ARTA hits the repeat button

Nineteen times. Nineteen letters and columns from the same writer on the same topic in the same paper. It’s like living a print version of the movie “Groundhog Day.” Open the paper, and reread the same thing again and again.

On Jan. 30, Richard Beamish submitted his 19th piece of creative writing to us readers. But it should have been in the comics or fiction section.

The first bit of misleading information is the map posted near the top of the column. It shows the proposed Adirondack Rail Trail as stretching from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake. That must have been a surprise to the folks in Beaver River and the snowmobilers from south of Tupper.

Next, he claims that the one thing the region lacks is a trail. Really? We don’t need jobs, cell service or better Internet connectivity. No, what we need is one more trail where we can ride, run, walk, stroll, fish and hang out simultaneously year-round. Maybe he thinks we need this because it would take everyone off the many existing trails. And he didn’t include cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on this list of outdoor activities. No, in the winter this trail is for snowmobiles only.

The next wild claim is that “millions of tourists come here each year to enjoy outdoor pursuits in an unspoiled natural environment.” Millions of tourists? Think about this. We already have “millions” of people who visit. Where are we to put the 800,000 additional visitors the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy says we might expect? Almost a million more on one trail isn’t unspoiled. He doesn’t mention this.

Next, our intrepid Adirondack explorer describes his upcoming trip to ride trails in Virginia and West Virginia. The Greenbrier River Trail (listed at 80.4 miles) has 18 trail access points with parking. It has 18 sites with necessary amenities including toilets, campsites, cabins and state parks. That means lots of civilization. Not unspoiled nature and certainly not the wilderness areas of the Adirondack Park. No one who lives inside the Blue Line needs to be reminded that this type of trail development is simply not possible in the interior of the Park.

The trail follows the Greenbrier River for most its length. The river is famous for its scenic beauty and the many opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. The rail corridor doesn’t have that type of access or scenery. He will travel “no more than 30 miles a day.” Easy to do in West Virginia but not here in the Park. From Lake Placid he would need to stop several miles north of Tupper Lake. The next day leaves him miles north of Beaver River. Hopefully he won’t need to use the facilities along the way or need to make a call from his cellphone.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation will either determine that shared use by the railroad and the New York State Snowmobile Association should continue or that the entire management plan must be reconsidered. If the plan is reopened, it may result in both users losing their right to the corridor. That’s an outcome only a hard-core preservationist could love. Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates don’t mention this.

We agree with the Camoin study commissioned by ADK Action that it would take many years to even get the necessary agreements and permits to begin removing track. Then you need to add the years of litigation. First the rail supporters will fight to keep the rails, and then the environmental lobby will set up shop to protect the wilderness. Remember, lawyers bill by the hour. And while we’re thinking of money, let’s look at the funding in the ARTA proposal.

ARTA clings to construction costs that are way too low and to funding they know isn’t going to be there. First, the area is so remote that you can’t use other trails for comparison. Second, there is no value in the ties. It actually costs money to dispose of them. Finally, the money from the sale of the rails can’t be designated for the trail. That’s the law. That leaves a hole millions of dollars wide in their proposal. This means they have to come up with money. They never tell you where the money is going to come from. It makes me think that they care more about removing the tracks than constructing the trail.

If it were to be built, much of the trail will be built with volunteer labor, donated materials and “other local funding.” Maintenance will fall to the towns and to the state. This is right out of their proposal. State and local governments will use sales and lodging tax receipts to maintain the trail! That sounds like local tax dollars to me. They always forget to mention this.

The railroad can be restored for less than $16 million. We just finished restoring a section of track, so we know what the cost per mile will be. ARTA constantly refers to a DOT planning number that is now years old. The cost will be about $15 million, nowhere near $45 million. They know it. Now you do, too.

The by-laws of the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society call for the continued multi-use of the travel corridor. We support the continued presence of snowmobiles on the corridor and the development of a system of trails that parallel, intersect or diverge from the corridor. We look forward to working with outfitters and guides to bring tourists into and out of the wilderness safely. We want to help fill hotel rooms and campsites with our passengers. We eagerly anticipate the jobs and prosperity that restoring rail service will bring to the region.

The railroad is already bringing jobs and visitors to the region. We can bring more to communities from Utica to Lake Placid sooner and at less cost than a trail. Rails AND trails make good business. But Mr. Beamish forgot to mention this, 19 TIMES!

Gene Falvo lives in Utica and is a board member of the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, which runs the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.