TUPPER LAKE - The current Adirondack Scenic Railway operations have a $3 million economic impact on the region in direct spending, and could bring $5.5 million in tourist spending annually if the railroad is rehabilitated from Utica to Lake Placid.
That's according to a study on the railroad's current and future economic impact, released Friday afternoon.
The study was unveiled as the train stopped at Tupper Lake's train depot on its way to Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, where it will spend the summer. Rail groups again invited Tupper Lakers to come walk through the train, drawing many excited children and more than a few rail enthusiasts, while munching on free hot dogs in the warm afternoon sun.
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas presents a study on the train’s economic impact at an event at Tupper Lake’s train depot as the train stopped Friday afternoon on its yearly trip through town.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
The study was presented in a press conference with several people who are working to rehabilitate the train tracks between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake, as well a build a railside trail the whole way from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid: North Country Chamber of Commerce head Garry Douglas joined Adirondack North Country Association Executive Director Kate Fish, Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun, town Supervisor Roger Amell and Dan McClelland, Next Stop Tupper Lake chairman and editor and publisher of the Tupper Lake Free Press. Several other members of the Next Stop Tupper Lake board attended as well.
Douglas introduced some of the study's findings. He said there's an additional estimated $20 million to $30 million that could be spent locally to rehabilitate the tracks. He said that cost has been listed as a negative before, but he said it's a positive.
The study found that there are many former rail corridors in the area where the tracks have already been removed.
"Trail advocates should take a look at some of these to develop," Douglas said.
He said a train could help transport people from one trail to another with equipment like camping gear, bikes and kayaks, giving more people access to remote trails.
He said there are so few modes of transportation in the area already, the Adirondacks shouldn't be looking to get rid of any of them.
"One of the single greatest impediments to prosperity in the Adirondacks is isolation," Douglas said.
Douglas noted that every representative and agency that has authority over the rail line has supported rehabilitating the rails.
"There's no debate, there's no disagreement about the future of this line," Douglas said. "It's happening. It's moving forward."
He also talked about a meeting he had with Adirondack Club and Resort developers Michael Foxman and Tom Lawson. When he met with them, they told him that the best way to help the resort become a reality and to prosper is to help morph Tupper Lake into a more attractive community.
One of the ways to do that was to create more tourist attractions, and to create interesting and fun ways to get in and out of town, Douglas said.
"This is an implementation project for the Adirondack Club and Resort," Douglas said. "This will help with success of the club and resort project."
The study was performed by Stone Consulting Inc., a nationally recognized rail consulting firm based in Warren, Pa. Douglas said that his group "did it right," not giving Stone Consulting any restrictions. He contrasted that to the recent Camoin study commissioned by AdkAction.org, which asked only to look at three options for the corridor, discounting the possibility of a side-by-side rail and trail.
"It's not either/or, so that was always a false assumption," Douglas said.
He said they gave the consultants free reign in order to get an objective evaluation of the potential economic impacts of the railroad.
Douglas said his group asked Stone Consulting to be conservative in their numbers, so the economic impact estimates the company came up with can be a base line. If local groups put more into the railroad, there could be more benefit, he said.
McClelland said he wants the Lake Placid tourists carrying shopping bags to start spending their money in Tupper Lake's business district.
"It can happen soon," McClelland said. "The train is the way it's going to happen."
The report was sponsored by the North Country Chamber of Commerce, the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Oneida County Visitors Bureau. It was endorsed by the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Adirondack North Country Association.
Next Stop Tupper Lake is now raising money to replace the rail ties in the first 5 miles of track from Tupper Lake toward Saranac Lake. McClelland said they have raised about $8,000 toward the effort so far.