New York state wants to replace a stretch of train tracks in the Adirondacks with a recreational trail for bicycling, walking, snowmobiling and other uses. But after losing a lawsuit, the Adirondack Park Agency is now proposing a change in the Adirondack land-use plan in hopes of clearing the way for the 34-mile multi-use trail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid.
In April 2016, the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society took the state to court after the Adirondack Park Agency determined a proposal to remove rail tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid to create a recreational trail did not conflict with the State Land Master Plan Travel Corridor restrictions and definitions. The railway society said the State Land Master Plan defines travel corridors in terms of cars and trains, not trails. In September 2017, State Supreme Court Justice Robert Main Jr. ruled in the railway society’s favor, finding the state’s plan would change the corridor designation allowed under the Unit Management Plan.
Earlier this month, the APA proposed an amendment to add trails to the corridor definition. The proposed redefinition includes six alternatives and would apply to other rail corridors the state might acquire in the future. Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates founding director Tony Goodwin calls the agency’s action a wise move. “It really just recognizes the kinds of use that has been made of the corridor up until this point: that all of the rail use has truly been recreational and not transportation. There were rail bikes for two years, 2015 and 2016, pedaling between Saranac Lake and Lake Clear and that was clearly recreational use of the corridor and no rail supporters made any objection to that.”
Goodwin says the proposed amendment is an indication that the state remains serious about converting the line to a rail trail. “We had hopes that construction would have started by now and that they would have gotten as far as removal of the rails and ties on the 34 miles. Then construction could actually begin on the stone dust surface and the gating and the other facilities that are needed for a completed trail.”
Trails with Rails Action Committee, or TRAC, member Steve Erman agrees with the judge and feels the state must keep the tracks intact. “We feel that frankly the state should go back and implement the proposal that it put forward in 1996 which was to do trails with rails. And we believe strongly that the state and the region loses if rails are removed and we eliminate the option of being able to do passenger rail service. That’s an economic opportunity that should not be lost in the region. With that said trails are really important. What the state needs to do is the hard work of making sure that we have a great recreational trail system while we’re retaining the rails and the opportunity for rail transportation in the future.”
Erman says changing the corridor definition and removing rail infrastructure could compromise the region’s economic integrity. “This proposal to eliminate 34 miles of rail and end the possibility of rail transportation in Tupper Lake is in my view a huge mistake and I think it’s going to be seen over the long term, if that in fact happens, that this proposal worked against the long term economic interests of the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Park.”
Calls to the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society were not returned in time for broadcast. The APA has scheduled public hearings on April 11, 24 and 25 in Ray Brook, Old Forge and Albany, respectively.