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Rails To Trails Project Proposed in Adirondacks

Howard Brier/Flickr

A group in the Adirondacks is advocating for what it says could be a prime recreational and economic opportunity for the region.  Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates wants to convert rail tracks in the central Adirondacks into a recreational trail. But it faces opposition from the rail company that wants to restore the tracks.

The New York State Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Conservation are reviewing plans for use of the rail corridor between Lake Placid and Utica. The Adirondack Scenic Railway operates two disconnected segments between Utica and Lake Placid. The rail company wants to upgrade the tracks and complete the connection between the communities.
But another group wants part of the rail corridor transformed into a recreational trail. Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates - known as ARTA - has submitted to state officials a plan for conversion to the Adirondack Rail Trail.  ARTA Co-founder Jim McCulley says a tourist train is appropriate in the southern link, but the northern tracks are little used.  “It’s the ninety mile section from Old Forge to Lake Placid that we would like to see converted. Have the tracks removed and salvaged, and with proceeds from that surface the trail, much of it for bicycling. It would open up the whole North Country, the network north of Tupper, on up to Canada even, to really good snowmobiling.”

ARTA co-founder Dick Beamish notes that the state Unit Management Plan required that if train use proved unsuccessful after five years, the rail tracks would be converted to recreational use. “When you have Lake Placid, North Elba, Harrietstown, Tupper Lake, village of Tupper Lake, Piercefield, Colton, all these communities that are right along the corridor. Their resolutions requested for the tracks to be removed. Why the state is not responding to what the people of the region want is really sort-of alarming.”

The salvage value of the tracks is estimated between 5 and 6 million dollars, which Dick Beamish says would cover the cost of surfacing the rail trail from Lake Placid to Piercefield.  “All you need to do is to remove the tracks and the ties and it would be suitable for mountain biking right off the bat. And of course it would be infinitely better snowmobiling in the winter.  One phase connects the tri-lakes area which would be a tremendous benefit to the region in a way that these villages have never been connected before., And then the other part of it would immediately be good for the more wilderness kind of experience for a mountain bike.”  

The debate over whether there should be a recreational trail or if the train should continue to operate peaked this fall when the Adirondack Scenic Railroad reported that a locomotive had been vandalized. Jim McCulley says no one at ARTA was involved.  “We condemn any sabotage or any vandalism done to the train or to anything else. I have no sympathy for the vandals. They should be prosecuted to the full extent.”

Dick Beamish says the rail company needs to reassess where it is investing its resources and should provide service where it has riders.  “These folks are talking about spending many millions of dollars to restore a train service that nobody would really use.  There’s no demand for it, there’s no need for it and there’s no point to it. So, we love trains but in the right places.”