Keep and upgrade the railroad

We need to keep the Adirondack Scenic Railroad! We need to restore service on it between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake!

Having this tourist attraction in our area is so beneficial to our local economy. It would be a travesty to destroy this unique local attraction. We have the one railroad in the central Adirondacks, and to dismantle it would be folly. Tourist dollars are very important to our economy. We have two new, large hotels in the offing, and the railroad will bring them business. Hotel packages with ski vacations would be a positive winter draw for trips from Utica. The very scenic route past Hoel Pond and down through the Floodwood area would be a definite warmer season attraction. Canoes could easily be taken by train to the Hoel Pond, Turtle Pond stop or the Floodwood stop for those wishing a multi-pond trip. We have outfitters in each of the villages as well as at Floodwood. The much-used train from Thendara to Otter Lake already offers canoe transport from the Moose River take out back to Thendara. Our route offers much more in scenery, fishing, canoeing, camping and varied canoe route options. Fall foliage tours would be popular given the multitude of water bodies and forests as well as the fall colors.

The train is a way for older people and those with disabilities to see the scenery and enjoy this mode of travel. The trains even accommodate wheelchairs. People with walkers enjoy the Thendara train as they would this one on the route between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake. The carousel in this town loses business without the train or the rail bike people. We had the only commercial rail bike business in the nation, yet they were driven away. They seasonally employed several people and in their last year attracted 11,000 riders, almost all from outside this area. These customers were out-of-towners who came here specifically to ride the rail bikes. These are rich opportunities for hotel business, including package deals.

The very vocal local group that wants the rails torn up to create a trail between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid consists of a goodly portion of snowmobile people. They want the tracks torn up to provide an extra week or so of travel when snow conditions are low. We have one train, yet several thousand miles of snowmobile trails. I was cross-country skiing one day on the tracks near Mount Arab, over Tupper Lake way, and hearing a distant approaching snowmobile, I got well off the trail and waited. After a bit, a snowmobile came into view. The 30-some-year-old driver stopped by me and in no uncertain terms told me to stay off the tracks and that they were for snow machine use only. I said nothing, and then he roared off.

On at least three occasions there has been criminal vandalism against the train, which has not resulted in any arrests. Once the water tank in the locomotive was filled with water in winter when the train was stored in Lake Placid. This froze and cracked the tank. Now the train spends the winter in Utica. Another time a fire was deliberately set in the woods near the track, apparently with the idea that trains still cause forest fires even though that was the result of coal- or wood-fired locomotives of long ago that had inadequate or no screens on their stacks. Our rail people brought the firefighters in to quench the blaze. Lastly, wires were cut in the locomotive operating system behind apparatus that was put back in place so that the problem would not be immediately discovered. Not much attention was given by the media to these instances of criminal activity.

There is an interesting article in the January-February 2012 issue of the Adirondack Explorer entitled “Village Toots Train’s Horn,” which talks about North Creek merchants saying the train greatly increased their trade. I have spoken with people in other towns who say they have come to Saranac Lake specifically to ride the train. It is a draw to the area and would be an even more impressive draw if we upgrade the rail line further.

Other rail trails were built on abandoned lines, not by destroying working railroads. Those lines have amenities more readily available for users than a wild area has. Our businesses need all the tourism draws available. Build a trail, but don’t destroy a railroad to do it. The train takes wheelchairs and people who are not able to use a trail. Families with children come here to ride the train and ride the carousel, and they support local business. There is rich opportunity for hotel-ski packages with groups coming up from the Utica area. Make the trail, but keep the train.

Theodore D. Mack lives in Saranac Lake.

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