Responses to rail advocates’ objections

To the editor:

As we look forward to a long-overdue state review to determine the best use of the 120-mile Remsen-Lake Placid rail corridor, opponents of the conversion have continued to raise some questions and objections that need to be addressed..

Remoteness: The 44 miles of Adirondack Park territory between Big Moose and Tupper Lake is anything but a desolate wilderness, as some trail opponents claim. It is remote, but it is not inaccessible. There are services at Beaver River, 8 miles from Big Moose, and public access points at Sabattis, Lake Lila, Horseshoe Lake, Mount Arab and Piercefield at 18, 27, 30, 35 and 39 miles, respectively, from Big Moose. Most cyclists would agree that 44 miles is not a difficult day’s pedal, but the other access points make possible many shorter trips.

Safety: Once the tracks and ties are gone, any emergency vehicle could access the entire corridor, as opposed to the specialized rail equipment now needed for a train derailment. Remember that the state Department of Environmental Conservation is already responsible for safety on millions of acres where every rescue requires either a long hike or a helicopter. Being able to actually drive to any incident makes rail corridor safety issues very easy to deal with.

Maintenance: There has been some discussion that the state Department of Transportation, which currently subsidizes maintenance of the rail corridor, would not do this if the corridor were converted to a trail because its purpose would then be “recreational.” It should be noted that rail operations on the corridor, both current and proposed, are also a “recreational” use of the corridor and clearly not “transportation.” Moreover, the cost of maintaining the corridor without tracks and related structures will be dramatically less since ordinary highway equipment can be used. Snowmobile clubs and local volunteers will continue to perform foliage control, drainage maintenance and cleanup.

Status: The unit management plan that currently governs the corridor clearly states that it will remain a “travel corridor” with or without the rails in place. While the State Land Master Plan does not specifically deal with a travel corridor that is used for recreation, nothing in the SLMP contradicts the corridor management plan. Removing a portion of the tracks would not change the corridor’s status as a railway right of way; nor would it render it any less a travel corridor.

Management: The Department of Transportation should see its charter as including an obligation to maintain all travel corridors and provide for the greatest economic impact during all seasons of the year. If not, and if no other state agency assumed maintenance responsibility, a private, not-for-profit organization like Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates could assume that obligation, as ARTA has already offered.

Tony Goodwin

Co-founder and board member of ARTA