Monday, March 5, 2018

APA Proposal Would Allow Other Rail Trails

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. 

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Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

17 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Here we go again!

    I would say if they can get those tailings out of there it would be great from an environmental perspective – at least from an aesthetic one.

    You could run a tourist train there later that takes you right to a HPW trailhead (or a ski resort if we could get the okay for that!).

    Like going to St. Moritz in the wintertime. No cars allowed!

    Bike trail (snowmobile super highway!) not very creative in my opinion.

    • Hope says:

      This does not say that it “will”become a trail just that it “could” become a trail at some future time. As long as the train is utilized for removing the tailings and if it becomes a viable tourist route I imagine that it would not change. If it doesn’t then the option is in place to make a trail. There are many more issues on the Saratoga-North Creek line than the Remsen-Lake Placid line. Why not update and clarify the SLMP to address them.

      • Paul says:

        Hope, I didn’t say it will. I agree.

        It just looks like some special interest groups are jumping on these guys saying that it is just made up.

        • Chip Ordway says:

          Well, Hope would know as she is (shall we say) slightly involved in one of the said “interest groups” that is doing the finger pointing and accusing.

  2. Jim S. says:

    With all the talk about rail trails on this website, my wife and I started researching them. Due to severe back issues we are about to invest in a very expensive recumbent tandem tricycle that is wider than I would be comfortable riding on a road with automobiles. It is a shame that there is no place within the blue line that we could safely ride. We will be vacationing outside of the Adirondacks for the first time since the early 1980’s.

    • Paul says:

      There are places in the park you can ride a bike like that safely. What are you talking about?

      You can find some options where you can ride a tandem here:

      • Jim S. says:

        Are those routes auto free?

        • Paul says:

          Some of them are – yes. And many of them could pretty easily and cheaply be improved for the type of biking you describe. And none of that would require any legal battles in court.

          The proposed rail trail near Saranac Lake will have something like 7 road crossings as it passes through town. I have never really seen that as a very pedestrian friendly design.

          • Boreas says:

            Obviously there would be road crossings. After all, that is where one usually accesses the trail. Spread over 34 miles, I personally don’t think the number of road crossings are a major factor. I doubt many people would be using the trail just to ride through SL. If road crossings are the only time people would have to worry about and listen to vehicles, I don’t believe it would keep them home. The Old Erie Canal trail has many road crossings, but people still love it for it lack of vehicles.

            • Paul says:

              I don’t think it would keep them home either, wasn’t suggesting that. Just noting that this one section (which also includes the river crossing) is not terribly pedestrian friendly. I would not send little kids off to ride that section w/o plenty of supervision.

              My main point is that there are lots of places that we could fix up for great riding without all this debate and legal issues.

              The proposed ASR rail trail is fine but it seems like way too much trouble for what it’s worth.

  3. Craig Harris says:

    The GRRB that dead ends in Cranberry is far from being fixed up. Railess, it has all the potential of being amazing. Currently only local Snowmobile Clubs carry the burden. DEC has let it fall into a state of disrepair at water crossings.

    • Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

      We understand the line to old mill at Newton Falls is being rehabbed. Is this the line you are referring to?

      • Chip Ordway says:

        No, he is talking about (if I assume correctly) the old Right-Of-Way for the Grasse River Railroad which branched off of the NY Central Adirondack Division at Childwold and worked its way to Conifer and Cranberry Lake. It’s a prime example of a railroad that has been gone for 60+ years and has been nothing more than a trail for some hikers and mostly snowmobilers, just like the former ROW to Malone from Lake Clear, and the old D&H ROW from that used to run from Saranac Lake and up and around back to Plattsburgh.

        These three trails alone are solid exhibits of how the ARTA plan for a trail bringing in $500K a week or month or whatever the outlandish number that Lee Keet gave was nothing more than a distorted pipe dream.

        • Paul says:

          They are also handy for jail birds on the run from the law! Weren’t they on one of those you mention during their escape odyssey.

          • Chip Ordway says:

            Hahaha…I believe you may be right to a point, as the old D&H line ran right past the prison at Dannemora.

        • smitty says:

          Of course, those trails are not improved and not developed for biking. Check out PA’s Pine Creek rail trail and you’ll see how popular they can be. Regardless whether it’s North Creek or Tupper or wherever, the Adirondacks needs a bike rail trail in its recreation portfolio.

  4. Paul says:

    Also, with the courts decision on the “old mt. road” case (surprised it wasn’t covered here?) there are now lots of potential old roads that could easily be converted to nice bike paths w/o removing any rails.

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