Last month, Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates had a sign-up booth at the Adirondack Sports & Fitness Expo in Saratoga. As I was soliciting names for our petition to Gov. Cuomo (we have more than 11,000 now!) I was struck with the similarity of comments from people who stopped by.
When discussing the best use of the rail corridor between Lake Placid and Old Forge, most train supporters gave an emotional reason for preferring that option. Some nostalgically recalled romantic train rides of their past. Others expressed their desire to ride high-speed trains "like they have over in Europe." Others claimed that high gas prices and freight transportation would ultimately require that we reinstate the 122-mile railroad between Remsen and Lake Placid. Very few of the comments were based on the reality of life in the Adirondacks.
Research shows that gas prices, freight transportation, having a train AND trail together side by side, and instituting high-speed travel do not hold up as reasons for reinstating the train. These are pipe dreams, pure and simple. They are non-issues due to the unpredictability of gas prices, the lack of industry in the Adirondacks and the presence of environmental regulations that would never allow a side-by-side trail. And the idea of having high-speed rail connecting Utica and Lake Placid when we don't have high-speed rail between New York, Albany and Buffalo is perhaps the most unrealistic dream of all.
What is not so easy to dismiss is the emotional appeal for some folks of riding the train through the Adirondacks strictly for enjoyment. Should the 90-mile train from Old Forge to Lake Placid come to fruition, these people would have themselves a massive Adirondack amusement ride instead of the world-class Adirondack Rail Trail envisioned by ARTA and its thousands of supporters.
Before construction on the Great Adirondack Amusement Ride could begin, there are many questions that need to be asked. To name a few: How many people would take this amusement ride? Would they repeat the experience or do it only once? Are they willing to spend three hours going in one direction or six hours round-trip? What would the ticket price be, and would people with large families be able to afford it? Will this ride create economic opportunities in our communities? Would the installation of the Great Adirondack Amusement Ride preclude alternate opportunities such as a multi-purpose trail and a vastly improved corridor for snowmobiling? Who will pay for the construction, installation and upkeep of this amusement ride?
There are recent studies that help to answer these questions. We can also look at the history books to see if such ventures have succeeded in the past and continue to succeed.
The most important questions remain: Will the public be willing to spend many millions of tax dollars to create and maintain an amusement ride that will be patronized by a relatively small number of tourists? Will these riders repeat this experience often enough, and will enough new riders be found, to keep it solvent over the years to come? Or will the Great Adirondack Amusement Ride join Frontier Town and the Land of Makebelieve in their nostalgic graveyards?
It appears there are two choices: Spend millions of taxpayer dollars to build a limited-season, slow-moving amusement ride that may only be used by a few, or reap a multitude of economic benefits from a year-round, multi-purpose trail that will be enjoyed by many.
Seems like an easy decision to me.
Maureen Peroza lives in Tupper Lake and is an ARTA board member.