Jim McCulley, president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, argued Aug. 30 at the Crown Plaza in favor of the conversion of the Adirondack railroad line into a 34-mile recreational trail.
A newly formed group that wants to convert the Adirondack Scenic Railroad line into a 34-mile recreational trail met wide support at its organizational meeting Aug. 30 at the Crown Plaza.
The organization’s goal is to remove the rails and ties from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake completely, Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates steering committee member and local business person Lee Keet said.
“We’ve had an 11-year-plus experiment with running a rail train between Placid and Saranac Lake,” Keet said. “It has never been profitable. And it is costing, you, the taxpayers a documented $380,000 a year.”
Keet said there were hidden costs for the Department of Transportation to maintain the railway. For example, a new crossing was recently installed at Route 86 going into Saranac Lake that cost almost $200,000.
Pete Gores, of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, speaking from the audience, said the railway is profitable.
“The railroad has always made money up here,” Gores said. “That it doesn’t make money is absolutely 100 percent wrong.”
Keet said that according to an independent study done by Camoin Associates, the recreational trail would bring to the region more than 20,000 new bicyclists and 20 new permanent jobs, among other benefits.
Lindy Ellis, of Saranac Lake, speaking from the audience, said the trail would be a significant tourist attraction.
“In Minnesota, bike touring is a billion dollar industry, larger than hunting and snowmobiling combined,” Ellis said. “People travel long distances to get to trails that are really exceptional. And I think that this trail would be really exceptional.”
Dick Beamish, founder of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine, and an ARTA steering committee member, offered a backhanded compliment to the operators of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, saying their project was a poor investment.
“Hats off the railroad people,” Beamish said. “To create and run a tourist train for 12 years, when it attracts few riders, depends on government support and does little or nothing to benefit the local economy — this requires extraordinary persistence, dedication and skill.”
The town of North Elba has received a federal grant for $1.2 million, which, added to earlier grants and available funding, amounts to $3.3 million, Beamish said. This money should be allocated to create the recreational trail connecting the Tri-Lakes.
“In addition to this, another $600,000 (is) to be gained from salvaging the rails and tied,” Beamish said. “So that adds up to $3.9 million and that would cover most, if not all, of the cost of a recreational trail from Placid to Tupper.”
Diane Miller, of Saranac Lake, speaking from the audience, said the recreational trail might have to find other sources of funding.
“It seems like being in America in today is finding another way; the funds aren’t there for anything,” Miller said. “I think part of it is....using our own manpower.”
Jim McCulley, president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, and a member of ARTA’s steering committee, said snowmobilers couldn’t ride on railroad tracks for a number of reasons.
“For snowmobiling to be possible on the rail bed during the winter time, we need two feet of snow minimum,” McCulley said. “That snow has to be of a proper consistency.”
Riding on the rails outside of these conditions causes damage to one’s machine. Removing the tracks would allow for more winter riding days for snowmobilers, McCulley said.
John Hopkinson, of Lake Placid, speaking from the audience, said putting the conversion to a vote would help convince elected officials to change the status quo.
“I think around this room we’re kind of somewhat preaching to the choir,” Hopkinson said. “What I would like to suggest is that someone put together a well-constructed, non-binding referendum that goes onto the local elections.”
Carl Knoch, an invited speaker at the event, the northeast trails director for the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, provided case studies of conversions in Pennsylvania similar to the one advocated for by ARTA.
“If you build it, they will come and they will spend money,” Knoch said, summarizing his research.