The Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates held a press conference in the board room at the Harrietstown Town Hall in Saranac Lake last week to update the media and the public about the group's efforts.
The organization plans to study the costs of building a trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, as well as the economic benefits of a tourist train that currently operates along the corridor.
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The Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates say a study on the costs of building a trail will be conducted by the Rails to Trails Conservancy, a Washington-based group that has overseen similar projects nationwide. ARTA steering committee member Lee Keet says the study aims to build upon an earlier report that said either improving the railroad or building a trail would result in an economic benefit to the Tri-Lakes region. Keet says this new study will offer “real-life” information on the costs of building a multi-use trail.
“What we’re expecting to come out of that are comparative figures from trails that go through comparable areas of park land or wild land, comparable terrain and comparable construction barriers, to give us some real-life estimates of what can be done, especially using local materials but more importantly with some of the work being done by contributed labor,” he said.
The first part of the study will focus on the 34 miles of rail corridor that connect Lake Placid to Tupper Lake. ARTA has committed $25,000 to that phase of the study. The money will be raised in large part by ARTA members, although private foundations have pledged enough to sign a contract to get the study moving.
Keet says Parks and Trail New York will accept grant applications to help fund the study as soon as ARTA gains nonprofit status. ARTA will also commission a survey of businesses along the rail corridor from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake.
Steering committee member Dick Beamish says the organization wants to find out if the train has resulted in a direct economic impact to local merchants. Beamish says an environmental sociology class at Paul Smith’s College will perform the survey during the spring 2012 semester.
“This class of 35 kids is going to go in and talk with merchants and ask them two very simple questions - factual questions, nothing biased about it or subjective about it,” Beamish said, “and that is, number one, has the tourist train benefitted your business? And number two, if it has, how much?”
Beamish says the students will ask for hard numbers from local businesses. “It will be very interesting to see what the results are,” he said, “because this goes right to the heart of the justification for 11 years of supporting the tourist train between Placid and Saranac (Lake).”
“Frankly speaking, I’d be completely skeptical,” said Pete Snyder, operations manager for the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. Snyder says such a survey might be biased against the railroad, especially if commissioned by ARTA. From Snyder’s viewpoint, the original study called into question the trail proposal’s viability. He says the first study showed it would have been expensive and difficult to convert the corridor to a trail.
“I guess they’re unhappy with that and now they want to do another study to refute the first study’s findings,” Snyder said. “As long as they’re doing the study, it’s not an unbiased study. I really don’t put a lot of stock in it. You can make a study saying anything you want.”
Snyder notes that state agencies involved with the rail corridor, like the departments of Transportation and Environmental Conservation, don’t have plans to remove the tracks. He adds that lawmakers and economic leaders on the local, state and federal levels are supportive of continuing rail operations in the North Country.
Earlier this fall, the North Country Regional Economic Development Council said it supports the tourist train, and the Adirondack Local Government Review Board passed a resolution recently calling for the preservation and rehabilitation of the rail corridor. ARTA, meanwhile, is also asking its members to participate in an “ambassador program” to promote trail conversion among local residents and businesses.
According to Keet, those ambassadors will attend meetings with local service groups, host discussions and spread literature about ARTA’s cause.