Judge halts state plan to convert railway to bike trail

Adirondack Scenic Railroad sued to stop conversion

Categories: News, Schenectady County

ADIRONDACK PARK — The Utica-based Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which runs train trips into the Adirondacks, welcomed a judge’s ruling Wednesday to stop a state plan to convert 34 miles of tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake into a multi-use recreational trail. 

But advocates for the so-called “rail-trail” said they expected the state to appeal the decision and planned to continue to press for what they see as a much-needed recreational connection between the Tri-Lakes community towns in the northern Adirondacks.

Acting Franklin County Supreme Court Justice Robert Main Jr. ruled the state was “arbitrary and capricious” when it adopted a 2016 plan to remove more than 30 miles of railroad tracks to make way for the recreational trail.

A plan adopted in 2016 by the Adirondack Park Agency attempted to amend a management plan for the 119-mile travel corridor from Remsen to Lake Placid to divide the corridor into two segments – a railroad segment from Remsen to Tupper Lake and the recreational trail from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid.

The railroad sued to stop the plan as it hopes to restore service on tracks from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid. The railroad currently runs tourism trips from Utica to Old Forge and until 2016 ran trips from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid. 

Officials from the Adirondack Scenic Railroad on Wednesday applauded the decision and argued maintaining and expanding use of the railroad could serve as an economic boost to the region.

“It only makes sense that we preserve the potential of the line and see that realized,” said Bethan Maher, executive director of the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, which runs the railroad. “We are going to do everything we can to keep moving forward and restore the line.”

Lee Keet, a Saranac Lake-based investor and board member of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, defended the rail-trail plans in an email Wednesday and said he expected the court decision to be appealed. Even if the ruling were upheld, he said, the state could restart the public hearing process and continue to advance the plans.

“In the end, we remain confident that this needed recreational trail will get built,” Keet said in the email. 

Trail advocates like Keet argue the proposed trail would provide a safe passage for biking, jogging and skiing between Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake. Keet pointed to broad support from towns along the trail corridor and thousands of citizens and hundreds of businesses that have petitioned in favor of the trail. He also said the railroad “was not ‘scenic’ at all” and “mostly went through backyards.”

“This is a major boost for the communities between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake,” Keet said of the proposed trail.

In his decision, Main ruled the state violated the State Land Master Plan that governs use of Adirondack Park lands by trying to remove the railroad tracks while still maintaining the area as a travel corridor.

He wrote that the travel corridors applied only to car and train traffic and that attempts to remove the railroad would violate the designation — a designation the state hopes to maintain in its plans to establish the recreation trail.

“The destruction and removal of the railroad line can only be seen as a reclassification of the 34 mile [segment of the] travel corridor,” he wrote. “The rationalization by [the state] that a multi-recreational use trail is qualified for continuation as a travel corridor is not based in reason.”

State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Benning DeLaMater said Wednesday the state was reviewing the decision.

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