ARTA argument is puzzling

An op-ed by Adirondack Recreation Trail Advocates’ Lee Keet, “Yes, we need rail service to Lake Placid,” Feb. 25, attempts to build the case for destruction of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad between Old Forge and Lake Placid by presenting an alternative as a ploy.

He then goes into a long-winded argument for an upgraded, multi-frequency, New York-Albany-Westport train service with a bus connector to Lake Placid, instead of direct rail service via Utica, to justify his ultimate goal: to rip out the railroad between Old Forge and Lake Placid in favor of his trail.

The unrelenting call by trail advocates to destroy the railroad makes enemies of what should be natural allies. If this were Europe, there would be dozens of trains on multiple routes serving the Adirondacks AND a massive trail/pedestrian network, and that’s what should happen. But no. ARTA says we must destroy the last railroad in the Adirondacks, even though there are hundreds of miles of trails already.

As I puzzled over the intractable opposition by ARTA to anything other than the destruction of the railroad, I did some research and found that there is a foundation under the Keet name, supporting the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, the Adirondack Land Trust, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Open Space Institute on the one hand and ARTA on the other. In its own words, “the primary purpose of the foundation is to improve the environment, both physical and cultural, in the Adirondacks and to make life easier, healthier, and more rewarding for the people who live there.”

These are all fine organizations to support, even ARTA if it didn’t want to kill the railroad. But how does “protecting the Adirondacks” square with more snowmobiles? It strikes me as very odd that Keet would simultaneously support environmental causes and an outfit – ARTA – which espouses more snowmobile use, especially since the Adirondacks are already being overwhelmed by on- and off-road motor vehicles. A stupendous number of motor vehicles are in the Adirondacks at any time, as a trip there will attest, and a 2008 study by Ecology & Environment for the Wild Center (Adirondack Energy $mart Park Initiative) projected a 45 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled by 2025. This is for highway only and does not include off-road vehicles.

Mr. Keet is a very smart and successful person. He no doubt knows that railroads are the most energy-efficient and environmentally benign of all transportation modes. One would think he would be calling for more direct train service to bring people into the Adirondacks without their vehicles, but here he is, calling for an end to the railroad north of Old Forge. On top of that, building his trail will only add to environmental degradation through added snowmobile and ATV use. Apparently, it’s all right for the Adirondacks to be swamped with motor vehicles, but not to keep the only railroad running.

Whatever Mr. Keet’s motivations, let us not be swayed to act in haste. Instead, keep this key fact in mind: If the railroad is torn out, it will never come back. The March 9 editorial by the Utica Observer-Dispatch has it right: “But the trump card is the track. It must not be disturbed. Once it’s gone, there would never be a return to rail. The challenge here is for the powers-that-be to find compromise that can accommodate track and trail.”

Bill Hutchison lives in Largo, Fla.