Rails hampered snowmobile season

An odd but successful winter – thank you very much. Now you must have noticed? After a December tease, it was almost the end of January before we were totally busy.

Old Forge was busy, as was Tug Hill and Stillwater, but no tracks until after Martin Luther King Day and then we got started. It wasn’t until mid March that the rail trail packed on enough base to groom well; then we got rockin’ – as if someone opened a gate and the tourists flooded in. As soon as the word was out that the rail bed was groomed, there was a steady stream of traffic in both directions! The state Department of Transportation placed four traffic counters on the corridor. Watertown, the administering office, seemed to have trouble explaining their purpose and how the information would be used, so I hope SOMEONE will notice what happens when the corridor is properly maintainable. It took weeks of good snowfall to cover the rails rather than the inches that would have made the trail great if the rails and ties were not there, easily making a six-week-longer season.

We all know the importance of Olympic Regional Development Authority jobs and the $11 million in subsidy to keep it all going, but as a small business served by the rail trail, wouldn’t you like to see the corridor used in a way that would be beneficial to your area? Wouldn’t you like to have easy access to the entire region by snowmobile? Can you envision the cyclists and families accessing the rail trail for recreation after the snow goes and how that would bolster local services? Big venues and big events are great, but we can’t exist on an event economy. The rail trail will be like one continuous event, one anyone can use or promote without great personal involvement. After all, most Adirondack businesses take all your time and effort just to keep the lights on.

When the trail is open and groomed, every business looks, in scale, like the base lodges at Gore or Whiteface, and yet it always seems more like a competition with the state rather than cooperation. Even the last weekend in March, the snowmobilers want to ride to the season’s end.

Even in the past few days, a number of riders are navigating the bad spots to ride the good.

So, where is the state in all this? Recently, Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates met with elected representatives and appointed officials and received assurances that news would be forthcoming soon – still no solid information. Not to bore you with statistics of support for the trail option, but I am incredulous! What does it take to get action or even a straight answer from those charged with managing such public assets?

It is hard to believe there could be anything less productive than the years of neglected opportunity that state ownership of this corridor has yielded. Current use includes a very limited but important snowmobile season at no public cost and a very short and questionably viable (the number of riders is immaterial; the question is economic benefit at the cost of other activities) tourist rail season costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance and untold value in lost alternatives. Perhaps most wasteful is the fact that most of the corridor remains useless most of the time. The tourist train only operates small sections, mostly during summer and foliage season when the region is very busy, and the snowmobilers can only use it when there is adequate snow cover to pack above the ties and rails. A rail trail is the better option.

We don’t have time for this! Call and email or write your representatives, chambers of commerce and the Adirondack North Country Association.

Scott Thompson lives in Beaver River, where he owns the Norridgewock III lodge. He is an Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates board member.