By Tim Rowland
The Adirondack Park Agency gave final approval Thursday to a rail trail and scenic railroad plan that has taken years to finalize and in its time became one of the most contentious projects to come before the board.
In its final incarnation, the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor Unit Management Plan drew nearly 800 public comments over the winter, many from die-hard rail buffs or die-hard recreationists who believed their opponents were getting too great a share of the pie.
Nor did the plan go down without a fight, although a mild one, as APA members disagreed over the adequacy of planning for the full impact of the project.
The issue made for some strange bedfellows, as bicyclists and hikers found themselves on the same side as snowmobilers, who wanted more of the corridor to be used as a rail trail — a concept that drew the ire, and a legal challenge, from rail buffs who were insistent that scenic trains be allowed to run all the way to Lake Placid.
Ultimately, the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation settled on a compromise that rips up the tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake for a multi-use trail, but maintains the line to the southwest for what APA Planner Walt Linck called “a truly beautiful and remote 45-mile stretch.”
The two will meet in Tupper lake, which anticipates an economic boost from its role as the line’s central junction.
The remaining public concern over the project, as expressed in the comments, dealt with issues of historic preservation and the protection of natural resources. The state agencies worked with state historical interests to be sure their concerns were addressed, and added a historical evaluation to the management plan. The addition is designed to give people a greater appreciation of what the railroad meant to the Adirondacks during its years of operation from the early 1890s through 1972.
The corridor is narrow — just 100 feet in width — but unprecedented in its reach. It touches 11 other units under state management on its 119 mile journey, while touching on some of the more remote areas of the park.
Concerns were raised by the public over protections for these sensitive areas, but the state believes it can control the number and scope of visitors to these sites through ticket sales and managing the numbers of people who hop the train flag stops along the route.
But board member Chad Dawson, who was a lone and “reluctant” vote against passage, said the plan doesn’t do enough to anticipate what effect the line will have long-term. Such issues need to be planned for in advance, he said, to preclude potential problems. An example of the failure to plan long-term, he said, occurred in the High Peaks where overuse gained critical mass before it could be addressed and managed.
Dawson said he felt the compromise is a good plan, but that the agency missed an opportunity to look at it in a greater, and more regional context.
Board member Art Lussi, however, said that after all this time the plan is ready to go, and changes can be made as needed. “They’re not asking to cut any trees,” he said. “This is 100 feet by more than 100 miles that’s ready to be used.”
Rail refurbishment for the scenic railroad is expected to be completed by 2021, and the rail trail by 2023. The DEC did not answer emailed questions about how the state’s current virus-related financial problems might impact the project.
Scott Thompson says
Nothing to do with the APA approval, but the economic consequences of not trail connecting the Old Forge area to the tri lakes is a tragedy.
Who ever has this vision for the corridor needs a seeing eye dog.
So our tax money was used to do all the railroad tracks, crossings, etc and now we’re going to use our tax money to rip out everything for a bike trail.
Makes no sense to me. We should have both.
Oh and by the way, NYS has no tax money, so good luck in doing any of this.
Dave Whitbeck says
SO I guess you will be happy then if the entire corridor goes to pot. No money for a trail, no money to keep the ASR alive either then!
It was nice to see this decision happen via a virtual meeting. It’s great to see this resolved. 800 comments received about the Rail Trail prior earlier meetings. Sometimes you feel like your voice is heard, there is one of those times. Thank you to everyone involved!
Dave Whitbeck says
This is a compromise that while not 100% good for either side, both get/give a bit. I’m sure the rail folks will be right back in court real soon to get this UMP declared illegal & violating some NY State Law. They cannot help themselves! Give it 5 more years & we’ll see where the ASR is, if it still exist! The trail will be there and ANYONE can use it whenever they want; same cannot be said for the rails. They monopolize a corridor they hardly use for 1/2 of their lease period; the conned the state into rehabbing a track (Old Forge to Big Moose) that gets used at most 20 times during the year. They only stay afloat because rich rail folks give them loans or donations. Selling Polar Express tickets starting at the beginning of each year is needed funding to just get them going at the start of the season. Sure going to be a hoot this year if the CORVID-19 virus kicks its ugly head back up this fall (as predicted) & then leaf peeping/polar express rides are cancelled. Are they going to have the funds to reimburse those individuals who paid already for a ride that will never happen now! I doubt it! The trail is there for use virus or no virus, same cannot be said for the train!
