There has been too much ink spilled in defense and promotion of the lunacy that is the proposed recreational trail from Lake Placid to Old Forge (formerly to Tupper Lake). The Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates supporters have created so many "facts" out of thin air that even they can't keep their stories straight.
The initial study by Camoin Associates - commissioned by ADK Action, the forerunner of ARTA - was expected to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion, but it couldn't make a conclusive case for removing the rails in favor of a bike path. So it was shelved, to be replaced by a work of fiction developed by the inherently subjective document compiled by the Rails-to Trails Conservancy. With all its limitations, the Camoin study should be the basis for discussion.
The most significant FACT is that neither study was allowed to factor in the impact of a complete rail connection from Utica to Lake Placid. The rail and highway connections make the completed line a much more attractive option for individual travelers and especially for group tourism. It would also allow the Adirondack Scenic Railroad to carry riders on shorter excursions to communities and attractions along the entire corridor. But ARTA knows that including these figures makes the impact of the railroad significantly higher.
ARTA keeps calling the trail "a world-class attraction." The FACT is, according the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the proposed trail will be too narrow to be considered safe. The train requires only the existing 8-foot track with 1 foot on either side. The trail should be 12 feet wide with 2-foot shoulders. But ARTA knows that the cost and environmental regulations make this too expensive. So they want to sell the public a cheap knock-off of a premium product.
The RTC study sets the midpoint of trail users at 354,000 people a year. We can assume that the months of November and December won't have significant use: no leaves, no snow. April and May would also be pretty quiet: mud and black flies. That means that they expect more than 1,400 people on the trail every day for the remaining eight months of the year, including 109,000 "locals." That's locals from a population of around 20,000. Is anybody buying this?
The cost estimate they use to rebuild the tracks is millions higher than their own study projected. The FACT is the cost isn't addressed by RTC, but the Camoin study puts the cost at approximately $26 million to $27 million (based on their cost per mile, since the study only goes south to Tupper Lake). ASR has just finished an expansion between Carter Station and Big Moose. The same terrain and track conditions exist from Big Moose to Saranac Lake. Based on that project, the ACTUAL cost would put the track rehabilitation at UNDER $20 million.
The FACT is that a careful reading of the Camoin study shows that it would take more than 20 years for the trail to equal the economic impact of the restored rail corridor. It will take years for the advocates of destroying the rails to acquire the necessary permits. And that is if there are no legal challenges. Rail reconstruction can start immediately. Is it any wonder why ARTA doesn't talk about this study?
The ARTA approach has been to distort the facts when possible, ignore them when necessary, and do it over and over and over. Most of us learned early in life that it's just plain wrong to lie.
The future of the Adirondack region depends on bringing people and businesses into the area from outside the Park. Tourism is the largest industry in the North Country. We can't afford to eliminate any of the infrastructure that serves to attract tourists here. The Adirondack Park has literally thousands of miles of hiking, biking and snowmobile trails. People who can participate in these activities and want to experience the natural beauty of our region don't need to wait for a trail to be built. But anyone limited by age, physical ability or even by time will be unable to enjoy the same experience without the rehabilitation of the tracks.
The railroad is proud of its accomplishments but not content to maintain the status quo. The restored tracks will bring people not just to Lake Placid but to communities all along the corridor. It will carry elderly, young and physically challenged travelers into the heart of the most pristine areas of the Adirondack Park. Fisherman, kayakers, canoeists and hikers will be able to experience the thrill of exploring places that are practically inaccessible today.
Historic attractions and train excursions are among the fastest growing segments of the travel industry. Why would anyone who has both of these assets in their backyard want to destroy them? We should be planning how to capitalize on the opportunity to showcase our region to tourists who have a variety of interests.
In today's economy, and undoubtedly tomorrow's as well, the businesses that will thrive are those that can distinguish themselves from the competition. Where else can you board a vintage train at a historic station and travel through a 6-million-acre park to a world-famous Olympic village? The trip in reverse ends just minutes away from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad will continue to play a vital role in the tourism industry of the region. We have thousands of miles of trails but just 141 miles of track. Destroying our past and limiting our future is not in the best interest of our region. It won't help us attract tourists. It won't help us create jobs for our children. It won't help us develop a broad-based economy to sustain us in the years ahead.
Gene Falvo lives in Utica.