As an avid bicycle tourer, I find the even grade of rail trails monotonous. Nevertheless, I have been drawn to quite a few of them in many states, and I have witnessed firsthand the resurgence of tourism when abandoned rail lines have been converted to recreational corridors across the nation.
The statistics back up my personal observations: Rails to trails, especially those that have small towns interspersed as destinations every 10 to 20 miles, draw people who are looking for outdoor recreation that is not too taxing, that gives families with young children and the old and infirm a safe corridor in which to have fun hiking and biking and taking in the sights. They arrive at those towns along the trail hungry and tired, looking for a break and eager to ply the town to see what it has to offer. They spend money on food, lodging, local crafts and other mementos, and bicycle maintenance and repair. The Tri-Lakes corridor would be perfect for this.
I have also stood outside the train stations in these three towns and watched the once- or twice-a-day tourist train pull into Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, the few passengers who get out, mill around a bit, looking bored and wondering what the big deal is. Few, if any, came to the region for the experience of riding a tourist train; even fewer ever take the train again. Anyone who has eyes can see it is a very expensive failed experiment that had 10 years to show its appeal. The $400,000 Tupper Lake taxpayers poured into their station remains an empty testament to the little engine that couldn't.
The Kickstand is a business that serves cyclists on to the Great Alleghany Passage, a railroad converted to a trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
(Photo courtesy of Ken Youngblood)
So I would suggest to you a compromise: Keep the tourist train that makes the short run to Old Forge from a population center that makes the route viable. Convert the Lake Placid-to-Tupper Lake stretch of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor to a recreational trail, and put the long wilderness stretch between Tupper Lake and Old Forge on hold until we see which of the two uses grows more viable over time.
Allow the rails, which now lie rusting, to be salvaged and used to finance the recreational trail. The ties could be used to shore up the sides of what would be the recreational trail. Neither rails nor ties are in any condition to be used for a viable freight or passenger service, so there is no loss in tearing them up. Meanwhile, the snowmobilers would have the opportunity to demonstrate that the undeveloped section of the rail line would be used to the advantage of all involved. Retain the right to rebuild the rail line should such a corridor become viable in what everybody acknowledges is the not-so-near future.
Then set a new unit management review date 10 years hence. This way, with a recreational trail on the north end and a tourist train on the south end, both sides of the debate will have the opportunity to prove their merit and convince authorities of their point of view.
Ken Youngblood, a former Adirondack resident, lives in Taos, N.M.