Trail conversion could happen sooner than many people think

Tupper Lake should be wary of the “shinny lure” the Adirondack North Country Association dangles before it in the form of big-money grants now that will forestall a sustainable economic boon later – and maybe not that much later.

For this trail to be the huge regional attraction it can be, it has to be continuous, it has to flat, smooth, safe and attractive; not crisscrossing the tracks, up, down and around obstacles, fenced off from dangerous proximity with the rails, stinking creosote ties and chemically stripped vegetation. It should be accessible directly from accommodations and services, it should attract snowmobilers from both ends and all the communities in between – not just the locals enjoying this new amenity but destination tourists from all over the Northeast and beyond. Cranberry Lake and Long Lake have had more of this benefit than communities north and east, but the Collier interviews tell the value of these customers.

Jessica’s Collier’s article on March 2 highlighted the importance of snowmobiling to the North Country economy, especially to Tupper Lake. But as informative as her article was, she was dead wrong on one key point.

Ms. Collier wrote that removing the rail to make the Old Forge-Lake Placid connector trail viable “has a slim chance of happening soon” because of influential support from a handful of local train promoters for extending the tourist train. Never mind that there is little or no demand for restoring rail between Utica and Lake Placid, or that doing so would cost an estimated $43 million. Never mind that local governments all along the line, including the town and village of Tupper Lake, have called for a review the state’s unit management plan (UMP) to determine the best use of the corridor.

So what’s needed to convert the corridor into an economic engine for the region? Business people and recreation-minded citizens need to contact the nonprofit organizations supposedly dedicated to promoting economic growth in our region. They need to be reminded of what has long been obvious to most of us: This mostly unused rail corridor will be a major tourist attraction for snowmobilers in the winter and bicyclists in the warmer months. These economic-development organizations include the North Country Regional Economic Development Council and the Adirondack North Country Association, the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency and local chambers of commerce up and down the line.

We’re talking major league here – a tourist attraction on a scale of Whiteface Mountain and the other Olympic venues combined, based on the phenomenal success of rail trails elsewhere. Hundreds of snowmobilers stop here at Beaver River in the winter, but many thousands would stop here and then continue north to Tupper Lake and beyond when the old, rusting tracks are removed and salvaged. This could be accomplished quickly once the UMP for the corridor is revisited.

If the resulting analysis and public hearings show that it makes more sense to restore rail service, OK. I can live with that. But if the review shows, as the studies and public opinions do, that a multi-use, year-round recreation trail through the Adirondacks would produce far more benefits to our local economy, then we should act accordingly.

The whole UMP process could be completed in two years. It’s time to stop diddling around and cash in on the Adirondack Park’s greatest unused resource.

Scott Thompson lives in Beaver River and is a member of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates board.