Dear Gov. Cuomo:
I am writing in support of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates efforts to establish a multi-use recreational pathway along the Lake Placid-Old Forge railroad corridor.
You recently stated that decisions concerning the status of the corridor should be regionally determined. You also stated, however, that you would defer to the recommendation of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council in this regard. Unfortunately, NCREDC Co-Chair Garry Douglas is a staunch railroad advocate and is adamantly opposed to the conversion of the Lake Placid-Old Forge corridor to a recreational path under any circumstances. He instead is committed to the extension of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, and restoration of freight and passenger service, for which there has been no demand for the past 40 years, as a "key strategy" for economic development, no matter what the cost.
A growing number of Adirondack residents have come to believe that Garry Douglas and the NCREDC do not represent their interests concerning the best future use of the Lake Placid-Old Forge railroad corridor. As a result, the people of this region are now stepping up and speaking out. The towns of North Elba and Piercefield, and the village of Lake Placid, for example, have voted to remove the tracks between Lake Placid and Old Forge. The village of Saranac Lake and the town of Tupper Lake have voted to ask for revision of the corridor's unit management plan. Other town and village governments are expected to follow. And the New York State Snowmobile Association - 58,000-plus members strong - has just approved a resolution calling for the removal of the rails and construction of a trail.
Meanwhile, ARTA has signed up 9,000-plus petitioners in just over a year, many of whom are in the process of writing you in support of a recreational trail. And in a recent Adirondack Daily Enterprise Web poll, 67 percent of the respondents said that the state should "reopen the unit management planning for the Lake Placid-Remsen railroad corridor."
The data in support of a recreational trail is now overwhelming. According to a recent Rails-to-Trails Conservancy study, a recreational trail on just the 34 miles of rail bed linking Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake would attract a quarter-million overnight visitors annually to the Tri-Lakes area, and these visitors would spend an estimated $19.8 million while here. Conversely, the absence of this attraction is costing our region an estimated year-round average of $400,000 per week in lost tourist dollars.
In striking contrast, Garry Douglas' North Country Chamber of Commerce's own study, undertaken by Stone Consulting, says that spending $16 million (Stone's estimate, while the New York State Department of Transportation puts the cost at $43 million) to restore rail service between Old Forge and Lake Placid will bring only 7,000 new overnight visitors to the region annually and $686,000 in new tourist spending. That's a difference in economic impact of 30:1 in favor of a recreational trail. In addition, up to $44 million in further spending by snowmobilers can be shared by communities along the corridor if the obstructing rails are removed between Old Forge and Tupper Lake.
And the price is right. According to the RTC study, there would be NO COST to taxpayers for building a rail trail linking Placid to Tupper. How is that possible? Simple - it's because the salvage value of the rails and ties would more than cover the cost of surfacing the Tri-Lakes section to accommodate road bikes as well as hybrid and mountain bikes.
The handwriting is on the wall. People clearly want a recreation trail, not a tourist train, and our local communities need the economic development that a recreational trail can spur. We understand from your several pronouncements on the subject that you truly believe in the importance of tourism to the North Country economy. This is to respectfully ask that you lend your support to our efforts.
Commissioner Joe Martens, NYSDEC
Commissioner Joan McDonald, NYSDOT