To the editor:
What should be a no-brainer - conversion of the rail corridor between Lake Placid and Old Forge into a superb recreational trail - has encountered passionate resistance from a handful of influential railroad buffs. But why, when a trail would greatly benefit the public and a revived railroad would not, are these train hobbyists so influential? Here's why.
Here's my take on this bizarre situation: The North Country Regional Economic Development Council appears to be at the heart of the resistance to the proposed trail. Its co-chair, Garry Douglas, who also heads the North Country Chamber of Commerce, is a railroad enthusiast committed to restoring train service everywhere he can in the Adirondacks, whether or not there is any need for such service, or any demand for it. If Mr. Douglas is successful, this would rule out a recreational trail between Lake Placid and Old Forge. There's simply no room on a single-track rail bed for both uses, despite the endless insistence by the railroad promoters that we should "compromise" and have both a rail and a trail. (Such a compromise is financially and environmentally impossible.)
The main obstacle to replacing the rusty rails and rotten ties with a premiere recreational path seems to be this: The NCREDC now funnels all state grants to the North Country. As a consequence, just about every local government and nonprofit group seeking state funding, including dozens of organizations that are supposedly dedicated to economic development, will not support the recreation trail. Why the seeming contradiction? Because these entities want to stay on the good side of Garry Douglas, since he and his council decide who does and doesn't get the goodies.
Ultimately the trail advocates will prevail because the trail makes sense and rail restoration does not. But it's frustrating to those of us who have been waiting forever for the rail corridor to be properly utilized. The tourist train has had 12 years to prove itself as a tourist attraction. It has tried and failed, at least at this end of the line. The public shouldn't have to wait any longer to realize the multiple benefits from the corridor. The tracks should be removed without further ado; the rail bed can then be converted to a biking, walking, running and greatly improved snowmobile trail, at essentially no cost to taxpayers, thanks to the salvage value of the steel.
The tourist train is an incidental tourist attraction utilized by a few thousand riders each year. Its economic impact is negligible. The 90-mile recreation trail would, on the other hand, be a major tourist destination. According to a recent study by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the Adirondack Rail Trail (as we call it) would attract hundreds of thousands of overnight visitors every year and add $20 million to tourist spending in the Tri-Lakes area.
It's time for our local politicians and "economic development agencies" to get with the program.
Founding member, Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates
President, Lake Placid Snowmobile Club