The 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 SLMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov. Comments should address whether the state’s proposal conforms to the State Land Master Plan.