RAY BROOK — The state will reopen for review its Management Plan for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor — a long-awaited decision in a controversy that has brewed for years.
The debate has pitted people who want the 119-mile corridor maintained as a railway only — now used by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad tourist train — against those who want the rails taken up and multiple uses allowed, such as hiking and cross-country skiing.
Both rail and recreation uses will be explored in the new review.
The departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation announced on Wednesday the decision to reopen the 1996 Unit Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement.
The review will evaluate use of the Tupper Lake-to-Lake Placid segment for a recreational trail and will also "examine opportunities to maintain and realize the full economic potential of rail service on the remainder of the corridor," according to a news release.
The state will also "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 decision to revisit the plan 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."
Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, which advocated for reopening of the plan in hopes of seeing the train tracks replaced by a recreational trail, had gathered support from 12 municipalities and 12,000 citizens who signed petitions, including 130-plus business owners from the Lake Placid area.
The state had held hearings around the region to gather input on whether to reopen the Management Plan.
DEC and DOT will prepare the plan and draft impact statement.
'SETS THE STAGE'
Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates was pleased, for the most part, with the decision.
Its Board of Directors issued a news release on Wednesday that read as if creation of a recreational trail was a done deal, saying the review "sets the stage for the construction of a multi-use recreation trail that will link the Tri-Lakes, extending 34 miles from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake.
"Our studies suggest that this initial 34-mile segment will attract no less than 56,000 new annual visitors and ultimately as many as 250,000.
"The impact on our local economies will be very significant, adding between $5 (million) and $20 million in new local spending.
"For local residents, the trail will provide a new, safe, way to recreate and commute. We anticipate that new amenities and businesses will sprout up to serve the users of the trail, with resulting opportunities for employment and investment."
But Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates was disappointed that the section south of Tupper Lake was not included in the review, calling it "the most spectacularly scenic stretch of the corridor.
"And leaving the unused rails in place precludes much of the potential winter benefit towns like Tupper Lake and Piercefield would get from snowmobilers coming north from Old Forge," the board added.
"The suggestion that rail service could be restored there strikes us as wishful thinking given the huge capital investment required and almost non-existent demand. We will aggressively fight any use of taxpayer monies to help private interests in this Quixotic quest."
'EAGER FOR RESOLUTION'
Rail-use backers were also restrained in their response.
The Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, which operates the railroad, wants a rail and trail multi-use travel corridor.
"While ARPS applauds the state for having taken both a balanced and objective approach to the review process, this organization as well as constituents from the Mohawk Valley to the High Peaks remain eager for resolution regarding the remainder of the corridor, between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid," Executive Director Beth Maher said in a statement.
The 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, recognizing that this is not and should not be an 'either-or' proposition.
"Rails and trails can exist and work successfully together, as has been already proven, given the thousands of miles of trails in the existing trail network."
She said they are "excited that New York state has committed itself to renewed investment in rail infrastructure and will work towards making rail service fully functional."
She noted that over the past 22 years, Adirondack Scenic Railroad has served more than 1.3 million passengers and that 2013 revenue exceeded $1.7 million.
"The future of the Adirondack region depends on bringing people and business to the area from outside the park, and we cannot afford to eliminate any infrastructure which serves to attract tourists to the area."
She said upcoming resort and hotel developments in Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake "underscore the continuing importance that rail service can provide."
Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said she wasn't surprised at the decision to reopen the plan, given the strong opinions on both sides of the issue and the intense pressure from towns that passed resolutions supporting a new review.
"I think that was the way to go," she told the Press-Republican.
Little, who said she can see both sides of the issue, nonetheless said the state should "be cautious about removing an asset that could never be replaced," referring to the train tracks, given the land-use restrictions in the Adirondack Park.
She said other uses, such as hiking and snowmobiling, are equally important, but that space for that surely exists somewhere in the 6 million-acre park.
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