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Help finish the North Elba rail trail

September 21, 2012
By Chuck Damp

In June 2001, more than 70 individuals representing organizations, agencies, municipalities and themselves met at the Hotel Saranac to discuss developing a recreational pathway within the railroad corridor between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The takeaway was, "Great idea, let's move forward."

In October of that same year, North Elba, with the help of the Adirondack North Country Association, applied for a TEA-21 grant to fund phase 1 of the pathway from Lake Placid to Ray Brook. In September 2002, word was received that our grant request was successful; the town of North Elba was awarded $796,575 with a local match of approximately 29 percent.

From there, things got bogged down in the planning phase, with a lot a blame to go around. At this point I don't think it adds anything to the discussion to rehash what went awry; the bottom line is, the planning got done, albeit not as quickly as we all would have liked.

The town, throughout it all, continued to work toward the goal of the Lake-Placid-to-Saranac-Lake pathway. In 2006, North Elba, with ANCA's help, applied for the phase 2 funding, again in the form of a TEA-21 grant. In 2007, $1,198,619 was awarded to the town for phase 2 with a 20 percent local match.

In December 2007, the state Adirondack Park Agency approved the permit with contingencies for phase 1 of the pathway. As we all know, when you budget things you use the current costs as a basis for projections. Since we had formulated the costs for phase 1 in 2001, by the time we had a permit in 2007, the costs were just not realistic. The town then decided to shelve the plan because, the way the grants work, if we don't complete the project as approved, the funds would have to be returned, and that just wasn't fair to the taxpayer to risk that real potential.

In July 2011, undaunted, the town, again with help from ANCA and Essex County planners, applied for and was awarded a Scenic Byways grant of $1,208,708 with a 20 percent local match.

Recently the town sought requests for qualifications of a number of engineering firms and, after scoring and interviews, decided to negotiate a contract with Creighton Manning from the Albany area to move both phases forward and build the trail. We have received conditional approval to let out the construction stage as a total package. We have to have approved construction plans for phase I by January 2013 (grant requirements) and have already discussed with the interested parties the most efficient way to permit phase 2 so we can bid out the whole project in 2013.

This brings us up to date; now we need to "#*&^ or get off the pot." Anyone who does the math knows we need to match, locally, approximately $875,000; some has been raised to enable us to get where we are today! So we will need an additional $750,000 to build a path. Some of this will be in kind, but the reality is a lot needs to be good old cash. For the first time in 12 years, I think it is safe to say we can have a pathway planned, built and usable within 18 months.

I know there have been passionate arguments on both sides of the ongoing debate, and I am sure that will continue. If you had asked me 12 years ago how long it would take to get a pathway built, I don't think anyone would have guessed 14 years. This just reinforces that things don't happen overnight. Even if Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates is successful in its quest, it will be years before it gets anywhere; we don't have that option. We are at the point now that if we don't move forward within the next year, we will start to lose the funding we have secured. This 20-mile round-trip will keep us competitive with other tourist-based economies, and at the same time, locals will have a viable, car-free recreational trail that can be used for the fun of it or to get back and forth to work.

Please watch for our ramp-up of the fundraising, or if you can't wait, please make checks payable to ANCA Pathway Project, c/o ANCA, 67 Main St., Suite 201, Saranac Lake, NY 12983. By funneling donations through ANCA you are able to take advantage of their tax exempt status.

Thank you all for your continued support; let's get this done.


Chuck Damp lives in Ray Brook and is a former North Elba town councilman.



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