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DEC forms rail trail stakeholder group

RAY BROOK – In the face of a lawsuit, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has formed a stakeholder group to determine the design and use of a 34-mile section of railroad that will be turned into a recreational trail.

In a press release Tuesday, the DEC said rail removal and initial trail construction will begin next summer. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad would have to end its excursion trains between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, but its southern operations would not be affected by the trail. Eventually, the state plans to improve the tracks to let it run from Utica as far north as Tupper Lake. Rail Explorers USA also operates rail bikes from Saranac Lake to Lake Clear and Tupper Lake, and those operations would also be eliminated when the rails are removed.

However, the nonprofit Adirondack Scenic Railroad has filed a lawsuit in Franklin County state Supreme Court accusing the DEC and the state Adirondack Park Agency of violating historic preservation and land use laws. The railroad also updated the lawsuit in July to include the state Department of Transportation, which has jurisdictional oversight of the rail corridor. There is an oral argument hearing set for Sept. 28. It is unknown if a judge will halt the trail process until the lawsuit is sorted out in court.

DEC Region 5 Director Bob Stegemann announced the group Tuesday. It is made up of elected local officials and representatives from user groups, such as bicyclists, snowmobilers, cross-country skiers and the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.

The top elected official or designee of each of the four towns and three villages along the trail route, which will run from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake, are also part of the group.

In addition to the local elected officials and interest groups, the DEC said DEC, DOT, APA and state Olympic Regional Development Authority staff would be included as well.

Jim McCulley, president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, hasn’t yet returned a request for comment but said in a Facebook post, “we are having discussions on how to make sure the impact on adjoining land owners can be mitigated. Both with trail building and trail use. It was the number one topic.”

Several local officials were quoted in the press release, including town of North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi, town of Tupper Lake Supervisor Patti Littlefield and Saranac Lake village Trustee Rich Shapiro, as well as ARTA board member Lee Keet.

The press release also says, “if you believe you can help on one or more specific issues regarding the design or operation please contact the town supervisor or village mayor in the community you live.”

ASR board President Bill Branson and Rail Explorers co-owner Alex Catchpoole have not yet returned calls requesting comment.

DEC has outlined issues of concern that need to be addressed before the trail becomes operational. It also said more stakeholders may be brought into the fold.

The issues outlined include the following:

-Type of material used to surface the trail

-Parking and trail access points

-Trail amenities

-Signage: interpretive and directional

-Road crossings

-Bridges

-Illegal motor vehicle and motorized vehicle use

-Train stations

-Emergency response

-Historic preservation