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If the concept unveiled today by state officials is adopted, trains would no longer run to Saranac Lake's station (seen here) or to Lake Placid.  Train service might eventually be offered as far north as Tupper Lake.  Photo:  Susan Waters
If the concept unveiled today by state officials is adopted, trains would no longer run to Saranac Lake's station (seen here) or to Lake Placid. Train service might eventually be offered as far north as Tupper Lake. Photo: Susan Waters

State may convert section of Adirondack train route to rail-trail

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State officials say they plan to reopen the planning process for the historic railroad track from Old Forge to Lake Placid.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, state Transportation and Environment commissioners also said they would consider converting a large segment of the historic train route to a "rail-to-trail" system.

If the proposal goes forward, tracks along the stretch from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid, via Saranac Lake, would be removed and replaced with a trail surface.

"In response to public interest, we are reopening the Unit Management Plan, providing new opportunities to engage local communities and support the regional economy as we plan for the corridor's future," said DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald in a statement.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

We decided that we have to make a proposal and based on what we heard in those four public meetings this is our best shot. --DEC Commissioner Joe Martens
If the concept outlined Wednesday is approved as part of a new management plan, it would effectively divide the corridor into two sections, one focused on an Old Forge-based tourism train, the other evolving as a multi-use trail (hear Martha Foley and Brian Mann's conversation on the new plan from Thursday's 8 O'clock Hour.)

This proposal follows more than three years of often rancorous debate in communities stretching from Lake Placid to Old Forge and beyond.

MARTENS: "THIS IS OUR BEST SHOT"

In an interview with NCPR, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said the concept of managing the two sections of the trail differently emerged from public meetings held last fall.

Public hearings on the future of the rail corridor were held last fall.   Photo: Brian Mann
Public hearings on the future of the rail corridor were held last fall. Photo: Brian Mann
"The idea of a trail, a recreation trail for that section [Tupper Lake to Lake Placid] makes sense because it's accessible, there's a lot of recreational traffic up in that stretch."

He also said that state officials have reached a preliminary conclusion that the train tracks should remain in place on the stretch between Tupper Lake and Old Forge.

"There is some real potential for enhancing the railroad experience on that stretch."

However, Martens emphasized that the concept unveiled Wednesday "is not a done deal" and will be tested during the planning process.

"You know we haven't drawn a definitive conclusion here, but we decided that we have to make a proposal and based on what we heard in those four public meetings this is our best shot," Commissioner Martens added.

ACTIVISTS REACT

This decision represents a major blow to pro-train activists, who had urged New York state not to re-open the unit management planning process. 

Train boosters have argued for years that a protracted debate over the UMP will slow development of the corridor and limit new investment in the scenic railroad. 

However, in an interview with NCPR, Scenic Railroad executive director Bethan Maher said it is good news that state officials aren't considering changing management of the Old Forge-Tupper section of the trail.

She also said that she hopes that during the planning process it will become clear that the Tupper Lake-Lake Placid section of the train tracks are worth preserving.

Adirondack Scenic Railroad executive Bethan Maher. Photo:  Brian Mann
Adirondack Scenic Railroad executive Bethan Maher. Photo: Brian Mann
"The Adirondack Railway Preservation Society is confident that New York State will uphold the original UMP decision, retaining and rehabilitating rail infrastructure over the entire length of the corridor," Maher said in a statement.

Rail-trail advocates are also disappointed by this concept.  They had hoped that by removing the entire rail system between Old Forge and Lake Placid the state might create a popular new snowmobile corridor.

Speaking with NCPR Wednesday, Adirondack Recreation Trail Advocates co-founder Lee Keet said his group planned to "keep fighting" to convert the entire section of track.

He predicted that local government leaders in the Park would demand that the entire train project north of Old Forge be scrapped.

"ARTA regards the conversion of the old rail corridor between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake as the 'essential first step' in establishing a 90-mile Adirondack Rail Trail through the heart of this largest park in the contiguous United State," ARTA said in a release.

