Open-minded in rail/trail debate

We appreciate the persistence of advocates for the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and those for replacing it with a multi-use trail in the state-owned corridor between Lake Placid and Old Forge, but the Enterprise is not ready to pick a side in the great Adirondack rail/trail debate. Rather, we want to approach the state’s unit management plan process with open minds.

The state hasn’t even decided whether there will be a UMP process. There needs to be one – on that, our position is staunch.

At this point, the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates are on offense, using their members to pressure multiple local government bodies while keeping up a steady fire of letters and emails. Meanwhile, the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society seems to be holed up defensively as if under siege, lobbing missiles over its walls onto the battlefield of the Enterprise Opinion page. Although many debaters are trying to keep the tone positive, it’s hard to avoid the hot whiff of negative emotions.

We encourage advocates in this debate to treat each other not as enemies but as fellow New Yorkers trying to make a common decision about a piece of public property.

At present, we tend to agree with ARTA on many points: that the trail they propose is a good idea, that regular freight and passenger train service don’t look realistic here, that upgrading the railroad would be expensive, that having a side-by-side railroad and trail would be even more expensive, and that the Adirondack Scenic Railroad has not been much of an economic engine in the northern Adirondacks, as it has been between Utica and Old Forge. Nevertheless, we do not share ARTA’s confidence that its position is a slam-dunk. The game, to extend the sports metaphor to the UMP process, hasn’t even started. Converting the rails to a trail would present potential stumbling blocks that haven’t been assessed to our satisfaction: for instance, the railroad’s National Historic Landmark designation, whether the cost of scrap rails would really pay for a trail, how expensive a trail is desired, how many people it would draw, whether other former railroads should be tried first, and the fact that rail trails generally use fully abandoned railroads rather than kicking off an existing one.

Our reporters plan to dig into all of this, along with the railroad side’s complications, in an upcoming series of articles. Vetting each side’s claims with logic, realism and a healthy dose of skepticism is a good role for the Enterprise to play. ARPS has a 21-year operational record to scrutinize, and ARTA’s ideas are untested in the Adirondacks.

At some point, we expect, we’ll make a recommendation to the state on the travel corridor’s best use. We may favor a train or trail, or some kind of compromise. We doubt this divisive issue will be fully settled if the state just picks one side, but we must wait to see what possible compromises emerge. Until then, we continue to feel that the Enterprise belongs not on either side of this discussion but in the middle, with the corridor’s owners – the entire people of New York.