The state has identified four parcels along the Adirondack Rail Corridor that it doesn’t own, but officials say that shouldn’t hold up plans to build a controversial 34-mile rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake.
“As is often the case in projects like this, title questions arise that must be resolved. That is the case here,” Benning DeLaMater, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said in an email to the Almanack.
Three of the parcels are in Saranac Lake and together comprise a 3,000-foot stretch of the corridor. One is owned by North Country Community College, and the other two are jointly owned by Essex County and Franklin County.
The fourth parcel, in Lake Placid, is owned by the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society, which operates a museum at the Lake Placid depot, where the rail line ends.
“DEC has approached the four entities, and all have expressed a willingness to resolve the issue in manner that will allow the development of the recreational trail,” DeLaMater said.
NCCC President Steve Tyrell said the college’s attorney is working with state officials “on any requests that state officials wish to ask the college and its two sponsoring counties to consider.”
In a forthcoming story by Brian Mann in the Adirondack Explorer, a member of the historical society’s board said he is looking forward to working with the state and others to make the rail trail a success. “We look at this [new trail] as a tremendous resource for us and a great potential benefit for the community,” said John Hopkinson.
However, Hopkinson said the society has not taken an official position on the rail trail.
DEC expects to remove the tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake next year and has begun meeting with stakeholders to discuss the design of the trail. DeLaMater said the people attending the meetings (the first ones were closed to the public) have shown “tremendous enthusiasm” for the trail.
“All of this gives the state confidence and enthusiasm that the recreational trail will be a wonderful new outdoor facility in the Tri-Lakes are that will benefit residents and tourists alike,” DeLaMater said.
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which operates a tourist train between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, has taken the state to court to try to block removal of the tracks. A hearing in the case was postponed after the state unearthed questions about the ownership of parts of the corridor.
ASR President Bill Branson contends the state’s failure to discover the title issues earlier “calls into question the due diligence performed by the state when deciding to remove the rails and construct a recreational trail over property it apparently does not own.”
In public meetings on the rail-trail proposal, some critics argued that ownership of the corridor could revert to adjacent landowners if the tracks were pulled up. The state rejected those claims, asserting it owned the entire corridor outright.
In addition to creating a recreational trail for biking, snowmobiling, and other activities, the state plans to rehabilitate 45 miles of track between Big Moose and Tupper Lake. The state estimates that the trail will cost $8 million and the track rehabilitation, $15 million.
ASR is based in Utica and also operates trains out of Old Forge. Under the state’s proposal, therefore, the railroad eventually could run trains from Utica to Tupper Lake. However, the state plans to solicit bids for an operator of the line.
In its lawsuit, ASR contends that removal of the tracks would violate the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, that the state based its decision on flawed economic data, and that the state failed to comply with historic-preservation regulations. The rail corridor is on the state and national registers of historical places. Arguments in the case are scheduled to be heard in State Supreme Court in Malone on November 2.
NOTE: The founder of the Adirondack Explorer, where I work, is one of the leading advocates for the rail trail. He is now retired and had no input into this story.
Photo: Adirondack Scenic Railroad locomotive approaches Saranac Lake.