LAKE PLACID - Members of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates said they're done attacking the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.
Since the group formed about two years ago, supporters have spent a lot of time arguing that the railroad is not a worthwhile use of the travel corridor from Remsen to Lake Placid. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad runs trains between Utica and Thendara and between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, and has had plans to connect those two legs since the early 1990s.
ARTA members want to see the train tracks ripped up and replaced with a recreational trail. They see the recent decision by the state to re-examine the unit management plan governing the corridor as a big step toward that happening.
Tupper Lake town Councilwoman Patti Littlefield shakes hands with Jim Rolf, the newest member of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates Board of Directors and trail coordinator for the New York State Snowmobile Association, at a celebration Friday evening thrown by the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates at Lake Placid’s Heaven Hill Farm. ARTA board member Hope Frenette, left, watches.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
"We think we've won that argument, and we just have to put it on paper, and that's what we're doing," Lee Keet, an ARTA board member, said during remarks at a celebration of the UMP's reopening Friday evening at Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid.
"Enough's enough," board Chairman Joe Mercurio told the Enterprise after the presentations were done and the party was underway. "We've reached the point where both sides can be heard. Let's let the chips fall where they may."
Keet said the group's plan now is to develop a full trail map, including access points and amenities, as if it were already built, and to create a book to give to the group that will review the UMP.
The group is also working on getting businesses to endorse the plan. After about five days, they had about 100 businesses signed on, Keet said.
He said the ARTA's current long-term goal is to create a trail between Lake Placid and Piercefield with a hard, bikeable surface, and beyond that a trail that can at least be traversed by mountain bikes. The group also wants the corridor cleared for snowmobilers in the winter, he said.
ARTA members also want signage along the corridor that educates users about the history of the railroad. They also want someone to manage the corridor, but if another group doesn't step up to the plate, ARTA board members recently voted in favor of being the managing entity.
"We're willing to take responsibility for it," Keet said.
Looking forward, Keet said the group will ask its members for donations and to contact their representatives. Handwritten letters or calls are preferable, because emails often don't get as much consideration, he said. The group also wants members to keep talking up the effort with friends and neighbors.
Report from Pennsylvania
The ARTA invited Jeff Weaver to speak at the celebration. Weaver is planning director for Pennsylvania's Tioga County at the north end of the Pine Creek Rail Trail, which trail advocates often cite as a good example of what the Remsen-to-Lake-Placid travel corridor could become.
In his presentation, Weaver said the 65-mile-long trail gets an estimated 140,000 to 150,000 users a year. The national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy recently wanted to induct the trail into its hall of fame, but Weaver said the advisory committee that governs it voted not to accept the honor.
There's about a 35-mile stretch of the trail that runs through a long, narrow valley, and it can't support more visitors, Weaver said.
"It's already at capacity," he said.
Weaver said his trail was also controversial when it was in the planning stages, too, but for different reasons. The railroad that used to own the corridor abandoned it, and property owners took some convincing that a trail was a good use for the space, he said.
He said a variety of businesses have grown up around the trail, including bike and backpacking stores, and hotels and restaurants have prospered as well. Because the trail opens up access to fishing spots, fishing shops have also benefited, he said, and a few outfitters run shuttles along the corridor.
Weaver estimated that the trail generates about $7 million a year for communities along the trail.
Jeff Murray, a guide who used to live in Pennsylvania but now lives in Lake Placid, told the Enterprise after Weaver's presentation that he did the Pine Creek trail before the railroad that used to operate on it abandoned the corridor and the trail was built. He said at the time, there was nothing of note along the corridor.
"The communities were dead," Murray said.
Murray said it sounds like the trail helped businesses grow that were never there before.
Mercurio said the party was planned to celebrate the UMP opening, but also to update supporters on the progress the group has made and to continue the momentum as it heads into the UMP review.
He said he was pleased with the turnout for the celebration, held under sunny skies. The group had hoped for maybe 100 people to come, and 175 registered ahead of time.
"It's a very enthusiastic crowd, and it's indicative of the support that we've got," he said. "I think the winds of change hopefully are moving in our direction."
Big turnout from Tupper
An interesting note was the number of Tupper Lakers in attendance. Tupper Lake is often considered to be a "train town," because its community raised money to build a new train station that's a replica of the one that used to stand in its Junction neighborhood, and many political leaders there are active in the Next Stop Tupper Lake group's effort to extend the Saranac Lake leg of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad to Tupper Lake.
But plenty of Tupper Lakers were there Friday evening to celebrate the opening of the UMP. That included town Council-woman Patti Littlefield, village Trustee Rick Donah, local Democratic Party leader Rickey Dattola, retired Franklin County Assistant District Attorney Jack Delehanty and Pete Edwards, who is active with Tupper Lake's snowmobile club. Hope Frenette and Chris Keniston, both ARTA board members from Tupper Lake, were joined by the newest Tupper Laker on the board, Maureen Peroza.
Frenette told the Enterprise she believes Tupper Lakers have reached a tipping point on the rail-trail debate. She, Keniston and Peroza spoke to business in the two days before the party, and she said businesses that never wanted to publicly support the trail effort before were ready to sign on.
She said business owners got a taste of the kind of customers they could get in the two or three weeks that snow covered the tracks enough for snowmobilers to get to the community this winter, and they want more.
"The businesses have been overwhelmingly positive and ready to sign on in support," Frenette said. "So we have reached a point where Tupper Lake is saying, 'You know, we have to do something, and we can't rely on anybody else but us to save us.'"
Jim Rolf, the ARTA's newest board member, said train tracks soak up heat from the sun and make snow around them melt faster than in other areas.
"People that don't snowmobile don't understand what the elevated rail does to the snow," Rolf said. "We need snow daily for that to be a good trail, and we don't get that."
Rolf lives in Cicero, near Syracuse, but he's a notable addition as the statewide trail coordinator for the New York State Snowmobile Association. Rolf noted that his group holds the winter permit for the Remsen-to-Lake-Placid corridor. He called it one of the most important trails in the Adirondacks, and even the state.
"This trail gives snowmobilers the opportunity to connect many communities," Rolf told the Enterprise.
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or email@example.com.