Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Adirondack Rail-Trail Design Process Begins

NYC Railroad from Lake Clear LodgeA stakeholder process to determine the design and operation of the recreational trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake on the Remsen to Lake Placid Travel Corridor has begun, according to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Regional Director Bob Stegemann.

The core stakeholder groups consist of the executive elected official or designee of the four towns and three villages along the trail, a representative from the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates and representatives from the three primary user groups – cross country skiers, bicyclist and snowmobilers.

In addition to DEC officials, staff or officials from the Adirondack Park Agency, Olympic Regional Development Authority, and the Department of Transportation are members of the core stakeholder group.

The stakeholder group identified issues of concern which need addressing before the trail can become operational and other stakeholders who will participate in future meetings on specific issues. The issues identified to date include but are not limited to:

· Type of Material used to surface the trail;
· Parking and trail access points;
· Trail amenities;
· Signage – interpretive and directional;
· Road crossings;
· Bridges;
· Illegal motor vehicle and motorized vehicle use;
· Train stations;
· Emergency response; and
· Historic preservation.

The stakeholder process is expected to inform DEC’s development of a draft conceptual trail design and draft conceptual operations and maintenance plan which will be provided for public review and comment in the coming months. DEC will use the final conceptual trail design to develop a request for proposals to design and construct the trail. Rail removal and initial trail construction will begin in the summer of 2017.

If you believe you can help on one or more specific issues regarding the design or operation, contact the town supervisor or village mayor in the community you live.

Photo: Adirondack Railroad looking north from Lake Clear Lodge. Photo by John Warren.

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54 Responses

  1. Tim says:


    • Boreas says:

      One would think, but not a sexy topic.

      • Larry Roth says:

        Maintaining anything the state builds is not sexy – but vital. It’s one of the chronic flaws with the way the politics work out. Building new stuff is exciting; keeping it from falling apart is not.

        Keep an eye on this. While they’re working out surfacing, signage, parking, watch what happens to the cost estimates. To keep all of the promises that have been made for this trail, it’s practically going to have to be a highway through the woods. The costs are going to soar – and a ‘free’ trail is going to have to fight for the money needed to support all of that in the style ARTA would like us to become accustomed to.

        • AdkBuddy says:

          Will still be cheaper and better for the economy than a slow empty train.

          • Larry Roth says:

            True enough – aside from the fact that ridership keeps going up, and you completely ignore the hit to the economy from driving out the Rail Explorers.

            • John says:

              I would think if the rail explorers moved to Tupper Lake, their economy would improve!

              • Larry Roth says:

                Except they’ve looked at operating from Tupper Lake, and the route options there don’t work for them going towards Big Moose. Too far to the next town. They are running trips out of Tupper now in the other direction, where the tracks are going to be pulled under the Alt 7 plan.

                • Dave says:

                  Tough then! They went into the business knowing full well what was going on with the UMP update. Move to Old Forge & run a bike/lunch ride to Big Moose!

                • Hope says:

                  BS. They can run to Piercefield it’s only 6 miles. The trip from TL to LC is 17 miles. It’s only 12 miles to Horseshoe Lake. Excuses.

  2. Larry Roth says:

    It’s pretty interesting that DEC apparently thinks that rail supporters have no stake in this. I believe one of the arguments for the compromise was that having rail service to the start of the trail in Tupper Lake was supposed to enhance the claimed economic benefits for the compromise.

    The railroad already hosts bike and rail trips; you’d think DEC would want to make sure cyclists and train operations will be coordinated for maximum mutual benefit. This conspicuous absence and the naming of ARTA as a lead stakeholder is a pretty clear sign of who this process is being run for.

    ARTA has made no secret of the fact that they plan to continue to fight to get tracks removed all the way back to Thendara. Given that unyielding purpose, it’s no surprise that they will resist anything that might contribute to the viability of the railroad. It would seem DEC shares that intent, if not openly.

    The promised economic benefits of the Alternate 7 compromise are already invalid; the impact of the Rail Explorers has been completely disregarded, as has the business partnerships they and the railroad have developed with other businesses in the area. DEC’s 20 year inability to come up with trails around the rails looks even more suspect given how quickly a road got built up Blue Mountain.

