Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates Board member Lee Keet gives a presentation on the 90-mile Great Adirondack Recreation Trail July 23 to the Saranac Lake Village Board.
Members of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA) are asking the Saranac Lake Village Board to support their plans for a 90-mile Great Adirondack Recreation Trail between Old Forge and Lake Placid.
ARTA Board member Lee Keet, of Saranac Lake, gave a presentation to the Village Board Monday, July 23 during its regular meeting at the Harrietstown Town Hall, pitching the benefits of the trail.
“Businesses in the downtown would benefit the most,” Keet said. “Saranac Lake would be one of the principal beneficiaries because we’re right on the nexus between the railroad and the bike path.”
ARTA was formed in 2011 to create a world-class recreation trail — a rail trail — along the railroad corridor between Old Forge and Lake Placid. That would mean tearing up most of the railroad tracks between the two communities, an idea that has drawn stiff opposition from supporters of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad (ASR), which operates tourist train rides in the Old Forge area and the 9 miles between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. ASR also uses the entire length of the rail line in the spring and fall to transport its train to and from the Lake Placid depot.
Furthermore, ARTA’s initial project — implementing a rail trail from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake — is in direct conflict with the Next Stop! Tupper Lake group, which is currently raising funds to rebuild the tracks between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake in hopes of extending the Adirondack Scenic Railroad operations to Tupper Lake, establishing a 34-mile tourist train between that community and Lake Placid.
ARTA Board members concede that the tourist train between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake will continue, as the town of North Elba will soon be building a recreation trail next to the railroad tracks between the two villages. Money has been secured for the construction, and bids are currently being solicited for the first phase of the project between Lake Placid and Ray Brook.
“We can have our cake and eat it, too,” Keet said. “We can have what’s going on, and we can have a whole new thing. Somebody said this is like having Whiteface Mountain in Franklin County. It would be a big draw.”
ARTA stands firm on its commitment to removing the train tracks between Saranac Lake and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad operations in the southern Adirondacks. They say rebuilding the tracks would be too costly, and the economic benefit is much smaller than a rail trail.
“The debate over rails or trails is over,” wrote ARTA Board member Dick Beamish in a July 19 letter to the Saranac Lake Village Board.
Beamish cited three studies that prove ARTA’s points: the Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s study from Stone Consulting; the 2011 Camoin Associates study; and a Rails to Trails Conservancy report.
Stone Consulting said the restoration of the railroad line between Utica and Lake Placid would bring 7,000 more people to the Adirondacks, spending $686,000 annually. The Rails to Trails Conservancy said that a recreation trail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid would bring 244,260 people to the region, spending $19.8 million annually. And that doesn’t include the economic benefit from snowmobiling.
“A rail-trail will dramatically improve both the quality of life for residents and the level of economic activity for our region,” Beamish wrote.
Beamish explained in his letter that repairing the train tracks would be costly: $36 million over 10 years, according to the Stone study; $43 million, according to the DOT; and about $11 million between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, according to the Camoin study. Funds raised by salvaging the rails between Old Forge and Saranac Lake could pay for a smooth-surfaced, year-round trail from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake.
The Camoin study said that rebuilding the rail line between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake would cost $10.6 million, and the annual maintenance would be $45,000. The net new regional spending would be $758,000, and it would create 13 permanent jobs. The same study said that a permanent recreation trail would cost $14.6 million to build with annual maintenance costs of $51,000. And there would be $1.2 million in net new regional spending, creating 20 permanent jobs.
Keet told Village Board members that there are plenty of tourists who would visit Saranac Lake for the Great Adirondack Recreation Trail. As proof, he said 2,000 people signed ARTA’s petition on July 22 during the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon.
“Everybody that comes here comes to the Adirondacks because they want to recreate,” Keet said. “The number one recreation in the United States now is — you’re going to say golf, wrong — it’s hiking. Hiking is more popular than golf.”
Keet said ARTA Board members would like the Saranac Lake Village Board to pass a resolution endorsing the Great Adirondack Recreation Trail.
Trustee Tom Catillaz had one question for Keet.
“Who makes the final call on this?” Catillaz asked.
“(Gov.) Andrew Cuomo,” Keet said.
Mayor Clyde Rabideau said he had two comments regarding a possible resolution on the rail trail.
“Number one, I’d like to hear from the Tupper Lakers,” Rabideau said. “And number two, we will consider your resolution, and we’ll talk about it at our next meeting, and if there’s consensus, we’ll put it on the agenda for the following week.”
For more information about the proposed trail, visit www.thearta.org.