The Preservation League of New York State has placed a controversial rail to trail project in the Adirondacks supported by the state on its list of historic properties the group says must be saved.
The Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor runs for 119 miles through the center of the Adirondacks. A 1996 management plan called for rail use to be developed along the entire route with parallel recreational trails where feasible. It specified that no action to eliminate rail should be taken at that time.
In 2013 the DEC and the DOT proposed dividing the rail corridor into two segments and began gathering public input. The railroad would remain intact between Remsen and Tupper Lake and improved. 34 miles of rails between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid would be removed and converted to a multi-use recreational trail.
The proposal has divided public opinion, and the arguments continue even after the Adirondack Park Agency ruled in February that the plan complies with the State Land Master Plan, allowing the DEC and DOT to move forward.
Last week the Preservation League of New York State issued its Seven to Save list. It’s an annual designation of endangered historic resources that the League says must be preserved. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad and the 34 miles of track is one of the seven properties.
Adirondack Architectural Heritage Executive Director Steven Englehart says his group and Historic Saranac Lake submitted the application making the case to put the railway on the list. “It’s a National Register listed resource of tremendous importance and also size. We think it’s the largest National Register site in the state by acreage. But perhaps more importantly here we have the state taking an action that will have a big economic impact.”
Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, or ARTA, Founding Director Tony Goodwin also created the Adirondack Ski Touring Council. He doesn’t believe the Seven to Save listing will impact efforts to create the trail. “The DEC has already been in contact with the New York State Office of Recreation and Historic Preservation and they don’t seem to have any objections to this change. In reality many other historic rail lines have been turned into rail-trails without objection.”
Goodwin hopes the DEC can begin hiring contractors to pull up the tracks in late fall. “We’ve been on this for a quite number of years and the DEC pretty much right from the start was in favor of removing the rails. So they’ve been thinking about how they’re going to implement this. I have personally sent letters to both Historic Saranac Lake and Adirondack Architectural Heritage with a description of how other rail-trails have interpreted history and asked them to work with us now that it seems a given that the rails will be removed.”
Engelhart believes the Preservation League’s experience with public policy will make a difference even though the state appears to have made up its mind regarding the 34-mile section of track. He believes it’s not too late for the state to change course and create a compromise solution that both retains the railroad and creates trails along the corridor. “We believe that there is an option that allows for both the continued use of the railroad and the development of a trail system within the corridor that should make everybody happy if the trail advocates are really interested in a trail.”
Adirondack Park Agency Spokesman Keith McKeever told WAMC the agency’s focus was to assure the plan was in compliance with the master plan and it has no reaction to the Preservation League’s Seven to Save listing of the railway.