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Not partisan in rail-trail debate

It’s kind of like the compromise proposed by Solomon – let’s divide the baby in half – except it doesn’t solve the problem the same way since this isn’t a case of one side lying and the other telling the truth.

Last Thursday, the state Adirondack Park Agency approved a plan by the departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation to split the travel corridor into two parts: a trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, and an upgraded railroad from Tupper Lake south.

Most supporters of the trail cheered, although many also vowed to keep pushing to replace the tracks with a trail all the way south to the Old Forge area in the state-owned Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.

Railroad advocates were hurt and angry, and the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society vowed to keep fighting.

We are not among the passionate true believers on this issue.

We do believe a path, surfaced for road bikes, should be a priority between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, whether there’s a railroad beside it or not. We believe a huge number of commuters and training athletes would use that.

Beyond that, though, our feelings are mixed.

We’re skeptical of both sides’ rosy predictions: that a railless path would draw hundreds of thousands of tourists, or that a passenger train connecting to Amtrak in Utica is viable in the near future. Our expectations are more modest: Train or trail, we figure it would mostly be used by people who are already here, whether they’re residents or tourists. Either way would bring some economic impact, but not a massive amount.

While we dislike the combative tone this debate has taken, we also understand the anger is rooted in defense of dreams. We sympathize; we, too, have dreams we’ll fight to defend.

Not these, though, we must admit. To us, this isn’t a black-and-white decision between good and evil, smart and stupid. It’s a choice that, like so many others in life, involves weighing pros and cons, expectations and possibilities, and making a call one way or another.

Our state government did that, through an open process approved by the three agencies with jurisdiction. Advocates on both sides dislike the end result, especially railroad preservationists, and we agree it isn’t ideal. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be any ideal solution, and we don’t envy DEC and DOT staff for taking on this responsibility.

On the bright side, at least this plan lets both options be tried next to each other. We will finally get to see what a trail without tracks would do for us, and what a longer, upgraded railroad with a multi-year lease would be like. Those experiences will be valuable down the road; this won’t be the last update to this unit management plan.

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