The Adirondack Park Agency’s proposal to amend its definition of a Travel Corridor was prompted by the state’s desire to build a rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, but the change also could affect another rail corridor in the news.
We mean the line between North Creek and Tahawus. This is where Iowa Pacific Holdings has been storing used oil-tanker cars, much to the consternation of state and local officials.
As reported in the March/April issue of the Adirondack Explorer, local officials and others are now talking about someday converting this corridor into a rail trail. However, the story points out that there are legal questions, among them: since the corridor passes through forever-wild Forest Preserve, would it be lawful to create a rail trail suitable for road bikes?
The APA’s proposed change to the Travel Corridor definition seems designed to address that concern. The agency’s board is expected to vote on it this week.
As Explorer reported last Friday, the APA staff is recommending that the agency’s board add a Rail Corridor subcategory to the Travel Corridor definition. Here is the full text of the new definition:
“A railroad corridor is the fee or easement lands that include a railbed for the Remsen-Lake Placid railroad and any future acquisition that may be considered for classification as a travel corridor, existing either (1) for the operation of rail cars, or (2) to serve as a rail trail.”
The staff rejected an option that would have applied the Railroad Corridor definition only to the Remsen-Lake Placid line. That alternative, the staff wrote, “does not provide the flexibility to classify future acquisitions of railroad corridors with existing rails as a Travel Corridor, convert them to a rail trail and apply the new guidelines for management and use.”
Besides the Remsen-LP line, there are only a few rail corridors with tracks in the Adirondacks. One is the Amtrak line on the eastern edge of the Park. Another is a line that dead-ends in the Cranberry Lake region, which is being fixed up. It’s unlikely that either of these will be converted to a rail trail anytime soon.
I believe the only other tracked corridor in the Park is the line that runs from Saratoga County to the old mine at Tahawus. The town of Corinth and Warren County own the line as far north as North Creek. Iowa Pacific owns a long-term easement on the rest of the corridor, which terminates at Tahawus.
Last fall, Saratoga & North Creek Railway, which is owned by Iowa Pacific, started storing tank cars on the track north of North Creek. In response, the state commenced a legal action with the federal Surface Transportation Board, which adjudicates railroad disputes. The state contends that S&NC is not running a railroad on this part of the line and so it should be considered abandoned. If the state were to prevail, it could apply its own laws in an attempt to force the company to remove the tank cars.
The Glens Falls Post-Star reported last week that S&NC hopes to begin shipping freight from Barton Mines and waste rock from the old Tahawus mine, whose ownership recently changed hands. Iowa Pacific purchased the 30-mile line several years ago to ship rock from Tahawus but could never make a go of it.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, suspects that the railroad is announcing these moves now to thwart the state’s case for adverse abandonment. “They’re probably going to try to stave off the state’s [legal] motion on the grounds that they could have customers,” he said.
But if and when the North Creek-Tahawus line is abandoned, Woodworth thinks converting the corridor to a rail trail would be smart. “If the railroad has been abandoned, that would be a good use for the local communities,” he said. “It would draw people, and I think it would be popular.”
If the southern portion of the corridor were included, it would be possible to create a 90-mile rail trail from Saratoga to Tahawus. Cyclists could then ride on wide-shouldered roads to Tupper Lake and pick up the other rail trail (if it gets built) and continue to Lake Placid. This 160-mile bike route would traverse the heart of the Adirondacks, with views of the Hudson River and the High Peaks, and connect two of upstate New York’s major tourist destinations: Saratoga Springs and Lake Placid.
The APA’s proposed changes to the State Land Master Plan would facilitate the creation of such bike route. However, a number of other steps would need to be taken. For one, the state needs to respond to a judge’s conclusion that the proposed Tupper-Placid rail trail violates the State Land Master Plan.
The state had maintained that the 34-mile rail corridor between the two villages would remain a Travel Corridor even if the tracks were removed. Last fall, however, acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Main Jr. ruled otherwise.
The APA characterizes its proposed changes to the Travel Corridor language as a “clarification” in response to the judge’s decision.
Main also said the state’s historic-preservation plan for the corridor was inadequate and that the state needed to resolve one or two title issues. Woodworth said these objections can be dealt with easily.
Photo by Brendan Wiltse: tank cars stored along the Boreas River.