Failing to reach our potential

With the future of the Lake Placid-to-Old Forge recreation trail hanging in apparent limbo, I feel compelled to comment on the failure of our public officials to seize on one of the greatest opportunities of our generation.

I have for years been an avid cyclist, commuting from Lake Clear to my former job at the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s regional office in Ray Brook in all four seasons. I have also taken numerous bike trips outside this area, including a touring venture from Oregon to Massachusetts (1994), from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Saranac Lake (1999), and most recently around the perimeter of the United States (2013) covering 11,346 miles in five months. In the course of these adventures I have used and enjoyed numerous rail-to-trail bike paths.

These mostly level, traffic-free “rail trails,” which I encountered throughout the country, were all intensely used not only by cyclists but also by runners, walkers and family groups of all descriptions enjoying a nice outing. The rail trails provided a safe alternative to road riding for me and untold enjoyment for all the recreational users I encountered. The trails in Montana and Michigan were also extensively used by winter sports enthusiasts for skiing and/or snowmobiling, as evidenced by the signage along the way.

Believe me, I am not opposed to train transportation. We obviously need better, faster, more frequent train service between our major population centers. Nor am I opposed in principle to tourist trains; in fact, I’ve ridden the Lake Placid-to-Saranac Lake train once myself. However, I must say that this experience did little to convince me that the full potential of the Adirondack rail corridor is being realized.

I’ve personally witnessed rail cars on this 9-mile section of corridor creeping by with a scant handful of sightseers on board. From May to October, the rumble of the train can be heard intermittently along this corridor. During these months and for the remainder of the year, local people and visitors alike are denied the opportunity to enjoy what would in all likelihood be a recreational trail second to none in this country or elsewhere.

Local residents are denied another important use of the corridor. Many who now commute by auto on the busy highway between Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and beyond would also have a safe and healthy alternative to access by BICYCLE to their jobs at the Adirondack Park Agency, Department of Environmental Conservation, State Police headquarters, Adirondack Medical Center and countless other local businesses during much of the year.

As a local New York state taxpayer, I feel it is not my responsibility to finance a select group of individuals who are smitten by the allure that tourist-train travel seems to hold for them. As for the frequent guest opinions expressed in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise from railroad zealots in Georgia, Florida, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, etc., I also feel that the people who reside within the Adirondack Park, and not those in distant parts of our country, should have the say as to what happens here in our backyard. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but “home rule” should prevail for those who would benefit from the recreational use of this corridor on a daily basis.

All the convoluted theories being offered regarding the financial viability of keeping the rails in place are, in my opinion, a smoke screen hiding the basic question: Which use of the corridor would provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number people of New York?

The hard-working folks at DEC who have been given the task of dealing with the numerous unit management plans (UMPs) for the various parcels of state lands in our area should be allowed to move ahead and reopen the UMP for this rail corridor between Remsen and Lake Placid. The state should now, after more than a decade of delay and after years of public debate and information gathering, proceed with the process and finally decide which direction we should go.

The people of the Adirondack Park await the support of Gov. Cuomo as well as state Sen. Betty Little in recognizing the multiple benefits of the Adirondack Rail Trail to this area. Both the governor and the senator appear dedicated to tourist development in the Adirondacks. So it’s time for them to get behind the local businesses, local governments and thousands of their North Country constituents who will benefit from this recreation trail for generations to come.

Let’s make this historic rail corridor once again a vital part of our economy and way of life.

Floyd Lampart lives in Lake Clear.