica-Lake Placid service. Amtrak has regularly expressed interest in operating New York-Lake Placid daily service (similar to their New York-Montreal service) but NYSDOT never prioritized this. Instead, they let the corridor remain the realm of a successful but financially struggling heritage railway. With proper investment, the line could be a viable means of transportation.

  17. Dave says:

    NYSSA has a permit with the State to use the tracks from 1 Dec-30 Mar, & I doubt NYSSA would go for a permit that only permitted snowmobiles to use the tracks when the train wasn’t running due to snow. When it becomes a totally active track, snowmobiles WON’T be permitted to ride on or near it. Plus, if it’s going to be year round train use, I would assume that the rail operator would have snow removal equipment.

  18. Paul says:

    Phil, unless the trail is paved I don’t think it would be suitable for roller blading? Are there some type of new nobby rollerblades that you can use on a surface like this? If so that is cool and send me a link!

  19. Paul says:

    Does the state have the money? Which takes precedence the trail work of the rail work? Is there enough for both?

  20. says:

    It is really dangerous with the tracks to ride a snowmobile.Glad they are ripping up the tracks.To all that say its for the wealthy that snowmobile,i can tell youmany people are riding 1000.00 beaters and having the time of their life.It is for us little guys too that just want to have a little fun.

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