(Editor's note: This was sent to the state Department of Transportation as a comment on a possible review of the unit management plan for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.)
I strongly support the maintenance of the rail system in the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor. The sudden and aggressive nature of the rails-to-trails folks has all the hallmarks of a fad, while an existing rail system is an expression of hope for the future and respect for the past. Throughout history, transportation networks have often been the proximal cause of a better standard of living; there is no question that advanced countries all over the world, from Germany to China, are rediscovering the value of rail transportation.
My specific reasons for favoring rails and opposing their destruction follow:
There is no existing model for the Remsen-Placid corridor as a bike path. It goes through a wilderness in which no amenities can ever be placed.
The train can provide a means for bicyclists and canoeists to travel to interior parts of the Park.
The cost of tearing up the rails is not comparable to any existing project. An environmental impact statement would have to be done; the cost of disposing of the ties would just about equal the value of the iron in the rails; the trail would have to be widened along trestles and boglands; the cost of construction 30 miles inside a wilderness area has not been calculated. Hence, a reasonable estimate for the construction of a bike path is certainly higher than has been so far announced.
The existing rails-to-trails entity, the Bloomingdale Bog Trail (from Saranac Lake to Loon Lake via Onchiota) gets no use from bicyclists. Indeed, as ARTA itself has admitted, "It gets no maintenance because there is no call for it." How much more likely is it that we should see routine maintenance along a 90-mile trail when the one that already exists in the area is not used except by snowmobiles?
Should a bicyclist get halfway into the wilderness, then camp and neglect to put out a campfire, the resulting fire in the center of the Adirondack wilderness would be devastating.
The railroad goes directly through some of the most isolated wilderness left in the state of New York. Whether snowmobilers or bicyclists, it is certain that there will be many, many new unofficial trails created simply by repeatedly entering at a given point.
Such a long corridor would require significant law enforcement resources, which currently are not situated nor equipped for such an environment.
It would mean a victory for short-sightedness and a permanent defeat for the American commitment to the importance of transportation networks.
Further, much work has already been done both by your agency in rebuilding rail crossings and by volunteers who rebuilt train stations such as the one in Tupper Lake. Eliminating the tracks and the hope of ever having rail transportation would mean believing in the meanest propaganda: the claim by the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates that the bike trail would see hundreds of thousands of tourists flocking to it. If such a claim were to have been tested this year, May, June and July might have been somewhat too soggy for such numbers. August and September, then, were the months for the greatest use of a bike trail, and that would mean thousands of bicyclists every day, which is unlikely in the extreme.
Finally, I believe that the rails-to-trails effort led by ARTA is a bait-and-switch operation. They are selling this conversion as promoting a healthy form of recreation. Actually, it will primarily benefit snowmobilers, who now will be zooming throughout the center of the Adirondack wilderness, trampling young saplings and crashing through icy ponds. Our last quiet spaces will cease to be.
I sincerely hope your department rejects the current effort to eliminate the rails in the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.
Emmett Hoops lives in Saranac Lake.