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Ripping up tracks makes no sense

To: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Re: Future of the Adirondack Railroad between Remsen and Lake Placid, and changes to unit management plan

The DEC and state of New York are still itching to tear up the rails between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. I have been looking over their attempt to change the unit management plan that currently prevents this. This change proposal also rips up the idea of “rail with trail” by pointing out all the detours that would have to be made around wetlands and other difficult terrain. 

Keep in mind, this is a stretch of track running for the most part through wilderness with only a few places where it intersects roads, towns or other points of civilization. The first of these portions runs from Tupper Lake to the hamlet of Lake Clear, where the track finally comes close to a state highway, a run of more than 16 miles through wild forest. Then they talk about a “family-oriented trail (i.e., baby strollers and kids’ bicycles)” and continues speaking about “wheelchairs” and a place to “take my 83-year-old mother for a walk.” This must be some kind of a joke.

People who bicycle through the Adirondacks on our highways never have such a long a stretch without a convenience store and other amenities. And more importantly, in case of a real emergency, the only thing needed is an extended thumb, or waving your hands over your head if you need immediate help. So the idea put forth by the rail trail advocates that ripping up the tracks and putting in a trail will become a popular venue and boost the local economy is total nonsense. 

But apparently the DEC and our local towns are willing to throw away any possibility of future train service and the immediate, and proven, economic benefit of an excursion train, and perhaps several rail bike touring venues at different points along this approximately 34 miles of track. 

We all know how this issue started. A group of snowmobilers plus some small number of Adirondack property owners whose property bordered the railroad decided they wanted the track torn up. The snowmobilers do not like those steel rails along the right-of-way they already have the right to use all winter. They do not care one whit about toddlers in strollers or your 83-year-old mother. And they do not care about the couple of bicycle riders who may or may not use it in summer. This is all smoke and mirrors. You know it, I know it, and it is about time that the Adirondack community that is highly dependent upon tourists knows it also, because this goes straight to their bottom line. 

If the rail trail advocates were truly interested in baby strollers or your 83-year-old mother, they would endorse a plan that left the rails in place and added a parallel walking-biking trail in those places close to populated areas, where an accompanying path requires no expensive detours. This would accommodate the “strollers” and other family activities without ripping up the rails. It would also provide portions of the corridor where winter snowmobile users would not have to contend with the rails. Snowmobilers should be happy with such a compromise, but no. They want it all their way, and that is not fair. 

The entire world is beginning to learn that the efficiency of train transportation is a key to their future economic success. Further, doubling down on the rail infrastructure by allowing rail biking tour operations on lines that are not in heavy use is also an important shot in the arm to the economy. We had that before this controversy came up, and were beginning to see the benefits just before train excursions and rail bike tours were chased off this main rail line through the Adirondacks by this “rip up the tracks” effort. 

Richard and Sudjai Bentley live in Tupper Lake.