Another spring season will soon be upon us. Instead of thousands of residents and tourists getting ready to enjoy one of the most scenic recreation trails in the nation, a group of train hobbyists will slowly "walk" a locomotive north to Lake Placid over mile after mile of rotten rail ties and rusty rails.
What a sad picture that is. Perhaps later in the year, a handful of tourists will opt to pay for a creaky, 45-minute-long ride over the 9 miles between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. How can such a beautiful, publicly owned corridor, which extends through much of the Adirondack Park all the way from Old Forge to Lake Placid, become so under-utilized?
Well, if you mix a group of nostalgic railroad hobbyists with recalcitrant state politicians and overly extended government agencies, you get inefficiency, waste, delay and unresponsiveness. That adds up to essentially throwing millions of tourist dollars out the window every year and denying local residents access to an incredible recreational asset for biking, running, walking, enjoying nature, absorbing history - you name it.
My recent commentary in this newspaper, which supported the creation of an Adirondack Rail Trail, was met with the usual denial, anger and gobbledegook from the railroad hobbyists via a letter from Wayne W. Tucker. I was told the $1.5 million entry in their recent tax filing was not a government subsidy at all. Mr. Tucker explained that it was a government "pass through." I laughed for 10 minutes. Sorry, if the tourist train were not monopolizing the entire corridor, the work would not have been necessary. Bottom line: The taxpayers paid every dollar of your so-called "pass through."
Then Mr. Tucker informed me that updating the unit management plan (UMP) for the railroad corridor, already overdue by 13 years, is not a legal requirement. He says the UMP stipulates that it "may" be reviewed but there is absolutely no requirement.
I almost fell into the trap of believing someone when they make such an authoritative statement. If I can paraphrase Ronald Reagan, "There you go again, Mr. Tucker." You are absolutely wrong. I downloaded all 195 pages of the Remsen-Lake Placid UMP from March 1996 and checked the facts.
The UMP states (page 1), "Ultimately, this document will guide the basic management of the Corridor for the ensuing five-year period," (page 2) "At the time of five-year revision, the planning process will be re-opened," (page 33) "The Final Corridor Management Plan will be reviewed and updated by the Interdepartmental Planning Team at five year intervals."
Those are the facts, Mr. Tucker. I didn't read any "may" or "may be" phrases. Check for yourself. That has been a myth promoted by the railroad people for far too long.
So the railroad hobbyists must be thrilled that the UMP review and update has been endlessly delayed to the point that few people even know that it is almost a decade-and-a-half overdue. That has allowed them to continue with their operation unrestrained. Incredibly, they are currently lobbying for approval of a long-term lease so they can continue to monopolize the corridor for many more years to come and block a far more productive use of this valuable and promising public resource.
It was inexcusable that Mr. Tucker felt compelled to fling a below-the-belt accusation that "a radical, anti-train zealot, no doubt inspired by (Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates') rhetoric, sabotaged an (Adirondack Scenic Railroad) locomotive, causing a loss of 11 local operating days this last season." To indirectly ascribe guilt in this way to those who have been outspoken in calling for a recreational trail is reminiscent of McCarthy-like hysteria from the 1950s, and I will refrain from writing what I think about his accusation.
It may come as a surprise to Mr. Tucker that I was once a supporter of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and I contributed to it. It seemed like a wonderful dream at the time, one with great potential for the Adirondacks. And it seemed like it would deliver on its promises. But that dream was decades ago, and unfortunately it was a dream that never came true.
Now it is time to wake up, face reality and fulfill the true potential of the 90-mile corridor that will connect our communities as never before, from Lake Placid to Ray Brook, Saranac Lake, Lake Clear, Tupper Lake, Piercefield, Beaver River, Big Moose and Old Forge. The Adirondack Rail Trail concept is supported by many hundreds of other rail-bed conversions throughout the country. The success stories in terms of usage and economic impact are real. Rail trails work! That's why more than 400 local businesses are in full support of converting the corridor to a recreational trail.
A few days ago, the Post-Star newspaper in Glens Falls published an editorial with the following statement: "This is the year for New York to create in the Adirondack Park one of the country's most stunning bikeways."
It cannot be said more clearly and emphatically than that.
Our elected officials in Albany need to take note and take action. State Sen. Betty Little needs to get behind this movement. Her "double speak," as in saying, "I'm for both rail AND trail," is a throwaway. A side-by-side rail and trail on a single-track rail bed is not affordable, nor environmentally allowable.
The North Country desperately needs this positive economic development but unfortunately, the people have been left waiting at the station for years.
Somebody in Albany please take leadership here! Can you hear us?
Richard Maid is a native of Tupper Lake who is now a resident of Lake Placid and Mount Arab.