SARANAC LAKE - Proponents of building a year-round, multi-use recreational trail between Lake Placid and Old Forge made their pitch to the village Board of Trustees Monday night.
Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates asked the board to consider passing a resolution supporting the proposed trail.
Board members asked a few questions but took no action Monday night. Mayor Clyde Rabideau said the proposal will be discussed at the board's next meeting.
In a 15-minute presentation, ARTA's Lee Keet, of Saranac Lake, said the Adirondack Recreational Trail "will become one of the great destination bike paths in the United States" and would be used for biking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and other recreational pursuits.
From Lake Placid to Saranac Lake, the trail would run along the railroad tracks currently used in summer and fall by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad's tourist trains. The town of North Elba is moving forward with plans to build that parallel trail using $3.2 million in federal grants.
From Saranac Lake to Old Forge, ARTA wants to remove the railroad tracks and ties, and put the trail on the railroad bed. Citing figures from a recently released Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Study, underwritten by ARTA, Keet said the 34-mile stretch from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake "could be had for free" by selling the rails as scrap steel, with enough money left over to start surfacing the trail south from Tupper Lake.
The same study found the full length of the trail would draw 244,000 out-of-town visitors who would generate $19.8 million a year in spending.
"That's just summer visitors," Keet said. "That does not include the benefits of snowmobile use, which would increase if the rails were removed. The economic benefits associated with building this thing are tremendous."
Keet contrasted the numbers with those from a Stone Consulting Group report, funded by groups that support enhanced railroad service in the region with a trail alongside it, which found extending tourist train service all the way from Lake Placid to Utica would add 7,000 new visitors and create $686,000 in economic impact.
Restoring rail service will cost between $323,000 and $478,000 a mile, based on the various studies.
"That's $29 million to $43 million that no one has," Keet said. "The state's broke. No private money is going to come in to put that back, and there's no real demand for passenger or freight service from Utica to Lake Placid anymore."
Keet said the recreational trail plan would preserve the routes used by the existing tourist trains and provide "a whole new thing that would be a big draw.
"There's a train from Utica to Thendara which people like; that keeps running. This train (Lake Placid to Saranac Lake) keeps running," he said. "We just take back the 81 miles, pick up the rails, scrap them, salvage them and resurface it. We get the visitors. We get the benefit."
"We'd love to have the village of Saranac Lake endorse this," Keet added. "We're going village to village, town to town along the corridor, and we're asking the same thing and making the same pitch."
Rabideau said he's divided the concept into three components. The plan for the parallel trail from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake is already moving ahead; however, he said he's concerned about taking out the railroad tracks from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake "because the Tupper Lakers have put a lot of their resources into the concept of rail." As for the section from Tupper Lake to Old Forge, Rabideau said he "could probably be convinced easily to convert that."
ARTA steering committee member Joe Mercurio, of Saranac Lake, said Tupper Lake's plans for potential railroad service, including the community's restored train depot, could be adapted to fit with the trail plan.
"That depot could easily be converted to something marvelous," he said. "A museum, a cafe, bicycle shops. It's there, and it could be put to wonderful use. I don't see it as a betrayal of that volunteerism on the part of Tupper Lakers."
"I'd like to hear from Tupper Lakers," Rabideau said. "We will consider your resolution and talk about it at our next meeting, and if there's consensus, we'll put it on the agenda for the following meeting."