The state hopes to begin removing the train tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake as early as this summer and begin constructing a recreational trail in the rail corridor in the summer of 2018.
The schedule was presented in an informational meeting at the Saranac Lake Free Library on Monday evening. The meeting was hosted by Rich Shapiro, a village trustee, and Ed Randig, a code-enforcement officer for the town of Harrietstown, which includes the village.
“We’re not here to debate the rail versus trail. That decision has been made,” Shapiro said at the outset of the public meeting, attended by about 30 people. “We’re here talking about the trail and how to make it the best trail we can.”
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which in years past ran tourist trains between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, is suing the state over the plan to remove the tracks.
Despite the lawsuit, the state recently released a draft proposal for the design of the trail. The plans call for a ten-foot-wide trail, surfaced with stone dust, and 2.5-foot-wide shoulders throughout the 34-mile corridor. It would have signage, kiosks, rest areas, toilet facilities, and parking areas, among other amenities.
Shapiro said the stone-dust surface will accommodate most road bikes as well as mountain bikes. Bikes with ultrathin tires, such as those used in triathlons, will not be suitable.
The Saranac Lake library will host another informational meeting today from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Similar meetings will be held in the Tupper Lake library from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and in the North Elba Town Hall in Lake Placid from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
In addition, the state Department of Environmental Conservation will solicit public comments at meetings next week. DEC’s meetings will take place in the community room of the emergency-services building in Tupper Lake on Tuesday, May 9, from 3 to 5 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. and in DEC offices in Ray Brook on Wednesday, May 10, from 3 to 5 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m.
The state owns all of the 34-mile corridor except for some land in Saranac Lake near North Country Community College that is owned by Franklin and Essex counties. Shapiro said the state is negotiating with the counties and the college to acquire that stretch of the rail corridor.
The Lake Placid-North Elba Historical owns the depot and tracks at the very end of the line. The state does not intend to acquire this parcel, but Shapiro said the state hopes to use it for a parking area and bathrooms.
The entire state-owned corridor stretches 119 miles from Remsen, north of Utica, to Lake Placid. Last year, DEC and the state Department of Transportation developed a plan to divide the corridor into a rail segment and a trail segment. The Adirondack Park Agency later signed off on the plan.
Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which is based in Utica, contends that removing the tracks would violate the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and historic-preservation laws. The corridor and rail infrastructure are on the state and federal Registers of Historic Places, but state officials say they will take steps to mitigate damage to the historic resource such as fixing up depots and other buildings and installing signs to educate the public about the history of the corridor.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Main Jr. has prohibited the state from removing the tracks until he hands down a decision in the lawsuit.
Shapiro expects that it will take a few months to remove the tracks. If the state holds to its schedule (assuming the judge rules in its favor), there will be a yearlong lapse between track removal and the start of trail construction. During that time, Shapiro said, the corridor might be suitable for fat-tire bikes, but it will be too rough for road bikes.
DOT did not renew Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s contract to operate trains this year on the Lake Placid end of the line. However, it can continue to operate its tourist trains in the Old Forge area. The state also plans to fix up 45 miles of unused tracks between Big Moose and Tupper Lake. This would enable ASR to extend the run of its train on the southern end of the line.
NOTE: Dick Beamish, the founder of the Adirondack Explorer, is active in Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, a nonprofit group pushing for the rail trail. He had no input into this story.