By Tim Rowland
The Adirondack Park Agency on Thursday advanced plans to redevelop an historic 119-mile rail corridor connecting Remsen to Lake Placid into a recreational trail for bicyclists, skiers and snowmobilers to the northeast, and a scenic passenger train for tourists to the southwest.
The Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor Unit Management Plan will now be open for one last round of public comments as it relates to compliance with the Adirondack master plan, with final approval expected in May. “Everyone is interested in getting this project moving,” said John Schmid, senior natural resource planner for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The plan drew some brief discussion during Thursday’s meeting about its potential impact on climate change. APA Board Member Chad Dawson said the DEC has been charged by law to take the lead on climate mitigation, but the plan is largely silent on the issue.
“Climate change is hardly mentioned in the UMP,” Dawson said. “There are really a lot of bigger questions, positive and negative, and that’s not addressed here at all.”
Schmid said climate change was on the radar of planners, and in the comments there was discussion over, for example, the carbon emissions of snowmobiles. But he said the number of vehicular trips—be they car, snowmobile or train—is hard to predict.
“It’s a very difficult thing to quantify (and) it’s speculative in a lot of respects,” Schmid said.
Once an afterthought, board members said that climate change now needs to be one of the first questions addressed. “It ought to be the headline issue every time we consider a land use,” said board member John Ernst.
Development of the Remsen-Lake Placid UMP, which is a blueprint for how the state land is to be used, has been one of the park’s more watched and commented-upon projects in recent memory. The public comment period for the plan, which ended in January, attracted 700 comments, Schmid said.
The project itself has encountered other obstacles, inspiring lawsuits and a general showdown between recreational users and railroad buffs.
In the end, the DEC and Department of Transportation gave a share to both sides, proposing that the rails be ripped up between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid for a recreational trail, while the line from Tupper Lake to Remsen will be fixed up for tourist trains.
“Tupper Lake will be getting special treatment as the junction between the two,” Schmid said, with a 550-foot raised passenger platform, maintenance yards, parking and snowmobile access.
Schmid said planners believe Saranac Lake will be the primary jumping off point for cyclists, while at Lake Placid talks are evolving for shuttles that would take riders to other nearby trails.
The railroad portion of the work is expected to be completed by 2021, with the recreational trail by 2023. All told, Schmid said it will be a valuable asset for attracting new businesses and lodging to the communities it touches.
The UMP, and a sister Historic Preservation Plan, pays particular homage to the railroad’s history, and will salvage infrastructure for historical interpretation.
The line was built in 1892 and became popularly known as the New York Central’s Adirondack Division. It was built by William Seward Webb, a physician-turned-Wall Street executive, and son-in-law of railroad magnate William Vanderbilt. Webb was pressed into service when the president of Wagner Palace Car Co., of which Vanderbilt held controlling interest, was crushed between two of his own cars.
The line operated until freight service ceased in 1972. It was acquired by the state two years later. A 1996 UMP called for the line to become a scenic railway with adjoining recreation where possible, but that plan was never fully realized.
There is still one more public comment phase to go, that being on its legality as it relates to the Adirondack Park’s master plan. Comments will be accepted through April 20, and can be emailed to [email protected]. A copy of the plan is available on the DEC’s website.