A newly-formed advocacy group hopes to replace an existing railroad with a multi-use recreational trail.
Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates – ARTA for short – hosted a two-hour presentation Tuesday night at the Crown Plaza Resort in Lake Placid.
Representatives of the group told a crowd of about 140 onlookers that it’s time to replace the railway with a year-round multimodal trail – a 34-mile path extending from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake open to snowmobilers, hikers, cyclists and more.
Lee Keet of Saranac Lake led off the session by laying out ARTA’s argument for removing the rails and installing a multi-use trail.
Keet called a scenic railroad operation between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid an “11-year-plus experiment” that has “never been profitable.”
ARTA’s goal, Keet says, is to create a 34-mile recreational trail connecting the Tri-Lakes. The aim is to utilize as much contributed materials and manpower as possible in order to minimize the cost of constructing the path.
A Camoin Associates study released earlier this year showed that a rec path would bring in 20,000 new bicyclists to the region – connector trails to Fish Creek and Rollins Ponds would open the trail to another 200,000 campers annually.
In the winter months, Keet says the snowmobile season would extend by weeks, if not months.
Installing a trail would mean tearing up the railway – something Keet says has run up against a fair amount of opposition.
“The sunk cost of the current Adirondack Scenic Railroad is often cited,” he said. “We put the money in, we’ve got rolling stock, people run it – isn’t that something you don’t want to give away? The answer, you’ll hear, is that we’re throwing good money after bad.”
There was some harsh rhetoric aimed at the tourist train early in the meeting, but for the most part, the conversation focused on the economic and recreational benefits of a multi-use path.
The evening’s special guest was Carl Knoch, manager of trail development for the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy group.
Knoch presented on numerous rail-to-trail projects in Pennsylvania – all of which resulted in an economic boost for their surrounding communities.
“If you build it, they will come – and they will spend money,” he said.
In one instance, Knoch spoke about a trail that generated $3.6 million in new spending annually.
Year-round, Knoch says snowmobilers and bikers spend money on everything from equipment and food to hotel rooms and souvenirs. Many of the trails in Pennsylvania saw new businesses spring up along the path itself.
One of the big discussions generated by Tuesday’s presentation centered on the concept of a side-by-side trail. Just last week, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer announced new funding for a project that would construct a multimodal trail between Lake Placid and Ray Brook.
Lake Placid resident Jeff Erenstone questioned why trail advocates wouldn’t want to move forward with a side-by-side trail, especially considering the approximately $3 million in funding on-hand for such a project.
But ARTA reps say building out a side-by-side project to Tupper Lake would be impossible given the makeup of the rail corridor itself.
As the presentation neared its conclusion, John Hopkinson of Lake Placid speculated that ARTA reps were “preaching to the choir.”
He says advocates should put together a referendum to put to voters during upcoming elections in order to gauge support for a recreational path.
“If one of the issues is how can we convince legislators to make some changes from the status quo, that’s the way to do it,” Hopkinson said. “It needs to be put to a greater constituency in a broader geographic area.”
Lee Keet said his steering committee would look into the referendum idea.
Although most of the room applauded the idea of tearing up the tracks, there were some railroad supporters in attendance.
Peter Gores sits on the board of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. He says the railroad has signed off on a side-by-side plan and supports that action.
Gores also believes that the rail bed and its ties keep the corridor itself intact.
Whatever happens, ARTA will have to move relatively quickly to rally support. North Elba is looking to use its grant funds to begin constructing a side-by-side path.
ARTA handed out cards looking to add to its numbers and hopes to begin ramping up advocacy efforts in the near future.