Larry Roth says
Having listened through the entire meeting, it’s quite clear that there was a much deeper process going on than just rubber-stamping the 2016 plan, which is all that they seemed prepared to consider.
Chad Dawson’s reservations about the wider regional implications are very much on point, although it is clear neither he nor the rest of the board really grasp their full scope.
They still don’t understand climate change for one thing. The big concern was how do they insure monitoring works to control snowmobile emissions from getting worse. The time for that was 30 years ago; the problem now is how fast can we bring emissions down everywhere.
There seemed to be a barely acknowledged consensus that they had to approve this now before the 2019 Climate Control Act takes real effect and they have to get serious about it.
When their biggest concern seems to be giving those poor snowmobilers a few more weeks to ride the trails, you know who is calling the shots on this.
Dave Whitbeck says
you gloss right over the fact that the poor little train gets an expanded length of line to improve their pathetic low ridership numbers. I guess the state still just wants to try & improve on an already proven BAD decision from years ago by keeping the ASR alive for a few more years.
LeRoy Hogan says
Rail bikes are doing really well in the Adirondacks and would make a nice compliment to ASR. The rail bikes have great ridership numbers.
Glad to see a final decision after years of delay and good news for Tupper. Sad to see the trail portion not being completed until 2023. Hop I’m still healthy enough to use it by then.
With as ll the crap we get from this state is the reason why I’m leaving after living here all my life
Its supposed to be with all
Anthony Brankman says
It might be relevant to have reported about possible and likely legal challenges to this action. Was this discussed at the meeting or addressed in the action?
Mark Miller says
I’m curious as to why they can’t place a developed trail next to the tracks like they do in other states?
Dave Whitbeck says
Maybe NY State laws prohibit it. The corridor is only 100 feet wide at its max. IN some areas it is quite narrow. Too many wet lands to have to cross.
If the state can’t sucker the federal government into bailing out NY finances, seems like budget cuts and tax hikes will be inevitable? And this won’t effect rail trail plans? Is there going to be honest accounting of expenditures, or now that it’s a done deal, there will be no fiscal responsibility whatsoever because no one is looking?
You’ll be able to use the corridor starting today, as long as construction isn’t happening on the section you hike. And go ahead and snowmobile this winter .,.,.,if ther’s enough snow.
In an increasingly all-or-nothing world, this seems a good compromise. A wise and reasoned decision. I hope the trail is used well, and that the railroad enterprise can thrive. Congratulations on a decision well-made.
Furthermore, there seems to be substantial opportunity for Tupper Lake. A tourism package of a day or two at the Wild Center, beginning and ending in Thendara or Utica? Lunch along the way in Beaver River Station? Great possibilities.
Scott Thompson says
Sure, the whole train can sit there while some have lunch or some can get off and have lunch while the train goes on, makes 8-10 whistle stops and gets back 4-5-6 hours later.
No, I’d rater have a steady and repeating flow of folks on bikes and hiking and 4-6 weeks more of the best business which is snowmobiling. but why would any one listen to business when they can have no taxes or employment. How sweet.
Kenneth Friedel says
As one of people in charge of the last hearing told me, it is a compromise. People make me angry when they are right. This is a compromise that will give everyone the right to travel the rail line from Tupper to Utica. This will happen in my life time. The real issue that still get ‘s my goat is. I did not like how the regular poor people of this area was pitted against each other in this whole mess. How anyone at high levels could allow or expect snowmobilers to run their sleds on steel rails. When the line is almost 100 feet wide. Any way, enough has been said and debated already. Thank you for the great articles on Tupper an North Creek. I just hope that everyone can work together now to make Tupper Lake great again. And maybe Utica, too!