More rail-rail hearings this month:
Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 6 p.m. at the Lake Placid Conference Center, 2608 Main Street, Lake Placid
Thursday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. at the View Arts Center, 3256 Route 28, Old Forge
Thursday, Dec. 19, 6 p.m. at the Utica State Office Building, 1st Floor Room A/B, 207 Genesee St., Utica
By TIM ROWLAND
Bicycle and snowmobile interests spoke up at the first of four public hearings over a state proposal to breathe new life into a languishing, 119-rail corridor running from Remsen to Lake Placid. And their message to the Department of Environmental Conservation was: more trail, less rail.
Most in attendance favored the overall concept, but felt that more of the corridor should be used for recreation, and not as much for a scenic railroad. Only one person spoke definitively for the railroad, joking that he probably was making a target of himself. Rail buffs, however, will have more chances to make themselves heard at three future meetings.
The hearing, which drew more than 50 people, was held in the auditorium of Tupper Lake Middle High School. Other meetings were scheduled for Lake Placid and Old Forge, and now a fourth has been added at Utica.
But it’s Tupper Lake that arguably has the most to gain from the $44 million project, because it’s the nexus of two distinct uses for the 125-year-old rail line, which served as the Adirondack division of the New York Central.
Southwest of Tupper, the rails will be refurbished, providing for one of the longest scenic railroads in the country. To the east, the track will be pulled up to allow for the development of a multi-use trail for bicycles, hikers, snowshoers, cross-country skiers and snowmobiles.
The state, along with many Tupper Lake residents, believes that both the scenic railroad and the rail-trail can be world-class tourist draws. They will meet in Tupper Lake, at a spot aptly known as The Junction, where an industrial spur once joined the mainline.
“This is a great project, (and) it’s a win-win for all of us in Tupper Lake,” said Town Supervisor Patricia Littlefield. “It’s a win for trains, bikers, snowmobilers — everyone benefits. The Junction is going to be rocking and rolling like it was” in the old days.
The plan is being sold as a compromise between railroad enthusiasts and recreational advocates who would have liked to see the corridor used exclusively for trains or as a rail trail.
“It’s a well-rounded compromise,” said Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun.“Not everyone is happy, but this is the best plan we can put together.”
Tupper Lake — its ski center closed and plans for a resort foundering — has not shared economically in terms of the Adirondack tourist trade, as have the villages like Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Old Forge. The rail and recreation project has the potential to change that. When completed, Maroun said, he believes it will also help lure vacationers from the heavily used Keene Valley. “We’re going to be able to take some of that off their hands,” he said.
More than 15 people spoke at the hearing, and while they mostly supported the concept, there were some complaints.
Some came from snowmobilers who urged the state to pull up another 45 miles of track south to Big Moose. That would allow riders from popular snowmobiling hubs in the southern Adirondacks to reach Tupper Lake and beyond.
“There are 14,000 registered snowmobiles in Old Forge, and they’re blocked from coming to your stores,” said Craig Harris, Trails and Mapping Coordinator for the St. Lawrence County Snowmobile Association.
While the state is saying the entire corridor will be open to snowmobiles, Harris said riders are leery of riding on train tracks because it’s easy to catch a runner on a rail, damaging or flipping their sleds.
Bicyclists, meanwhile, took issue with state plans to refurbish the rails first, in 2020, while the rail-trail would not be completed until 2023.
“We should be building the trail first, not the rail,” said Hope Frenette, who also advocated removing the rails to Big Moose. “This community blossoms in the snow,” she said. “We don’t need the tracks and we don’t need the train. We need (sports) that will help the winter economy.”
Public comment on the plan is open through Jan. 8. Comments may be provided at any of the public meetings; mailed to John Schmid, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY, 12233-4254; or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.