TUPPER LAKE - Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun has an idea for the Adirondack Scenic Railroad corridor.
Maroun, who will also take over as mayor of Tupper Lake in January, is advocating for the state to use money it planned to use to purchase the Follensby land tract from The Nature Conservancy and invest in building a trail alongside the existing train tracks.
Instead of the state buying the land, he said a private investor should buy it, one who wants to manage the land as the McCormick and Barbour families did for decades.
The state's pending purchase of the land has become a source of political contention since the New York's financial situation took a dive in recent years.
"Most people don't want the state of New York to spend money buying more land," Maroun said.
He said the $15 million to $20 million the state would spend on the land would likely be more than enough to extend a railside trail that's being built from Lake Placid to Ray Brook all the the way to Tupper Lake.
That scenario should satisfy both advocates for rehabilitating the railroad and people who want to see a recreational trail built in the corridor, he said.
"Now we've got everybody happy," Maroun said. "I think it's a win-win for the governor."
He said he's not sure how likely it would be that the state would abandon plans to purchase the Follensby land, but he believes it would be a mistake if the state follows through on that plan.
He said that the state has said it won't take out the tracks, so people should find ways to work with them.
"The state is not taking the tracks out," Maroun said. "They've made a commitment."
Not everyone agrees Maroun's idea is worth considering. Adirondack Explorer magazine founder and rail-removal advocate Dick Beamish went so far as to call the idea nonsensical.
Beamish first disputed the idea of connecting the Follensby purchase with the rail corridor.
"Follensby Pond is one thing; the railroad recreation path is another issue entirely," Beamish said.
The state often has different pots of money for different activities, and it's unlikely, if it had money set aside for Follensby in the Environmental Protection Fund, that it could be transfered to something like a rail-trail project.
Beamish said it doesn't make sense to put more money into the railroad since he said it hasn't had a positive financial impact in the 11 years it's been running between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
He said it's unfortunate that politicians in Tupper Lake, many of whom support the idea of rehabilitating the railroad, don't see the potential for economic development that a trail along a rail-less corridor represents.
"I think it's a really sad commentary that Tupper Lake can't have public officials of more sense and quality, but that's the way it is," he said. "There doesn't seem to be any understanding of what we have here ... that we could capitalize on. They just don't get it, and Maroun is a perfect example of that."
Beamish argued that the idea of building a trail next to the rail would be impossible through parts of the corridor between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.
"It just doesn't work," Beamish said. "It doesn't work topographically. There are wetlands and all kinds of problems.
"There's simply not a remote possibility that you could combine a rail and trail through that area."
One area he noted is the causeway where the tracks pass over the south end of Lake Colby. Beamish said there's no way to widen that to make enough room for a path.
"You'd have to build it out into the lake, and that wouldn't be allowed," Beamish said.
Maroun said there must be a way to figure it out despite topographical issues.
"I don't think, in today's era of great engineering and great ingenuity, that anything's impossible," Maroun said. "I think there's a lot of things you could do to make it work."