In his letter to the editor of Aug. 21 ("Don't be fooled by trail advocates"), railroad-restoration proponent Gene Falvo crammed a lot of misinformation into a small space.
"It will take years before they could even start destruction of the tracks," he says, in reference to the state's upcoming review of the unit management plan for the Remsen-Lake Placid rail corridor through the Adirondack Park. In fact, if the state decides that the best use for the corridor is converting it to a multi-use, year-round recreation trail, the removal of the tracks could probably be accomplished in a matter of months next spring and summer.
As for the "destruction" of the tracks, these would be salvaged and the steel recycled; the proceeds could cover all or much of the cost of surfacing the rail bed between Lake Placid and Piercefield.
Mr. Falvo claims that trail advocates "greatly exaggerate the cost of restoring the rails by more than $25 million." He says the rail restoration (from Utica to Lake Placid) would cost $15 million. Yet the state Department of Transportation has estimated that the cost of doing this would be $43 million. (Whatever it costs to restore rail service, it would be a waste of taxpayer money. There is no demand for such service, and the economic benefit to the villages along the corridor would be negligible.)
"By ripping up the tracks, the 'shoulder season' (for snowmobiles) would be a few weeks longer," Mr. Falvo writes. In fact, removing the tracks would double the length of the snowmobile touring season from Old Forge to Tupper Lake and beyond. And that would add millions of dollars in tourist revenue to economically struggling communities.
Mr. Falvo claims that an extended tourist train through the Adirondacks "will carry hikers and kayakers to remote spots too difficult to get to on foot." He seems unaware that hikers and paddlers can easily and conveniently gain access to trailheads and put-in points by car. Why in the world would they want to haul all their gear on a train to these places, a train that would be on a limited, fixed schedule to which the hikers and paddlers would have to adhere?
As readers of this Opinion page know, this kind of he-said, she-said debate has been going on for years. Happily, the moment of truth has arrived. The state's fact-finding review of the rail corridor will determine the best use for this underutilized recreational resource. During the month of September, the state departments of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Conservation (DEC) will be seeking public input on which to base their decision.
Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, a nonprofit group formed two years ago, has gained widespread support from local governments, businesses, editorial writers and the general public. ARTA's goal is to have much of the corridor repurposed as a 90-mile, multi-use trail connecting Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Piercefield, Beaver River, Big Moose and Old Forge. As envisioned by ARTA, this "Adirondack Rail Trail" will be a major tourist destination - a safe, easy, scenic, year-round delight for people of all ages and physical abilities. The trail will be especially suited for biking, jogging, walking, birding, wheelchair use, etc., and for greatly improved snowmobiling in the winter. ARTA is calling for the 40-mile, Tri-Lakes section connecting Lake Placid and Piercefield to be compactly surfaced as soon as the tracks are removed. Such a surface should accommodate thinner-tired road bikes, wheelchairs, baby joggers and the like. Once the tracks are removed, the 50-mile section between Old Forge and Piercefield will be immediately ready for mountain bikes and greatly improved snowmobiling.
Based on the popularity of other rail-to-trail conversions, ARTA believes this could be one of the nation's premier rail trails, providing huge economic, recreational and health benefits. This view is reinforced by extensive studies and personal experience. But all the claims and counter-claims put forth over the past two years will be evaluated during the state's review process, and the decision will be based on facts.
The public meetings this month are:
-Old Forge: Monday, Sept. 9, 6 to 9 p.m., Town of Webb Office Building, 183 Park Ave.
-Ray Brook: Tuesday, Sept. 10, 1 to 4 p.m., DEC Region 5 headquarters
-Utica: Monday, Sept. 16, 1 to 4 p.m., State Office Building, 207 Genesee St.
-Tupper Lake: Tuesday, Sept. 17, 6 to 9 p.m., The Wild Center.
Written comments may also be submitted by Sept. 25 to firstname.lastname@example.org, faxed to 518-457-3183 or mailed to Raymond F. Hessinger, NYSDOT, 50 Wolf Road, POD 54, Albany, NY 12232.
For those in favor of converting 90 miles of the old, obsolete, little-used rail corridor into a world-class recreation trail - the only recreational amenity conspicuously missing in the Adirondack Park - now is our chance to make it happen.
Dick Beamish lives in Saranac Lake, is the founder of the Adirondack Explorer magazine and is a member of ARTA's board of directors.