Rails to trails in Adirondack Park?
I read the article in your paper, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, about the rail group that conducted an excursion from Remsen to Lake Placid this past weekend. It was professional and accurate with regard to details given to you by those of our group that were interviewed. Given the acrimonious relationship between the two warring factions – those who want to rip up the tracks and create a trail, and those who want to preserve the rails for future use – I also appreciate that your article was not a lopsided endorsement of one or the other.
I wish I could say the same about some of the Facebook postings on the rail trail Facebook page. Some of the personal attacks that I saw were absolutely uncalled for, but I guess that’s what you get when individuals can hide behind the anonyminity of that medium. If that is the mentality of those we are dealing with, so be it. It is those personal attacks that finally prompted me to write this letter.
I have seen the rails-to-trails people in action here in Massachusetts and in neighboring Maine. Many are good people with good intent, but I have found that the most vocal of that group tend to be over-zealous with some bordering on the lunatic fringe. They will say anything to further their cause, accurate or not, while completely ignoring the importance of what exists.
While it is true that the existing rail corridor has not seen any freight traffic for many years, there is rail excursion traffic in Lake Placid, and that traffic has some economic benefit to the area. Destroying this infrastructure will end what exists in Lake Placid at the present time and absolutely end any possibility of reviving rail travel in the future. As long as the rails remain in place, there is always the possibility that rail service will return, but once those rails are gone, it will be cost prohibitive to restore rail service to this area.
The Winter Olympics have been hosted twice in Lake Placid, in 1932 and 1980. The revenue generated by those events made, and continues to make, the local economy what it is today. The rail transportation infrastructure, I am sure, played a large part in the decision process in 1932, and although Lake Placid was awarded the 1980 Olympics by default (no one else bid for them), the rail infrastructure likely played a large part in the decision to even bid for those games. I am not saying that the Olympics will come again, only that no one knows what the future holds and what major role transportation might play. We do know that bicycles won’t be transporting the masses and the freight.
There has been much discussion in New Hampshire about restoring rail service to Montreal over a rail corridor known as the old Boston & Maine Northern Main Line from Concord, New Hampshire, to White River Junction, Vermont. That dormant track was ripped out 15 or so years ago for no reason other than scrap value and reuse of the rail. Had that been left intact, rail service to this line may well have been restored by now.
The rails-to-trails people also did their song and dance in Maine a few years ago with regard to an old Maine Central branch known as the Calais Branch, from Ellsworth, Maine, to, I believe, Ayers Junction, Maine, a distance of 80 or 90 miles. The track is gone, has been gone for three or four years, never to return. A call to a local chamber of commerce reveals that the much-touted economic boon has, according to them, never really materialized. Removal of the rails might possibly have increased the length of the snowmobile season by a week or two at either end of that season, but they have had no snow to prove that one way or the other. They have seen some increase in ATV traffic, but as I understand it, the trail advocates in New York will have no part of that.
There are many examples around the country where trails exist beside both active and dormant rail lines, but again, as I understand it, the local trail advocates will have no part of that, either. They want it all to themselves, everyone else be damned.
I don’t believe that the much-touted “world-class,” as it has been called, bike trail is going to turn the economy in the area. Very few people are going to come to the area and bicycle the 90 or so miles in question and pour huge sums of money into the economy. They will be mostly day trippers packing their lunch and their water, and when the day is done, they will jump into their cars and be gone.
The rail system that helped make this country the great country that it is today can be likened to a tree. All the little branches across the country, like the line from Thendara to Lake Placed, dormant or not, are the root system that feeds the tree. Kill enough of the roots, and the tree eventually dies. When and if that day comes, the trail advocates are welcome to what is left, but we should not allow them, in their zeal, to hasten that possible demise.
Lastly, as I alluded to at the beginning of this letter, I was part of that rail excursion group. Yes, I took advantage of the existing rail infrastructure and, as long as that infrastructure survives, would like to do that again next year. That infrastructure should not be preserved for my own personal enjoyment any more than it should be converted for the trail advocates, but rather for the reasons stated in the previous paragraph. By the way, our group, collectively, probably poured $25,000 to $30,000 into the local economy for the weekend – nothing that will save the local economy but nothing to sneeze at, either.
Gordan Wallick lives in Danvers, Massachusetts