In reference to Mr. Paul Maroun's interview by Jessica Collier about his side-by-side rail-trail plan, it is quite obvious that Mr. Maroun has made a rash, uneducated proposal in order to generate support and approval for his upcoming bid for mayor of Tupper Lake.
First of all, The Nature Conservancy has purchased the Follensby Pond tract, and as its name implies, its purpose is to conserve nature and to preserve the land in its natural state. The conservancy would never sell its purchases to private developers.
Secondly, Mr. Maroun has not investigated any of the facts that would make a side-by-side rail-trail not a viable option. Sure, many of us would be willing to compromise (yes, that word is in my vocabulary) and have both the train and a rail-trail, but that is an impossible task for this area.
The train bed right now is 8 feet wide, and a rail-trail would mean removing the rails and ties (salvageable for over a million dollars) leaving the trail wide enough for snowmobiles, bicycles, walkers and cross-county skiers. To build a side-by-side trail would mean widening it to 30 feet to allow for a buffer zone between the train and the trail and room for a fence the whole length of the tracks.
As pointed out by Mr. Beamish, the tracks cross Lake Colby on a causeway for quite a distance, and the lake would have to be filled in with an enormous amount of fill to build it up next to the tracks. Past Floodwood Pond, the tracks hug the shore of Rollins Pond on one side and wilderness on the other. Putting a rail-trail on either side of this would never be approved by the APA; nor would it be environmentally sound. There are just too many wetlands and streams that the tracks cross to allow a side-by-side trail.
Mr. Maroun must also consider the enormous cost of building a whole new trail rather than using the one that is already there by removing the rails and ties. I have walked the tracks in several areas through the woods, and there is a staggering number of ties that have rotted out and deteriorated so much that it is a wonder the rails are still usable. These would all have to be replaced to continue the scenic train ride to Tupper Lake and further at an added expense to taxpayers. The argument that a scenic train from Utica to Lake Placid would attract tourists to the Tri-Lakes is just not plausible; Americans do not want to give up the freedom of traveling in their own vehicles while on vacation - a few, maybe, but certainly not enough to make the scenic train profitable.
The politicians and people of Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid must all be educated as to the enormous economic benefits of having a 34-mile recreational trail through these pristine forests from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake. I have traveled to other areas to purposely ride the rail-trails available: Cape Cod rail-trail, Pine Creek rail-trail in Pennsylvania, St. Albans rail-trail in Vermont, the Green Brier River Trail in West Virginia, the C & O canal through West Virginia and Maryland, Gloversville rail-trail and the Erie Canal trail, to name a few. These trails bring thousands of people to ride and spend money on meals, accommodations, snacks and souvenirs. The trails have generated restaurants, snack bars, gifts shops, craft shops, museums and other amenities. One needs only to go to the Rail-to-Trails Conservancy website (railstotrails.org) and read article after article about the economic benefits that towns and cities have enjoyed once a rail-trail was built and to read the astonishing numbers of people who use the rail-trails. We have the added benefit of thousands of campers who come to places like Fish Creek state campground and Rollins Pond state campground with their bicycles who would have direct, easy access to the trail in both directions.
Not only would the trail be used by bikers and walkers, it would clearly enhance the number of snowmobilers in the winter. Right now the only connection for riders in the winter from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid, and to any other snowmobile trails in the area, is by riding on the present railroad tracks. Snowmobilers must wait for 2 feet of snow to cover the rails to even start sledding, and once the spring melt begins, they can't ride if the rails become exposed. Removing the rails and ties would lengthen their season substantially. Snowmobilers do improve the economics of the area; just check out Old Forge any winter day.
We must also consider the health and safety factors of a rail-trail easily accessible not only to tourists but to all local people as well. We are living in an obese society, and here in the Tri-Lakes area there are few safe places to ride a bike without being on the shoulder of a roadway worrying about passing vehicles. Elderly folks, families especially with young children, non-athletes as well as athletes would have the benefit of a safe place to exercise by walking or riding.
Mr. Maroun needs to do his homework and check his facts before making blatant proposals that are impossible to come to fruition. Hopefully, he and others who clearly don't realize the benefits of a recreational trail will become more open-minded and consider the possibilities of building one.
Anyone interested in a recreational trail should go to the Great Adirondack Recreational Trail website (theARTA.org) and sign up free to be a member and to receive updated emails about the progress of the organizational committee.
Beverly Stellges lives in Saranac Inn.