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Rails and trails

April 18, 2013
By Tom and Susan Lawson

Teddy Roosevelt, an Adirondack enthusiast, provided this guidance to those questing to achieve great things: "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

There is abundant enthusiasm and emotion on display by the two camps representing rail or trail support in the heart of the Adirondacks. Each has passionate opinions and members who want what is best for our region. We'd like to try and approach this complex issue from a slightly different viewpoint, one which suggests that both sides may have more in common than either may have thought.

We all agree that we live in a unique and beautiful area that offers year-round, world-class outdoor activities for every age and ability.

We also agree that our local economies are in jeopardy and that by better utilizing our natural resources we could build stronger, more vibrant communities that are less reliant on government jobs. We could build hope and options for our children who now have to leave the Adirondack Park to seek a better future. Recent news about jobs should alarm us all: Cutbacks at Adirondack Health, state aid budget woes at the Tupper Lake Central School District and the likelihood that government employment will shrink rather than grow throughout the state are troubling. We must be able to build employment internally - not wait and hope for some state entity to do so.

We also agree that both sides have the talent, perseverance and willpower to tackle difficult problems with positive approaches.

There is no doubt that trail enthusiasts will come in droves to use new trails that link our communities, forests, mountains and waterways. They will enjoy the scenery, especially between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake and through the Bob Marshall Preserve, and they will eat and sleep in our villages and shop in our stores. Rail riders will do the same.

So what if the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society and the Adirondack Recreational Trails Advocates worked together for the common cause of improving the rail line and creating trails along the same corridor? The rail folks seem receptive, and hopefully ARTA would join in.

Are there tough issues to tackle? No doubt. It will be challenging to place trails alongside the entire railway. In some cases alternatives will be expensive, but we contend that the region will be more vibrant with both rails and trails instead of having to choose only one of the two.

Gov. Cuomo created regional economic development councils to produce strategies that would compete for state awards. The North Country Regional Economic Development Council has successfully returned millions of dollars to promote the local economy.

Key Strategy No. 12 in the North Country Regional Economic Development Council 2012 report was to "preserve and rehabilitate all surviving rail infrastructure in the Adirondacks, including the Adirondack Railroad from Remsen to Lake Placid."

Why not embrace that goal and add the creation of adjacent trails? The governor looks to each council to develop creative ideas to unique challenges. What if the rail folks worked with the trail folks to split expenses, share employees and collaborate on grants to promote the best of both ideas? Wouldn't we all be better off? Isn't it at least worth an honest attempt?

Al Dunham, board member of the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, recently made a presentation to the town board of Tupper Lake seeking support for a federal grant administered by the New York State Department of Transportation that asked for $15 million to restore the rail line to Class II status. If ARTA had worked with ARPS, they could have justified a request for $30 million.

We have to face some realities here. Why would New York state agree to pull up the rails in an established transportation corridor listed in the national historic registry? Even if it did, what would prevent the state from returning the proceeds from the sale of the rails (after expenses) back into the state's general fund? Why shouldn't we take an existing asset and improve upon it?

The southern terminal of the rail line is Utica, which also hosts Amtrak services connecting New York, Boston, Chicago, Niagara Falls and Toronto on a daily, year-round basis. Both Amtrak and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad share the same historic terminal that allows "cross-platform" transfer of passengers. As one of the developers of the Adirondack Club and Resort, we are encouraged by the possibility of direct rail service from New York City right into the Adirondack and specifically into the Tri-Lakes. The argument that the Adirondack Scenic Railroad has failed somehow also misses the point that this line is cut off in the middle and has not been given the opportunity to succeed.

It was recently announced that Pullman sleeping car service could become a reality along a refurbished rail line. Conversations with executives from the Iowa-Pacific rail line confirm this.

The train is part of our Adirondack heritage, as is our trail system. Why can't we work together to make both a vital part of our future?

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Tom and Susan Lawson live in Tupper Lake.

 
 

 

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