The time may have come for Warren County to retire from the railroad business, says Ron Conover, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
In his annual message to the board, Conover broached the possibility of replacing the rail line between Stony Creek and North River, which the County owns and currently leases to Iowa-Pacific’s tourist train, with a multi-use recreational trail.
“I think the prudent thing at this stage is to begin to investigate whether a recreational trail should be created, by whom, at what cost, for which users; we should also ask how to pay for its creation and maintenance,” Conover said in his message, delivered at the municipal center on January 4.
Conover said he has asked Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson, chairman of the Board’s Public Works Committee, to lead the study and to “begin discussions with our rail corridor partners, including New York State, as to the best path forward.”
Conover began his remarks by alluding to the controversy over Iowa-Pacific’s transportation of empty rail cars through Warren County to a storage site on tracks within the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
“Continuing and growing concerns regarding railroad storage facilities in the Adirondacks adds to our sentiments that the railroad corridor could provide a larger economic benefit and further underscores the need for a plan of action,” Conover stated.
Speaking with reporters afterward, Conover said he hoped to see a recreational corridor plan completed before the County’s five year leasing agreement with Iowa Pacific expires within the next few years.
“As with any good business plan, you evaluate the alternatives. It’s time to begin the conversation about alternatives to leasing the rail line to an outside operator,” said Conover.
Conover noted that Governor Andrew Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, in addition to Warren and Essex Counties, are all adamantly opposed to the storage of railroad cars within the Forest Preserve.
Earlier this month, two environmental groups, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, issued a call to the Adirondack Park Agency to assert its authority under the state’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act to end the storage of discarded cars.
But even if Iowa Pacific’s plan to warehouse cars is legal, it still is cause for concern, said Conover.
“We didn’t go into partnership with Iowa Pacific Holdings to become a graveyard for old railroad cars. We partnered to operate train service. Although they warehouse cars in Hamilton and Essex Counties, which the company owns outright, they use our tracks to transport them there. And if the company pulls out of New York State, we may responsible for removing any cars they leave there,” said Conover.
Conover is likely to find support for any proposal to replace the railroad line with a recreational trail among the region’s environmental protection groups.
Willie Janeway, the executive director of the Adirondack Council, has called for the removal of the line used by Iowa Pacific for storage and the creation of a “travel corridor up into the heart of the Adirondack Park and the High Peaks Wilderness area, with unique access to towns such as Minerva and Newcomb.”
“This corridor could be a great asset for the Park and communities that host access points to the popular Forest Preserve and state waters. The corridor might host a multiuse recreational trail, or something else,” said Janeway.
Peter Bauer, the executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, believes a multi-use Sanford Lake rail line corridor should be connected to one traversing Warren and Saratoga Counties.
“This would be a true community-to-community trail from Saratoga Springs to Newcomb, a European style countryside walking trail, a bike trail, a totally accessible trail, a cross country ski and snowmobile trail, and it already has both a wide defined corridor and connects hamlet areas. The dividends for the region and for communities along the rail line would be far greater with a community-to-community pedestrian trail than with a dying railroad whose only viable revenue stream comes from trashing the Adirondacks,” said Bauer.
Photos from above: The North Creek Station when D&H still operated the railroad; Opening of the Saratoga-North Creek Railroad, 2012; and Cars in “the linear junkyard” courtesy Adirondack Council.
A version of this article first appeared on the Lake George Mirror.