ARTA true to the primary objective

Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates has taken several initiatives to use its organization to augment the proposed trail section from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid for maximum economic and recreational benefit. Working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Transportation, local government and business stakeholders to use best practices and innovation, ARTA intends to continue its success in implementing the best use of the corridor and the areas it serves.

ARTA is also well aware that a great deal of support has come from those recreationalists and businesses that are anxious to have the rail trail connect Old Forge (Thendara) and Lake Placid and the areas served by the corridor between them, and will continue to work for that goal. The investment in trail-based recreational activity is tremendous: Old Forge has made huge property acquisitions, investments in equipment and user amenities, as well as experiencing vacation home (tax base) growth, much of it resulting in residency, all because of trail development.

Local governments that have joined ARTA in petitioning the state for the trail conversion should be outraged by the delays caused by the historic preservation suit of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad group. ARTA has no argument with and will support preservation of architectural structures, unique sites and historic landmarks, but feels replaced cross ties and common hardware are mundane and serve no purpose being reconstructed.

The Adirondack Division abandoned passenger service in 1965; at that time, snowmobiles had already taken to the corridor and were generating income for many local businesses. Cranberry Lake, Childwold, Lake Clear, Tupper Lake, Long Lake, Beaver River, Stillwater, Big Moose, Thendara and others were benefiting from this new winter traffic replacing the empty train cars, making snowmobile use of the corridor to 2016 nearly as historic as train use!

When Webb built the Adirondack Division, he was not thought of as a magnanimous champion of the public good. An Aug. 23, 1891, New York Times piece warns: “Webb’s Railroad will destroy the Forest, he has taken Smith’s Lake, a popular area for sportsman and hired Rangers to protect the re-named Lake Lila from the public. He is Disagreeable and Autocratic.” Trains did, however, provide common access to a vast area of the Adirondacks. Where resources had been protected by their remoteness and human access was limited by travel time and accommodations, the train was the answer. At convenient points, carriage roads and spurs were built or improved to connect the main line with more resources and points of interest for people to visit. Soon, however, automobiles and trucks created the demand for roads to connect directly to many of these areas, and many of the old connections from the corridor were abandoned or accessed from the new highways. The trains were no longer in favor, and the corridor was sought out for “off-road” recreation.

Today, recreation is the primary activity in the Adirondacks, and the corridor has the potential to provide a great deal of sustainable, low-impact recreation for all seasons. Snowmobiling is tried and true for the economic benefit to the area, but snowmobile development and lower snow amounts have made the tracks very hard to maintain and use as a trail. Rail removal will create a wide, safe, maintainable trail requiring much less snow. The popularity of other non-snow and transitional activities, primarily bicycling, available after rail removal are growing rapidly in many regions with less to offer than the Adirondacks. Many trail examples are readily available, but the Lamoille Valley trail is particularly interesting in that VAST, the Vermont snowmobile association, is the primary developer.

Option No. 7, which includes restoring the railroad from Big Moose to Tupper Lake, has yet to propose an operational plan and therefore leaves a void in business and ancillary service planning. As a business owner on the corridor, the first question I have is: How often and for what part of the year will trains operate? This is key to figuring out how to staff to take advantage if passengers do come. How will we know in advance how to find staffing, and to supply for the train’s schedule and loadings? How long will passengers stay? Unlike snowmobilers and bicyclers, visitors will not be able to come and go as they please. I find it odd that the railroad operators have not asked these questions of the businesses they must ultimately partner with. We are baffled by the onus to restore the rail infrastructure if, at tremendous cost, the areas served only see a few hours of business (if any) a week for 10 to 12 weeks a year. Wouldn’t the consistency of trail uses be a much more valuable use of this unique asset?

In Old Forge, the railroad has provided quite a bit of interest, and the Rail Explorers are a unique activity to the northeast, but no independent information has been available to show how many of these riders would or would not be there whether or not these activities were available. Since they are only operated when the areas are already active and “in season,” their economic value may be questionable.

Option No. 7 will begin a new era of use for the Tupper Lake-to-Lake Placid portion of the Adirondack travel corridor. Pedestrian and bicycle use will absorb a tremendous amount of recreational activity, thus removing it from more sensitive areas through which it passes.

In 1989, DEC and DOT returned the Adirondack Railway Corporation’s corridor lease for $210,000 and paid ARC $200,000 for work done. DEC claimed the corridor would be for snowmobile and cross-country trails. Bankruptcy trustee Victor Ehre claimed the other interested parties were not bidders, that they were “chasing rainbows” to think there could ever be a successful railroad here again.

Scott Thompson owns, runs and lives at the Norridgewock Lodge in Beaver River, along the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, and is a board member of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.