ASR wants to take you for a ride … again

To the editor:

It is revealing that Adirondack Scenic Railroad supporters only invoke the nostalgic past and poorly conceived future in defense of their cherished railroad. They clearly recognize a painful truth: Their long-term stewardship of the train right of way has shown minimal results to date. After 13 years as custodian of a valuable state asset, the ASR can only invoke nostalgia or vague future promises in defense of the status quo; this is a simple admission by ASR advocates themselves that the rail bed at present is an underused public asset.

This sad fact is not the fault of the dedicated staff and volunteers, who have worked hard and valiantly to run the train; it reflects the failed vision and direction at the management and board levels, and it is they who that have failed the public trust. The railroad has been run more like a hobby than a business. Successful businesses, the ones that grow, don’t just happen; they work hard to create long-term plans that are fully fleshed out; these plans are proactive. They are not like the recently proposed Pullman scheme, which, like some kind of magic trick, is suddenly pulled out of a hat and offered in reaction. Of course, the ASR makes promises about the future because in the present time, it has very little to show. We, the public, have a right and indeed an obligation to question its continuing stewardship of this precious asset.

In his recent Guest Commentary, Pete Snyder made a curious offer: Suddenly, the supporters of ASR want to find a middle ground with ARTA (Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates). In fact, this was offered many months ago by ARTA supporters, in this very publication; they suggested running a bike trail parallel to the existing active portion of train track from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake. The silence of ASR to this offer was deafening.

Regardless, the heart of this controversy concerns the future of the virtually unused rail bed from Saranac Lake to Old Forge, a stretch that runs through some world-class wilderness and which can have only one exclusive use: rail or trail. Land-use controversies seem, like loons and 46ers, to be part and parcel of the Adirondacks. We, as residents and visitors, value and cherish this land and demand to have our views about its use heard. And this is just what the unit management plan (UMP) provides. It is the only structure we, as stakeholders, have to express our alternative visions, and it provides our best forum for input and decision. There is no risk in opening the UMP unless you are unwilling to truly consider the best uses of the rail bed. The bigger risk is not opening it. It seems that even ASR advocates have awoken to the drum beat of 10,000-plus supporters of change. Opening the UMP is the best way forward at this juncture. Let’s not let a few hobbyists silence our voices and derail this movement.

Lem Hegwood

Ray Brook