The Adirondack Park Agency staff has concluded that a controversial proposal to replace the railroad tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake with a recreational trail conforms to the Park’s State Land Master Plan.
The APA board is scheduled to vote next week on a resolution approving a plan to bifurcate the state-owned rail corridor into a rail segment and a trail segment.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Department of Transportation adopted the plan last year over the objections of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and its supporters.
The departments intend to remove 34 miles of track between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, in favor of a trail for bicycling, snowmobiling, and other activities, and refurbish 45 miles of track between Big Moose and Tupper Lake.
The APA’s role is to determine whether the proposal conforms to the State Land Master Plan, which governs management of state lands in the Park.
Last fall, the agency solicited public input on that question. It received 217 comments, but only a third related to conformance to the master plan. “The remaining comments were directed to management of the Corridor as proposed by DEC and DOT,” Kathy Regan, the APA’s deputy director of planning, wrote in a memo to Terry Martino, the agency’s executive director.
Regan said one relevant issue raised by the public pertained to the classification of the rail corridor. Under the master plan, the rail corridor is designated a Travel Corridor. Some argued that if rails are removed, the corridor will no longer qualify as a Travel Corridor. If that were the case, the corridor would revert to more restrictive land classifications, such as Wild Forest or Wilderness. Snowmobiling is not allowed in Wilderness Areas.
DEC says the corridor will remain a Travel Corridor as long as DOT retains jurisdiction and that tracks can be laid down again if a demand for rail service ever materializes.
Critics also noted that the corridor is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and said removing tracks will destroy a piece of living history. DEC says the State Historic Preservation Office has raised no objections to the plan. The department also says the corridor will have signs educating users about the history of the railroad.
A draft resolution prepared for the APA board states that the proposal to bifurcate the corridor is “intended to protect the travel corridor’s natural resources, character, and recreational use according to the provisions of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.” It also says the proposal “is one which minimizes or avoids adverse environmental effects to the maximum extent practicable.”
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad runs seasonal tourist trains between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid and between Utica and Old Forge. If the state’s plan is implemented, it will have to shut down its Lake Placid operation. Eventually, however, it will be able to run trains all the way from Utica to Tupper Lake.
Rail Bikes USA, which opened last summer in Saranac Lake, will have to relocate. The business offers rides in pedal-driven rail carts.
The state’s proposal is an amendment to the rail corridor’s unit management plan, first written in the 1990s.
Click the links below to read the APA memo and draft resolution.
Photo: Adirondack Scenic Railroad locomotive at Saranac Lake.