Trail could be bad for railside property owners

To the editor:

As I read articles and opinions regarding the rails-to-trails question, I feel we’ve overlooked an important detail: the private property that abuts the rail corridor.

For the past 10 years, I have been spending much of my summers in the Adirondacks on a small, private lake. The railroad passes between the house and the lake; one has to walk over the rails to get to the boathouse. The property on either side of the rails is privately owned. (This is true of multiple camps on the lake.) Occasionally, a service car chugs through, and one time a locomotive with four cars crawled by. While passing trains create noise and a rumbling ground, the experience is temporary and contained. The sound and vibration are here and gone within the span of one to two minutes, and we are left with the peaceful quiet and privacy of the lake.

If the tracks are ripped up to accommodate a recreational trail, the experience will not be the same. It is likely that during the summer months there will be many bikers and hikers who pass through the yard. The threat of privacy violations and liability concerns will increase dramatically. For instance, what happens if the bikers/hikers decide that they would like to cool off by taking a swim? Since the lake is bordered by private property and doesn’t have a public-access swimming point, will those hikers and bikers simply move on? Many will, but it’s unrealistic to think all will. What’s more likely is that someone will decide it’s their “right” to access the lake and will use a private dock for their dip. If said hiker/biker is injured or, heaven forbid, drowns while swimming, what then? Aside from the liability questions, how could that property owner ever feel the same about their property? It would be tainted forever. And what of the rights of property owners to protect their lake from invasive species? What happens if a canoeist decides to drop their vessel in the lake without cleaning it, only to introduce milfoil or another invasive? Who pays for cleanup and abatement? And what of the serenity of the lake – the very serenity that the homeowners likely sought when they bought the property?

There are numerous questions to consider, and we must take a more critical view of the outcomes for property owners whose land abuts the rails. Public access to nature is vital – I grew up in rural New Hampshire and know its importance – but the railroad doesn’t pass only through untamed wild country. It passes through private property – private being the critical word. A train passing through is one thing – no one is getting off, and it’s gone in a moment – but a stream of bikers/hikers passing through is different. We need to ask: How would we feel if it was our backyard, our dock, our small piece of heaven being affected? Would we be so eager to rip up the rails?

Robert Whitehouse

New York City