For many months, a coalition of Lake Placid-based business people, biking and hiking enthusiasts, preservationists and snowmobilers have been campaigning to tear up the tracks of the Adirondack Railroad. With the tracks gone, the ballast or railroad corridor would be used to build a new multi-purpose trail, under their plan.
The group has organized under the handle of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, and it's held several public meetings in the region, including one in Tupper Lake at the Wild Center in late fall.
Hardly a week has passed without at least one member of the ARTA team writing a letter to the editor in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, explaining what they say are the merits of tearing up the tracks in favor of a recreational trail. The names change, but the tired points are always the same.
In some instances, ARTA members have taken some liberties with the truth to strengthen their arguments and perhaps to draw support.
ARTA leaders, for example, have contended the Adirondack Scenic Railroad operation between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake runs in the red each year and costs taxpayers money. The truth is the operation is profitable and ridership is up. Adirondack Scenic Railroad Manager Pete Snyder has said that many times in the local press in recent months.
The not-for-profit Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society, which leases the 118-mile stretch of tracks between Remsen and Lake Placid from the state Department of Transportation, maintains the tracks and the entire corridor - so the state doesn't have to. It ultimately saves taxpayers money.
Tupper Lake's Next Stop! Tupper Lake organization this fall launched a new track restoration campaign dubbed "On Track to Saranac: Rail and Trail." The plan is to first raise money to buy new ties to fix the tracks so the train can return to Tupper Lake and then, when that's done, to focus on the widening of the railroad corridor so that recreational vehicles and pedestrians can also be accommodated. Trains hauling dump cars with gravel and stone and other cars with heavy equipment could be used to accomplish the ballast widening.
Perhaps the rail restoration and the new trail can happen simultaneously?
ARTA members say we can't have both. We ask, why not?
This fall, one of the ARTA leaders - preservationist Dick Beamish - stopped by our office and told us that the concept of building a new recreational trail alongside a restored Adirondack Railroad between here and Saranac Lake was impractical, given the state's troubled economy. He said tearing up the tracks is the only feasible way to go.
We asked him why Adirondack residents always have to settle for less. Railroad lines and recreational trails exist in tandem on common corridors all over the country.
ARTA followers have been duped into believing that somehow the DOT and state leaders will agree to allow bids to have the tracks removed and that the money from the sale of the iron will somehow be put into trail construction. That's never going to happen as long as there are people interested in operating the railroad.
Top DOT officials made it very clear last year that the tracks of the Adirondack Railroad will not be torn up.
Snowmobilers, in particular, should be wary of any plan to remove the railroad tracks. If that is done, the land on which the tracks sit will no longer be a state-sanctioned travel corridor. That would prompt the Adirondack Park Agency to reclassify the corridor. We've been told that by APA officials.
What some of the former railroad lands will become is anyone's guess. But you can be certain, however, there will be a lot of pressure by preservationist groups to reclassify sections of the railroad line south of here as Forest Preserve, where no motorized vehicles are permitted. Those pieces of the corridor south of Horseshoe which abut the proposed Bob Marshall Wilderness area, dubbed "the Bob," will be particularly susceptible to a severe and restrictive reclassification. With that done, there would no longer be an intact motorized vehicle corridor between here and Remsen, and that would leave snowmobilers trying to run the corridor to visit our community out in the cold. Consequently, our town would lose their potential business.
Americans today know the mistakes this country made when it permitted state and federal agencies and railroad companies to remove railroads during the decades of the last century. European countries, by contrast, didn't fall into that folly, and have profitable and functional railroads connecting towns, cities and nations as a consequence.
Next Stop! Tupper Lake officials are currently working with the state DOT and with ARPS leaders to raise enough money to replace ties and restore the line between here and Saranac Lake so that the current railroad operation can be extended to Tupper Lake. Next Stop! Tupper Lake leaders also want to see a recreational trail built alongside the tracks. They want it all! Our region deserves it.
Both projects will brings thousands of new visitors here each year - either under their own steam on foot or by bike or by riding a snowmobile, or from the comfort of a railroad car.
With hard work and industrious fundraising, both the restored rail and the new trail can happen! ARTA needs to abandon its singularly focused plan and join with Next Stop! Tupper Lake in working toward the best answer for the Tri-Lakes: a "rail and trail" on the Adirondack Railroad corridor.
Dan McClelland lives in Tupper Lake and is chairman of Next Stop! Tupper Lake. This article originally appeared as an editorial in this week's Tupper Lake Free Press; Mr. McClelland is owner, publisher and editor of the newspaper.