May 8, 2013

In My Opinion: It needn't be rails vs. trails


— “The Adirondack North Country Association hereby re-states its support for the mixed-use management objectives of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor Final Management Plan, currently in force, and further supports the retention of all railroad infrastructure which can support economic development, including tourism, through enhanced rail operations in the future.” — Resolution passed by the Adirondack North Country Association’s Board of Directors, Sept. 27, 2012

It should be noted that the focus of Adirondack North Country Association’s resolution is on the “mixed-use management objectives” of the existing Unit Management Plan.

ANCA sees significant economic opportunity in the retention and further use of the rails and in the broader use of the rail corridor for trail-based recreation, including hiking, biking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, etc. All of these are acknowledged to be desirable in the UMP, and that plan actually directs the Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Conservation to develop both.

Rail and trail activities are economic engines that can build our local and regional economies. We need to fully understand the synergy between them, and we need better planning and focused investments to ensure we can have both.

It is a shame that we are having a long public debate about rails or trails. It is a choice that should not be made.

Those who advocate removing the rails are asking the state to make a decision that will satisfy some people while angering others: “win/lose.”

Elected and appointed officials should not be expected to do that when a “win/win” is possible. New York state agencies and many stakeholders have already spent years creating the current Unit Management Plan, which, if fully implemented, will satisfy a very wide range of interests. The next step should be full implementation.

ANCA agreed to be the pre-application sponsor for federal Strategic Transportation Enhancement Program funding because the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society had done a detailed analysis to determine how much it would cost to rehabilitate the line to Class II passenger service (up to 35 miles an hour).

On the trail issue, it is more complicated. The UMP calls for a north-south trail and says it should move outside of the travel corridor to adjoining state lands and private lands (through easements), as needed, to avoid obstacles. However, neither DEC nor DOT has defined this trail with specific delineations on maps or on the ground.

What is needed south of Saranac Lake is detailed trail planning to determine the best physical layout, development costs and legal and operational issues. This will require an inter-agency effort with key stakeholders, including local governments and recreational users.

The rails and related infrastructure should be preserved and rehabilitated. They are important economic-development assets and are part of a system listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

At the same time, the state of New York, with local government and not-for-profit partners, should complete a pragmatic implementation plan for the current UMP that clearly defines a north-south trail system to meet the needs of recreational users, including snowmobilers who have full access to the corridor during the winter.

We are pleased that the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society recognizes that trains should be used as for recreational access, moving people and their kayaks, canoes, mountain bikes and other gear to launch points and trail heads along the corridor.

Just imagine how the rail line and a trail system between communities could help our region become a stronger destination for paddlers, mountain bikers and hikers.

Building synergy between rails and trails is a core objective of the current UMP. We don’t need to waste valuable resources and time revising that document. We need to make it work for both rail- and trail-related activities and for the communities along the corridor.

A man I greatly respect has said, “People in the Adirondacks would rather fight than win.” While we have moved beyond that in most areas, through such good efforts as the Common Ground Alliance and the Adirondack Futures Project, the rail-versus-trail argument is a perfect example of preferring fighting over winning.

Stephen M. Erman is president of the Adirondack North Country Association Board.