Open letter to state Sen. Little on rail trail

To Sen. Betty Little:

Eight municipalities have passed resolutions asking the state to immediately begin construction of the Adirondack Rail Trail on the unused rail corridor north of Old Forge. Four other municipalities – and the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce – have called on the state to review the management plan for the rail corridor to determine its best use, a legally required process that is already 15 years overdue. No municipality along the unused rail corridor has asked the state to restore train service.

Regular train service proved to be unneeded, unwanted and unaffordable 42 years ago when the New York Central ceased passenger and freight services. Under state ownership, a plan was developed to try to restore rail service with a private operator, at minimal expense to the taxpayer. That 1996 experiment was due to be revisited in 2001. But the experiment has continued without review, without restored service for most of the line, and without enthusiasm for excursion services at the northeast end of the line where both the town of North Elba and the village of Lake Placid have asked the state to end the excursion service and replace it with a recreation trail. This end of the corridor, in contrast to the seemingly successful excursion service between Utica and Thendara, has been an apparent failure and drain on the Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society, the company that operates the excursion trains on both ends of the line. As a result, recent certified audits question its ability to continue as a going concern.

It is time for the state to act to make use of this potential economic engine for our local communities. The municipalities listed below join more than 12,000 individuals who have signed petitions for the rail trail. The 58,000-member New York State Snowmobile Association has also asked the state to act now and build the rail trail. More than 400 businesses that operate along the corridor have petitioned the state as well. And editorials in all the major Capital Region and North Country newspapers have called on Albany to act.

Studies show that the rail trail can be constructed at no or minimal cost to the taxpayer with a resulting increase in visitor spending that would generate many millions of dollars annually and create no less than 80 and as many as 400 full-time job equivalents through the growth of local businesses and employment.

It is my understanding, however, that you thus far are opposed to the idea of a recreational rail trail on the Lake Placid-Old Forge corridor, despite widespread support. I frankly find this to be very disappointing. It is my further understanding that, given the politics of the situation, your opposition to this project could be a major stumbling block.

You represent us, and we ask that you help make this huge opportunity a reality, as do these local governments along the corridor:

-Village of Lake Placid

-Town of North Elba

-St. Lawrence County

-Village of Tupper Lake

-Town of Tupper Lake

-Town of Harrietstown

-Town of Piercefield

-Town of Colton.

Joe Mercurio, president

Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates

Saranac Lake