SARANAC LAKE - Supporters of rebuilding the railroad tracks and restoring rail service between here and Tupper Lake made their pitch to the village Board of Trustees Monday night.
Dan McClelland and Dan Mecklenburg of Next Stop Tupper Lake talked about their group's grassroots effort to rebuild Tupper Lake's train station using $400,000 in donated money. Once the new station was completed last year, McClelland said the group turned its attention to restoring train service between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake, and putting a recreational trail alongside the tracks.
"Rebuilding the tracks of the Adirondack railroad corridor and widening it to accommodate other recreational uses is the right catalyst for the North Country, and I think it's the right thing to do," McClelland said.
As gas prices continue to rise, McClelland said more people may consider taking the train to get to the Adirondacks. He also said using the rail line for freight service could be an affordable option for industry.
"Someday soon, skiers may get on the train like they used to years ago and come up to the Tri-Lakes to ski in the wintertime," McClelland said. "In the summers, you could bring your canoe or bike, and jump off at one of the places along the line and have your vacation there."
A couple months ago, McClelland said he and Mecklenburg took a trip on the tracks using a high-railer, a pickup truck outfitted to ride the rails, to scout out the prospects of a recreational trail next to the tracks.
"We went from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake, and there seems to be a lot of opportunity for a trail system along there," McClelland said. "Between Saranac Lake and Lake Clear would be a little more difficult, but between Lake Clear and Tupper there's lots of good sandy areas out there. And using adjoining trails, we might be able to avert some of the wetland areas that would pose a challenge for a rail-and-trail corridor."
McClelland and Mecklenburg's appearance before the village board comes roughly a month-and-a-half after representatives of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates pitched their plan for removing the railroad tracks between Saranac Lake and Old Forge and converting the corridor to a multi-use recreational trail. Trustees later said they didn't have enough information to take a stand for or against that proposal.
"I know you've heard from the ARTA folks," McClelland said. "I like a recreational trail; I just don't think we have to have it at the expense of the railroad. So I ask you, why can't we have both? If we get the train riders and we get the people walking up and down the recreational trail or riding it with their bikes, I think it'd be a good combination. Our opponents say it's expensive, but what isn't expensive?"
Mecklenburg said the group has so far raised $7,000 to replace railroad ties along the first 5 miles from Tupper Lake toward Saranac Lake, although he said donations tailed off when ARTA started pushing for removing the rails last year. People don't want to donate if there's a chance the tracks could be removed, he said.
McClelland invited the Saranac Lake board to visit the Tupper Lake train station. He also asked them to consider endorsing an Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages resolution supporting rail preservation in the Park.
Mayor Clyde Rabideau asked how many people could ride in the high-railer car, if the five-member board wanted to ride the rails.
McClelland said up to seven people could fit, but a couple may have to ride in the truck's bed.
"It might be a nice trip for us to take," Rabideau said. "See if you can arrange the trip, and we'll go. I've never traveled the whole length of it, and I'd like to do that."
"I'll see what I can do," McClelland said.
Village officials said last month that they plan to host a meeting to find common ground in the ongoing battle over the future use of the railroad corridor.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.