ARTA transitioning to friends group with help of state
By Mike Lynch
As the Adirondack Rail Trail transitions from a railroad corridor to a recreational route, changes are also happening at the nonprofit organization that advocated for its creation for more than a decade.
Adirondack Rail Trail Advocates (ARTA) formed to push the state to develop a 34-mile, multi-use trail featuring cycling and walking in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter.
Now that the trail is completed from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake with state funding lined up for the final link to Tupper Lake, the organization has changed the “advocates” part of its name to “association.” That’s because it is transitioning to a friends group that supports and promotes the trail.
“I think we are in a position to be the one organization that really ties Lake Placid to Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake,” said ARTA board member Tony Goodwin in December, after the state officially opened the trail. “Essentially, you’ve got six different municipal governments, plus two different county governments that need to all be somewhat on the same page, as far as how it’s promoted, how the signage is presented.”
But ARTA will also have a big role in maintaining the trail and working with the associated towns and villages.
“DEC is building the trail, the towns and ARTA are trying to do the trail-town amenities,” said ARTA board member Brian Greene.
That includes trail work and ensuring that trail-associated signs are uniform and provide clear directions, Greene said.
Goodwin, former director of the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society in Keene and the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, and several ARTA board members have experience in trail maintenance. Jim McCulley is the president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, while ARTA board president John Brockway is a member of both the Lake Placid and Tai-Lake Snowmobile Associations. In addition, Brockway owns Charlie’s Inn, a hub for snowmobilers, in Lake Clear which is along the rail trail.
McCulley and Brockway are both currently rail trail maintainers. Greene, of Saranac Lake, is a former programs manager with the Delaware and Lehigh rail trail in Pennsylvania.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is the organization in charge of maintenance and management of the rail trail but is assisted by groups like ARTA through volunteer stewardship agreements.
The New York State Snowmobile Association (NYSSA) has an agreement with the state for winter maintenance of the rail trail including grooming, blowdown removal and sign maintenance. ARTA has an agreement for assisting with maintenance activities including mowing, brushing, blowdown and litter removal and providing portable toilets. ARTA has about 30 volunteers signed up.
Brockway said he’s already been out several times this year clearing trees and branches knocked down in wind storms.
“We just do everything that pertains to snowmobile safety and information,” he said.
While ARTA’s focus on maintenance is fairly clear cut, there are other logistics it needs to work out. That’s where a new consultant, Kathleen Martens, who has a home in Lake Placid, comes in. Martens, a retired attorney who has worked for the DEC and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Her husband Joe Martens is a former DEC commissioner and current board chair of the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
Kathleen Martens joined ARTA as a part-time consultant to help with transition.
“I’ll be helping them work on a strategic plan to see if they want to evolve to an even more mainstream organization with more staff and professional people,” she said.
She also hopes to play a key role fostering ARTA’s partnership with DEC and at serving as a liaison to the state and communities and other entities, she said.
“We want to be there if issues come up for the community,” she said. “We want to be the voice for the community with DEC on managing the rail trail.”
As for the strategic planning process, the goal is to complete it in a year or two, she said.
“We want this to be a smooth transition when it all happens,” Brockway said.
That process will be funded in part by a $75,400 state grant through the Park and Trail Partnership Grant program through the Environmental Protection Fund. The grants are administered by Parks & Trails New York, in partnership with the state parks office DEC.
The grant is also for fundraising activities, a volunteer program and marketing.
Separately, ARTA is also exploring the idea of hiring a part-time director. A little over a year ago, the nonprofit hired its first executive director, Brian Woods, but he recently stepped down. Martens said she didn’t know how long she would consult for the rail association.
“I’d like to stay with them as long as I need to help them and as long as they want me to help them get their footing,” she said.