    • Curt Austin says:

      It’s not a bad idea to have someone with railroad perspective, to maximize the use of the stations for visiting cyclists, help with RR history signs, etc. DEC would have to find someone who accepts the new situation and is willing to be constructive. Perhaps they tried.

    • John says:

      If you would have looked at the WHOLE STORY, ARTA is only 1 of a core group of stakeholders & the ARPS/ASR didn’t want to be part of the process. And as far as the rails are concerned. It is up to the state to submit a RFP out for bid to any rail operator that wants to come in & take over management of the rail line part. Until that RFP is put out & a bid is received/accepted, no money or work will be done on the rails to improve them to Tupper Lake. But the trail work can continue because they are separate issues!

    • Phil Brown says:

      ASR is suing the state over this project. I wouldn’t expect them to be advising the state on how to implement it.

      • John says:

        And since that is happening, I wouldn’t expect the state to be hurrying that RFP either I guess.

      • Larry Roth says:

        Phil, John – the lawsuit should be irrelevant. If the state plans to have the rails meeting the trails, somebody needs to represent the rail side of the meeting point. ARTA has made it clear they will do nothing to help whomever has the rail side of things, so if DEC is serious about making the compromise work , they need someone. If DEC is planning to let the rail side die by malign neglect, they are off to a good start. One reason for the lawsuit is the contention that the state was never operating in good faith. This rather fits that scenario. It’s certainly what certain parties want.

        • Phil Brown says:

          I still think it would be odd for ASR to be working with the state on this issue while the lawsuit is pending. For one thing, coming up with ideas to make the rail trail successful could undercut their legal case.

          • John says:

            Larry, ARTA doesn’t need to work with the ASR since it will be a DOT/DEC owned/operated trail. The DEC needs to get someone from ASR or ARPS on board. If those two organizations decided to not wanting to be involved so be it. Decisions can be made that they may have to live with & without the ability to make changes too.
            Wht doesn’t the ASR get involved to work on making the rail ending at Tupper Lake a success. Leaving it to the trail floks to make those decisions may not bode well for the ASR.
            As far as the DOT not operating in good faith, the DOT owns the corridor & conducted a UMP update just like they do with any other UMP update. Rail folks just don’t like the decision.

            • Larry Roth says:

              John – ARTA doesn’t like the decision either. They plan to take everything they can get now and keep going for the rest. They make no secret that they are going to keep working to get rid of the tracks.

              • John says:

                Well, then the ASR better come up with a way to make the rail service very profitable between Utica & Thendara right now, because it’s going to be a while before you make it to Tupper Lake. And since UMPS are SUPPOSE to be updated every 5 years, we’ll be right back here in 2021 & you (rails) might just be gone by then!

                • Larry Roth says:

                  It would take about 90 days to upgrade the tracks to Tupper Lake. The trail is going to take three years – IF it survives the court challenge. The next UMP may just confirm the 1996 plan is still the way to go.

                  • John says:

                    If the state hasn’t done it yet, what makes you think they will do it now. If the court throws out option 7, there is nothing to say the state would lift a finger to complete option 6. They haven’t done if for over 30 years now, so why would they bother to do it now.
                    First you have to prove they (the state) broke the law. Which you cannot, because they didn’t! There is no law that says the tracks have to remain in place! There is no law that says just because something is supposedly historic, it has to remain in place! If that was the case, there are a lot of historic things in NY that have gone by-by over the years.
                    I’ve looked at the Adirondack State Mater Land Plan & there is nothing in that that says the DOT cannot remove the tracks.

              • John says:

                Well, if the ASR doesn’t want to get on board with this updated UMP & they keep fighting, then maybe the DOT/DEC does need to knock them down again & take the rails up all the way down to Thendara. They will never pull the rails up between Utica & Thendara, since that is somewhat of a money maker, with a lot of state help!

                Either work with what you have left, or keep bitching about what you’ve lost & you may loose even more in the future!