STATE PROPOSAL

What follows is the full statement issued Wednesday ago by New York state:

DEC AND DOT ANNOUNCE PLANS TO REINVIGORATE THE REMSEN TO LAKE PLACID TRAVEL CORRIDOR

State Agencies Seek Public Input on Possible Unit Management Plan Amendment to Convert the Tupper Lake to Lake Placid Segment to a Recreational Trail

 State Agencies Will Also Explore Options to Bolster Rail Service Along Remainder of the Corridor and to Create and Expand Snowmobile Routes to Connect Communities between Old Forge and Tupper Lake

 The State Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Transportation (DOT) today announced that they will reopen the 1996 Unit Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (1996 UMP/EIS) for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.  The review will evaluate use of the Tupper Lake to Lake Placid segment for a recreational trail. It will also examine opportunities to maintain and realize the full economic potential of rail service on the remainder of the corridor. In addition, the state will review options to create and expand alternative snowmobile corridors to connect communities from Old Forge to Tupper Lake on existing state lands and conservation easements.

The UMP governs the use of the 119-mile Remsen to Lake Placid Travel Corridor. The determination to revisit the UMP was made following a thorough assessment of options and a review of the extensive public comments made during four public meetings held by DEC and DOT last year.

DEC and DOT will prepare the UMP and draft EIS, which will explore opportunities to increase recreational use of the rail corridor and ensure it promotes tourism and economic growth in the surrounding communities. As part of this process, the public will have an opportunity to review and comment on a draft scope that outlines significant issues and environmental impacts, and guides preparation of the UMP and draft EIS. In addition, the public will be able to review and comment on the draft UMP and draft EIS when they are deemed complete.

Revisiting the 1996 UMP/EIS will enable DEC and DOT to thoroughly review those aspects of the 1996 UMP/EIS that recommend enhanced recreational opportunities and community connections, and to examine alternatives for the best future use of the Corridor along the Tupper Lake to Lake Placid segment. DEC and DOT will work with the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and public stakeholders, including local officials and residents, to assess alternatives that reflect current realities along the corridor and potential environmental and economic impacts. 

"Our goal is to protect our natural resources, while also exploring ways to increase opportunities for people to enjoy outdoor recreation activities in the Adirondacks,” DEC Commissioner Martens said.  “We recognize that the future of the Remsen to Lake Placid Travel Corridor is important to local residents, communities and the regional economy, and the UMP process is the appropriate way to determine the best use of the corridor.  We greatly appreciate the input received and continue to encourage the public and stakeholders to be actively involved in the UMP process since their views and interests will be an important part of the decision-making process.”

“The Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor is a tremendous transportation resource that traverses stunning landscapes across the northern Adirondacks,” DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said.  “In response to public interest, we are reopening the Unit Management Plan, providing new opportunities to engage local communities and support the regional economy as we plan for the corridor’s future.”

The UMP process will provide a transparent and public means of exploring a proposed amendment to the 1996 UMP/EIS that would maximize benefits from public use of the corridor and conform with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. Any proposed amendment would consider and incorporate public comments.

The rail service envisioned by the 1996 UMP/EIS has never been fully realized.  The recurring

Adirondack Scenic Railroad train in Old Forge. Photo: Bradley O'Brien, CC some rights reserved
Adirondack Scenic Railroad train in Old Forge. Photo: Bradley O'Brien, CC some rights reserved
short term lease under which the Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates has hindered the capital investment necessary to improve the rail line in the most remote sections of the corridor.  This review will evaluate options to provide the long-term assurance to the rail operator and its investors need to move forward with much needed improvements.

Snowmobilers have long used the travel corridor during peak season to transit between communities. That use is made unsafe during periods of lesser snow as track becomes exposed.  As part of this review, DEC will evaluate ways to expand snowmobile routes between the communities along the Old Forge to Tupper Lake segment of the corridor on state lands and conservation easements.  This will open new recreational and tourism opportunities for those communities but also provide a safer riding experience for the snowmobiling community.

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