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P.O. Box 1081, Saranac Lake, NY 12983 /                               

Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates

Frequently Asked Questions

Claim: We should continue to support the tourist train because it attracts tourists and is good for business. 

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad claims annual ridership of 14,000 in its peak year (2010). This number pales beside the potential use of the corridor as a year-round recreational trail. Since 1990, when it began running between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, the tourist train has 1) provided no noticeable economic benefits and 2) continues to prevent other recreational uses of the line. Yet it continues to receive taxpayer support based on the premise that it stimulates business.

Claim: If we extend the train ride from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake, the train will achieve its potential. More people will ride it and the regional economy will benefit.

A 2010 study by Camoin Associates projected a 75% increase in riders by extending train service an additional 25 miles to Tupper Lake. If a ridership of 14,000 in its best year has not helped our economy, what can be expected with more riders taking a much longer trip to Tupper Lake?

Claim: There’s no assurance that a recreation trail would be more successful than the tourist train.

Wrong. A recent study by Stone Consulting said restoration of train service from Utica to Lake Placid will bring only 7,000 additional visitors per year.  A study by the Rails to Trails Conservancy said that a recreation trail on the corridor will bring 244,000 visitors per year.  This excludes additional winter users - another major opportunity for attracting more tourists.  The  Adirondack Rail Trail will be a major tourist destination in itself, while the tourist train is an incidental activity, something a visitor might do as a rainy-day alternative. The type of outdoor-loving recreationists attracted by the trail, the length of their stay, and their tendency to repeat the experience will spark the regional economy.  For example, 27 million Americans ride bicycles, and many families incorporate biking into their vacation plans. In the Adirondacks, Fish Creek and Rollins Pond campgrounds alone attract nearly 200,000 campers each year, most of whom bring bicycles. The campgrounds will connect easily with the railroad bed, offering campers a short bike ride to Tupper Lake or a longer (but still easy) ride to Saranac Lake.

Claim: That’s all speculation—where’s the hard evidence that rail trails are such a big deal?

The national Rails to Trails Conservancy, which has promoted the conversion of 30,000 miles of rails to trails, has plenty of evidence that rail trails attract large numbers of recreationists and stimulate local economies. For example, the Pine Creek Trail, which runs 63 miles through the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania” between Jersey Shore and Wellesboro, last year had 138,000 users and generated about $4 million in sales. The 32-mile Elroy-Sparta Trail in Wisconsin draws some 60,000 users who spend about $2 million a year. The Heritage Rail Trail, which runs 20 miles between York, Pennsylvania and the Maryland state line, attracts 350,000 visitors annually who leave behind $3.6 million. And so on.

Claim: We should keep the train and build a separate trail and make everyone happy.

From Saranac Lake west this is a logistical, economic, and regulatory impossibility. Yet, in order to operate between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad requires that the tracks be kept in place over the entire length of the line so the rolling stock can be moved to Utica in the fall and back to Lake Placid in the spring. As long as the train continues operating between Placid and Saranac, it requires that the tracks be kept in place for this twice-a-year passage. Thus does a nine-mile tourist train monopolize the 80 miles of corridor between Saranac Lake and Old Forge!

Claim: The town of North Elba has the money to build an adjoining trail from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake. It would be foolish not to push ahead with the project.

ARTA is not opposed to this project as long as it connects to the next 81-miles of recreation trail.  We continue to believe that the expense is unwarranted, but if that is what North Elba citizens want we certainly will not oppose it.

What about the movement to continue the tourist train 25 miles from Saranac to Tupper and also build a separate trail alongside it?

Extending the tourist train to Tupper Lake would be a major expense for questionable economic benefits. As for building a separate trail beside the tracks from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake, forget it. Even if environmental regulations were dispensed with, widening the rail corridor from 8 to 20 feet to accommodate a separate trail would require dumping tons of fill into lakes and wetlands. This scheme is a physical, financial and regulatory impossibility.

What will become of economically-stressed Tupper Lake without the excursion train linking it to Placid and Saranac Lake?

What will make Tupper a tourist destination is not an extended tourist train but a popular bikeway connecting the village to the rest of the Tri-Lakes area--along with Tupper’s emergence as a hub for snowmobilers on a greatly improved trail that links Tupper Lake with Old Forge in the south and with hundreds of miles of other snowmobile trails to the north.

Claim: The rail corridor is on the National Register of Historic Places, which prevents removal of the tracks.