          • Larry Roth says:

            Not at all. The railroad already has bike and rail trips now; they have practical experience AND actual numbers. Getting that on the record might actually strengthen the case for rails and trails. If their legal challenge fails, the railroad will still need to work with the trail and will do everything it can to take advantage of it. The same is not true of ARTA which still wants the tracks gone all the way to Thendara. They have never given up on that.

            • John says:

              But ARTA isn’t the ONLY VOICE on the trails issue here. DEC is the controlling agency on this project. ARTA is just a single member of the core stakeholders. You can piss about ARTA ll you want, but the rail folks are prettty much wanting it all too! They want year round use of the track. Which means no other users! The corrideo is not wide enough in some spots to put a trail right next to it, & NYS Law doesn’t permit a trail within 50 feet of a active rail line.
              A decision has been made & the governor has signed it, the court is going to have to find some law being broken to overturn this.

              • Larry Roth says:

                You’re wrong about several things here. The rail supporters want rails AND trails. Now if DOT had been given free rein to work, I can imagine they could find enough room in a 100 foot corridor.

                But as for a law being broken, why do you think this going to court – and why do you think it’s only one law?

                • John says:

                  What law has been broken, by updating this UMP? What decision in this updated UMP violated any law? Rail folks can say they want a trail but I seriously doubt it. Are the rail folks going to be there right beside the trail folks if Protect ever decided to get involved on any new trail? I doubt it. Rail weenies are just like ARTA, they want it all their way or else!
                  It’s going to court because rail weenies lost & they cann’t deal with it!

                  • John says:

                    And we are just going to go round & round about what laws were or weren’t broken. I’m glad the DEC has started the process of building the trail with these meetings. It’s about time. There is a updated/signed UMP in place & the DEC can move forward. Let’s start ripping out those rails!

                    • Larry Roth says:

                      From some of your other comments I get the impression you are a sledder. Watch how fast you get thrown out if they rip out the tracks back to Thendara. BTW – how much trail time did you get last year? It doesn’t matter if the rails are there or not with no snow. And if they put in a paved trail, you’re not going to be allowed on it if there are bare spots.

                  • Big Burly says:

                    For most of the past 4 years, trails with rails has been the position of the ASR. A group of volunteers with backgrounds in trail design and construction, economic development, agency management and planning, working with assistance from DEC Region 5 professionals, created a trail system from Tupper to Saranac Lake. That was deemed by Albany DEC HQ folks to not be in line with the pre-ordained outcome of ripping up the rails to create … yet another trail in the DAKs. It is not the RR that is losing, it is the local economies of the Tri-Lakes, all beneficiaries TODAY of vibrant businesses that use the rails.

                • Paul says:

                  Larry, Look at where this RR runs across Lake Colby. Where in that section would you have a trail? You would have to build a parallel bridge for a trail, even if there were no rules about building in wetlands that section alone would cost many millions of dollars to construct. Just forget about that idea it is simply impossible.

                  • Larry Roth says:

                    There are alternatives. There are places along the corridor where it would actually make sense to have the trail go outside the corridor to connect the sites the tracks don’t go near. If you keep the snowmobiles in the corridor, the trail for everyone else can be more flexible and less intrusive. The causeway is one such place.

                    • john says:

                      And are you going to be leading the fight against Protect when they go to court to stop any trail outside the corridor or are you all hot air!

  3. Curt Austin says:

    I found a very detailed report about trail maintenance on Rails to Trails Conservancy’s website some years ago. Normally, the biggest decision to make is whether to pave with stone dust or with asphalt. Long term, the cost is about the same after considering that stone dust needs frequent attention if you want to keep it nice – it’s condition would depend on annual budget negotiations. You don’t have to keep it nice – there are bikes for any surface – but the trail’s appeal will be affected.

    Will the trail really be “world class”? Every month, RTC features a Trail of the Month. They are nearly all asphalt, but stone dust can win if it’s kept nice.

