Things you would never know
It’s been another interesting few months in the Tri-Lakes. The Department of Environmental Conservation released its draft plan for the rail trail, loudly proclaiming “That decision has been made.” If you only listen to DEC and Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, there are things you would never know.
You’d never know the decision in the lawsuit is still pending and could still derail the trail. (Pun intended.) Without the lawsuit, you’d never know DEC still lacks acceptable plans for historic preservation, still has unresolved land title questions, or that they may be even bigger than DEC’s blanket denial can cover.
You’d never know there’ll still be trains in the Tri-Lakes if the trail survives the legal challenge — if only to Tupper Lake. The state plan calls for upgrading the tracks to let passenger trains run all the way from Utica. You’d never know the track work can be completed years before the trail.
You’d never know it from the draft trail plan, but some people will want to take the train to the trail, and vice versa. You’d never know there are things missing that would make both better (if not as good as rails with trails). But then, you might not know DEC excluded anyone with rail expertise from the trail planning group.
You’d never know one of the first things the stakeholders did behind closed doors was to adopt ARTA’s trail plans as their starting point. But then, if you hadn’t seen the Environmental Impact Studies during the review, you’d never know how much of them already read like cut-and-paste direct from ARTA.
You’d never know, from looking at a map, corridor history or the economics, why DEC let the Tri-Lakes secede from the rest of the line, The other communities on the corridor and all the taxpayers of New York have a stake, too. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad collected tens of thousands of signed cards in support of the rails.* Assemblyman Brindisi has hundreds of signatures on petitions. DEC response? Comments were reviewed but not tallied for or against. You get to comment — but not vote.
If you hadn’t read the EIS, you’d never know concerns about trespass, littering, noise, vandalism, search and rescue, etc., were resolved by DEC basically saying, “We don’t think it will be a problem.” You’d never know the EIS admitted economics didn’t justify replacing the rails with a trail — until they added quality of life factors. (Whose life and what quality was never spelled out.)
You’d never know DEC’s trail plans are … optimistic, to put it kindly. DEC has yet to get a waiver on refunding $2.3 million back to the Federal Highway Administration if the tracks are removed. DEC is planning to put a 15-foot wide trail through places barely 8 feet wide now — but doesn’t think that will affect wetlands. ASR people know the roadbed needs active maintenance to keep from washing away; DEC doesn’t seem to have budgeted for that. The trail plans also don’t account for what towns will have to spend on their own to support the trail.
You’d never know there’s no mention of climate change anywhere in this process. Not once. Trains run in all kinds of weather; turning the tracks into a trail will make the Tri-Lakes economy even more vulnerable to uncooperative weather than it already is. You’d never know DEC or ARTA had any environmental concerns since they seem determined to promote car-centric development.
Without looking, you’d never know the 1996 plan listed all the people who worked on it — or that Alternative 7 doesn’t. You’d never know DEC was charged in 1996 to develop trails around the rails — and didn’t. You’d never know they are still supposed to do it under the new plan.
You’d never know the Trails with Rails Action Committee developed a full set of rail-with-trail plans for the Tri-Lakes with DEC cooperation — summarily rejected by DEC higher-ups. You’d never know the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s 2013 study** looking at 88 trails in 33 states concluded, “rails with trails are safe, common, and increasing in number.” It’s standard practice in the rest of the world.
You’d never know the trails ARTA calls successes were only built long after rail service ended, or how many are near big cities and major highways. You’d never know many of the trail user counts are just local people — and not “wallets on wheels” (ARTA-speak for visitors).
You’d never know the Adirondack Scenic Railroad has hosted thousands of riders just in the Tri-Lakes. You’d never know heritage tourism draws people year after year. (Kiosks are no substitute for living history.) You’d never know of all the other services the ASR could offer with passenger service on the entire line.
You’d never know riding with the Rail Explorers is nothing like riding a bike — or how many people come back with their friends to do it again. You’d never know the effort they put into giving everyone a fun and safe trip. You’d never know they drew almost 40,000 visitors to Saranac Lake in just two years, while paying good money for the use of the rails and the station.
If you’re a governor spending millions turning a defunct theme park into another Adirondack “Gateway” while inviting people to come to Lake Placid for the summer, you probably don’t know the Adirondacks already have an awesome gateway in Utica — or that it’s a pipeline that could bring people directly to Lake Placid by trainloads.
Never ridden the train up from Utica? You’d never know how many people do it instead of driving, how many are repeat riders, or how varied they are. Young people. Seniors. Families with children. People looking for a unique experience. People with disabilities. People who have no other way to experience the Adirondacks.
DEC claims, “That decision has been made” — but with so much calculated ignorance at work, you’d never know how bad a decision it truly is.
Save the rails!
Larry Roth lives in Ravena.
* 70,000 cards to date, according to the most recent estimate by Bill Branson, ASR