Members of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates argue that a multi-use recreational trail running from Lake Placid all the way to Tupper Lake would attract visitors from all over the country.
The group says the current tourist train - now operating over a section of the route - should be scrapped.
As Chris Morris reports, the new group was formed by activists who are usually on opposite sides of Adirondack debates.
Jim McCulley and Tony Goodwin are used to butting heads with each other – especially when the topic pertains to land-use or environmental law here in the Adirondacks.
Take the Old Mountain Road case for example.
As head of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, McCulley tested state conservation laws by driving both his sled and his truck on an old town road in order to prove a point – that is, the road was never abandoned and thus wasn’t off limits to motorized access.
That case dragged out for years, and one of McCulley’s biggest critics was Tony Goodwin, founder of the Adirondack Ski Touring Council.
Goodwin argued the road was in fact part of the Forest Preserve and off limits to McCulley and his fellow snowmobilers.
McCulley eventually won his case – but now the two men are ready to bury the hatchet and pursue loftier goals.
“We’re not from the same camp – everyone knows that. But the reality is: a good idea is a good idea.”
That “good idea” McCulley speaks of is the concept of building a multi-use recreational path between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake.
Goodwin and McCulley strongly believe that time has run out on a summer tourist train that runs from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid. And they’re not alone.
A recently-formed group called Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates – ARTA for short – is ready to get serious about building what supporters believe could become a virtual mecca for bikers, snowmobilers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts from all walks of life.
Dick Beamish belongs to ARTA and is founder of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.
“What we could have here to begin with would be a 34-mile recreation trail that would run from Lake Placid to Ray Brook, Saranac Lake, Lake Clear and Tupper Lake,” he said. “It could be one of the great recreation trails in the United States.”
Beamish says a multi-use path would immediately boost the region’s year-round tourism economy.
A study released earlier this year by AdkAction backs up that belief – but it also showed that extending the scenic railroad to Tupper Lake would have a similar impact.
Beamish says the study is right – something needs to be done. But he’s skeptical that railroad supporters can find the money and acquire the necessary permits to build-out all the way to Tupper Lake.
“Yeah, it’s time to decide what to do about the corridor, but I think the obvious inference from the Camoin study and from what we know about just looking at what’s going on, is that this could be a wonderful bike path and bike way, and improved snowmobile trail in the winter,” he said. “It could have a huge economic impact, as many of these conversions from rail to trail have had in other parts of the country. They’ve been enormously successful.”
“The department operates under the Remsem-Lake Placid travel corridor unit management plan, which the DOT and the DEC signed in 1996,” he said.
This new advocacy group faces a few hurdles, but the biggest might be the state transportation department.
Speaking earlier this year, DOT spokesman Tony Ilacqua said the rail corridor will remain just that – for the time being anyway.
“That’s the direction we operate under,” he said. “At some point in the future if that UMP is revised, the economic impact study certainly will be considered.”
But Dick Beamish says the unit management plan does contain an option for a recreational trail. He adds that DOT doesn’t own the rail corridor.
“We do,” he said. “We’re the public. They [DOT] manage it for us and lease it out as they feel appropriate. But if the public wants a use different than a tourist train, then that’s the way it should be.”
Beamish and company will try to rally that support during a public meeting Aug. 30 in Lake Placid. He says a representative from the national Rail-to-Trails Conservancy will be on hand to showcase other successful conversion projects and take questions.
In the meantime, some of ARTA’s founding members are just happy to be on the same side for once.
Jim McCulley says he may even buy Tony Goodwin a beer.
“I’ve been using his joke – I’m gonna have a Long Trail Ale and he’s gonna have a Plank Road,” he said.