    Asphalt can survive inattention on rail beds, where it is relatively immune from frost heaves and root bursts. But there’s a wrinkle: surviving studded snowmobile tracks. There may be great resistance to asphalt from snowmobilers, since the trail would have to be closed when any part of it becomes bare, or those sections will require more frequent repaving.

    With any trail, there will be major access points – parking lots – where use is much greater for a few miles than elsewhere. Putting asphalt on those few miles might give everyone a good sense of the difference; whether to add more asphalt could be decided later.

    • Boreas says:

      Other things to consider:

      Stone dust trails typically don’t have or need shoulders. Blacktop usually needs some type of shoulder added – especially on narrower trails.

      Stone dust trails tend to develop wet/muddy spots. This may not be as much of an issue depending on the amount of drainage stone that is left from the RR bed.

      Will the trail be wider in higher-use areas near villages?

      I am sure the engineers will address these points.

      • Paul says:

        It will be interesting to see how the “engineers” manage the 9 (count em 9) road crossing and a one river crossing in Saranac Lake. In my opinion they couldn’t have picked a more challenging spot for a rail trail than where this one runs right through the middle of this town. With the estimated ten to hundreds of thousands of bikers using this trail it should be interesting!

    • John says:

      Why not go look at the Erie Canal Trail. It is a asphalt trail & it holds up quite well to snowmobile use.

      • Boreas says:


        Unless it has been recently paved, last I knew the Old Erie Canal Towpath trail between Syracuse and Rome was mostly stone dust. But it is paved near some high usage areas. Have they paved it in the last few years? But there are a lot of other sections I am unfamiliar with. Is there a separate Erie Canal trail?

        • John says:

          Nope, it’s the trail that runs along the Mohawk, some places are paved, other parts have crushed stone dust. Has anyone looked at the cost of maintenance on it?
          Snowmobilers aren’t going to run on a bare trail weather it is paved or stone dust. It would ruin the ski carbs & track. Not worth the cost to ride on bare ground.
          If I was worried about anything with this new trail, it would be frost heaves. They will tear up paved trails or trails made from stone dust.

          • Boreas says:


            I think much will depend on how much of the gravel rail bed they remove. If they keep what is there and extend it outward, frost heaves will be less likely. If they grade down the gravel close to the soil, there will likely me more problems.

            I always liked the stone dust because it slightly limits bicycle speeds on narrow trails and makes it a little easier on the feet of runners and walkers. But it IS dusty and not as smooth. Advantages to both. It sounds like overall maintenance costs may be pretty even.

            • John says:

              I hope they don’t have to dig down that far under the old rail ties. I’d prefer a paved trail for about 1/2 mile out of each town along the trail & then stone dust the rest of it. If you figure a majority of use is going to be local or visitors doing short hikes on it for sight seeing, a 1/2 mile of paved trail would make it really accessable to anyone with a handicap.
              as for maintenance cost, that’s a crap shoot right now, but I think both ARTA & the rail folks way under shot what the overall cost would be for each option.

              • Larry Roth says:

                Rail numbers for track work are pretty good – they’ve been doing it all along and they don’t need to design anything from scratch. They also have a pretty good idea what it will take to maintain it.

  4. troutstalker says:

    Good for the economy until the novelty wears off!

  5. Dave says:

    In response to Larry’s post above, if the rails were gone there was enough snow to ride the corridor almost all of last season. With the rails still in place there was just enough to ride if you wanted to be bumped around and possibly damage your sled.

    • Larry Roth says:

      I believe if you check, that was not actually the case. Trails with no rails had to be closed last year for lack of snow. This is going to happen more and more; the Almanack has had articles detailing how ADK winters are getting shorter and warmer.

      • Dave says:

        The corridor was open from mid Dec until DEC closed it in mid March. It was rideable every weekend if the rails were gone

  6. Paul says:

    Since this rail trail is such a fabulous idea and a huge draw haven’t all these issues already been figured out as part of the planning process? What have they been doing for the last ten years just arguing with those opposed to the idea?

    Personally this section of RR does not seem like a very good section to have a rail trail. Lots of road crossings (even a river crossing) etc. But I am not worried this has all been figured out ahead of time.

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