Not so. Historic registrations are frequently changed to improve the level of protection. What is historic about the corridor is that it was used for transportation and played a key role in opening up the Adirondacks for lumbering, mining, health care and tourism. A safe, scenic, long-distance recreation trail would continue this tradition and interpret the region’s history for hundreds of thousands of trail users. The train stations could serve as rest stops, information centers, cafes, bike shops and museums.

Claim: The state Department of Transportation (DOT) owns the line and would never agree to removing the tracks.

This travel corridor is state property, owned by the people of New York State. It is managed by the DOT and leased to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. This one-year lease can be renewed or terminated as appropriate.  If the public clearly prefers a recreational trail, the corridor will be used for this public purpose.

Claim: If the tracks are removed, the corridor will become part of the Forest Preserve and snowmobiles will be banned.

Wrong. The travel corridor will continue under its own unit management plan (UMP). The classification of adjoining land will not affect the status of the corridor, with or without rails. The Unit Management Plan for the corridor anticipates a recreation trail if the train operator fails to restore service during an initial marketing period, presumably the planned UMP review in 2001, 2007, and then again this year, none of which have taken place. 

Claim: To change the UMP governing the travel corridor could take forever because the state has so many other UMPs it must tend to first.

The UMP can be changed promptly if given a high priority. The current UMP has been in effect since 1995. The use of the corridor by the tourist trains was always  provisional. The Plan contains a recreational-use option in the event the train fails to deliver economic benefits. After an eleven-year trial period, it is evident that the train has cost taxpayers more than anticipated and has not produced the benefits originally envisioned. It’s now time for the state to re-evaluate the economics of rail operations and then implement the next most desirable option listed in the UMP: the full recreational use of the corridor without the rails.

Claim: The train enables handicapped people to enjoy the beauty of the Adirondacks.

The Great Adirondack Recreation Trail will provide those with impaired mobility a perfect pathway for enjoying the outdoors easily, safely and independently. The level trail will be well suited for electric or self-powered wheelchairs, hand-propelled bicycles, etc., and ideal for families with very young and very old members.

Claim: There are thousands of miles of hiking, biking, skiing and snowmobile trails in the Adirondacks, but only one tourist train.

An excursion train runs at the southern end of the line, and another now operates between Saratoga Springs and North Creek. But there are no easy, peaceful, smoothly surfaced, long-distance recreational trails in the Adirondack Park that connect communities, traverse wild and scenic areas, and are suitable for people of every age and physical ability. The Great Adirondack Recreation Trail would fulfill this need.

Claim: If the rail becomes a recreational trail, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) will mess it up.

Almost all of the 30,000 miles of rail-trails in this country prohibit the use of ATVs, as do most trails on state lands of the Adirondacks.  ARTA will press for  similar restrictions on the converted corridor.

Claim: When gas reaches $10 a gallon or when we run out of gas altogether, we will need trains to get to and from the Adirondacks.

High-speed train service between major population centers must be a national priority, but attempting to restore freight and passenger service between Utica and Lake Placid is like trying to solve a 21st century problem with a 19th century solution. Americans will never abandon their automobiles, which will someday be getting 100 miles-per-gallon and be powered by cleaner alternative fuels. However, if we ever did need to restore train travel to Lake Placid, the rail bed would still be there in perfect condition for laying a new, improved rail line for speedier train service.

Claim: If we remove the tracks they can never be put back

No, if we "rail bank' the tracks they can be reinstalled anytime there is a need, at the discretion of the managing agency.  In fact, surfacing the ballast for use by bicycles and other recreational uses creates a better starting point for installing ties and rails than what we currently have.  

Claim: In Colorado the Durango to Silverton tourist train does a good business dropping off hikers, boaters, and fishermen along their route.  Why isn't that a good use of the Adirondack Rail Corridor?

The Durango to Silverton train runs for 40 miles along the scenic canyon of the Animas River.  For 25 of those miles the railroad is the only access for recreationists.  Along the Adirondack Rail Corridor, however, there is vehicular access to every lake and trail.  Furthermore, most of the trail and river related excursions offered by the Durango to Silverton operation use vans for transport in one direction so that these trips are not tied to the schedule of the train.

How can we make the Great Adirondack Recreation Trail a reality?

By making sure that public opinion and common sense will prevail. ARTA is conducting further studies and analyses of the costs and benefits of a recreational trail; making its voice heard through reasoned debate; and taking its case to our elected representatives at every level.