A way to keep rails, develop trails

I previously expressed an opinion for cooperation between the polarized parties concerning the Adirondack travel corridor debate. This week I downloaded and read the unit management plan for the travel corridor. I had somewhat of an epiphany, and in that light I suggest the following as a means to garner the cooperation of all parties concerned:

1. The UMP specifically states that the operator of the railroad must have a lease long enough to allow them to attract outside investors. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad has operated with a short-term lease, eliminating its ability to attract investors to fund track restoration. This one point is a basic assumption for the following suggestions and is also the proximate cause to the delay in achieving railroad operations along the entire route. My suggestion is that a minimum 10-year lease mandate that the operator of the railroad must set aside into escrow an agreed-upon percentage of income that is to be used as matching funds for trail development and maintenance grants. This escrow account could be overseen by representatives of Adirondack Rail Preservation Society and Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates to ensure the monies are expended as the plan intends.

2. With the certainty of a lease, the railroad operator should be able to obtain private funding to execute sufficient maintenance to bring the entire corridor into operable condition. Once these operations commence, the whistle-stops for hikers and canoeists to access remote trails, as described in the UMP, could generate additional escrow monies for trail development. The whistle-stop additional cost is similar to a permit to enter these protected areas, thus achieving a management goal to avoid overuse. Additionally, the increased numbers of passengers using the services would increase, and that would increase the escrow monies available for grants. These grants would then be used as matching funds for trail development and maintenance.

3. The UMP recognizes that a parallel trail within the 100-foot right of way is not financially feasible due to the extensive wetlands along the route. The UMP explains why the right of way follows the water course(s), as do many other railroads, and explains that the parallel trail must necessarily deviate from the right of way to mitigate wetland damage. The trail advocates should embrace the need for these bypasses in that they provide recreational diversity in the same manner that diversity in wildlife and fauna of a healthy forest is desirable. Additionally, the Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation should also recognize that these deviations are required. The two agencies are already in agreement within the current UMP and should quickly provide waivers to allow trail development outside the corridor.

4. The benefit to the trail advocates is a long-distance trail that will be a better recreational experience than a trail restricted to the highway-like corridor for 119 miles. The UMP points out that a long distance trail along existing highways does not provide the diverse recreational experience that would maintain enjoyment. Therefore, motivation to use the trail is reduced. This same rationale can be applied to riding along a 119 mile “flat” trail alongside the tracks. A variety of by-passes could also be used as additional opportunity to link communities that are not directly connected to the corridor. These connectors ultimately increase the potential for greater use of the corridor, and the use would be more evenly distributed along the entire route. It also provides an opportunity to travel the entire route in stages over time that would motivate visitors to return, and therefore increase the economic impact.

With this proposal, everybody wins, requiring only the investment of additional time. The state of New York would have a premier recreational asset that can be enjoyed by all, and increased tax revenues. The trail advocates would have a world-class multi-use trail with reduced need for fundraising to obtain grants necessary for trail development and maintenance, while gaining a more diverse recreational experience. The railroad operator would have a world-class tourist railroad operation that meets their organizational goals while partially funding the parallel trail. The local communities would have a year-round economic engine that has a broader reach while also enjoying the ties between Park population centers. It is my hope that all parties concerned take this suggestion as a means to garner cooperation where the strengths of each organization meld into a synergistic effort to achieve economic success of the residents living within the Park.

James Pierson lives in Saranac Lake.