The idea of converting part of a historic Adirondack railroad line near Lake Placid into a recreation trail has gotten a boost from two state agencies.
The state departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation announced that they will reopen the unit management plan and environmental impact statement for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.
The review will evaluate converting the Tupper Lake-to-Lake Placid segment, which runs about 30 miles, into a recreational trail for use by hikers, bikers and skiers.
They will also examine whether rail service can be revitalized in the rest of the corridor, parts of which is now used by seasonal tourism trains.
In addition, the state will review options to create alternative snowmobile corridors, because snowmobiles now use the right of way in winter.
“We were clearly trying to balance interests. I want to stress that this is only a proposal and it may change,” state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said Thursday.
The rail corridor, which dates from the 1890s, runs 119 miles from Remsen, which is north of Utica, to Lake Placid. The line travels through some of the wildest sections of the Adirondack Park, filled with vast forests and wetlands.
The announcement follows a series of public meetings DEC and DOT held last year on whether the plan should be revisited. A number of towns and villages at the upper end of the corridor have voted in favor of tearing out the track and converting the railroad grade to a recreation trail. Others want to upgrade the track. Others want to do both, put a trail beside or on top of the rails.
The agencies will jointly prepare a management plan and draft environmental impact statement, weighing factors that include economic-growth potential.
Reviews are typically lengthy processes, involving agency staff recommendations, input from the Adirondack Park Agency, and public hearings. The final decision will be up to the commissioners of DEC and DOT.
There has been significant public pressure for development of a recreation trail between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, where a tourism train runs. But trains also have their defenders. The debate has filled the editorial pages of the local paper, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
“Our goal is to protect our natural resources, while also exploring ways to increase opportunities for people to enjoy outdoor recreation activities in the Adirondacks,” Martens said.
The restored rail service envisioned by the 1996 unit management plan never has been realized, said the two agencies in explaining their decision — and the recurring short-term lease under which the Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates its various excursions has hindered the capital investment necessary to improve the rail line.
“This review will evaluate options to provide the long-term assurance to the rail operator and its investors need to move forward with much-needed improvements,” the two state agencies said in a statement.
The agencies will also look at ways to expand alternative snowmobile routes along the Old Forge-to-Tupper Lake segment. The goal would be to keep snowmobiles off the tracks, which can be dangerous for them in low-snow conditions.
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