Caroline's Opinion

First of all, I think it is important to admit that I am approaching this debate from the perspective of an outsider.  I have lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania all my life, and, though I have vacationed in the Adirondacks since 2000, I have no vested interest in what happens to the Remsen-Lake Placid Corridor.  I have, however, taken a semester-long course on the Adirondacks, and I find the rails-to-trails debate very interesting, especially since it is such a hot topic.  Here, I will attempt to articulate my opinions.

Before we began our research, I assumed I would favor the railroad cause, mostly because I have a sentimentalized notion of railroads.  I immensely enjoyed traveling by train while studying abroad in Europe, and I consider it regretable, for environmental and social reasons, that public transportation in the United States is so limited.  Even more so, though, I tend to believe, though I cannot really defend it with much evidence, that historical structures, such as the railroad and stations in contention, have an innate value and deserve to be preserved.  However, now that I have extensively researched the topic and read defenses of each side, I am more confused and conflicted than before we began! 

In none of the main elements of the debate (costs, economics, environmental) is the evidence heavily weighted towards one side.  The costs would not be significantly different; the environmental impacts are similar; and the amount of potential new revenue from either project is debatable.  Only the historical value is one-sided, but that, as I said, is largely sentiment rather than fact.  Recently, a rumour has been circulating that, once removed, the tracks could never be replaced.  When Ben and I went to the DEC and DOT's public meeting in Utica, the DEC supported this misconception in their presentation, saying that, once removed, the Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers Act would prohibit the tracks from ever being replaced.  This probably inspired some of the pro-railroad comments on the comment boards, including, "many, many trails - one railroad - extreme to eliminate the only railroad - this is extinction."  However, Phil Brown, in his article "DEC Misinformed Public in Rail-Trail Slide Show," discredits this comparison of the removal of the railroads to a permanent extinction.  The DEC's presentation claimed that the Adirondack Scenic Railroad crosses three Wild or Scenic rivers, in which case the railroad could not be replaced.  In reality, though, these rivers are all either Recreational or unclassified at the point where the railroad crosses.  Thus, any decision could concievably be reversed.  Of course, it may not be economically or politically feasible to uproot the tracks now and then replace them in the near future.

For me, in the end the issue comes down to economics.  The Adirondack Park is so unique because it consists of a patchwork of private and state land.  It has been praised as a model of sustainable coexistence of humans and wilderness.  However, currently the economy across the Adirondack Park is distressed.  In much of the park, the poverty and unemployment rates are higher than the New York State average. (Adirondack Foundation)  Thus, in order for the Adirondack Park to continue its legacy of sustaining wilderness and its human population, the Park needs some sort of economic rescue.  And, though estimates are certainly inconsistent, the CA report, RTC report, and Stone Consulting report (see economics section) all agree that a trail would bring in more revenue to the area than a railroad.  Furthermore, seasonal unemployment is a significant problem for Adirondack residents, since so much of the local economy relies on the service and tourism industries.  The only concievable remedy for this problem is an increase in winter tourism, and snowmobilers seem like a potential solution. According to Rachel Murphy's article "Rail or Trail: The Debate Continues for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor," "Last year the DOT examined the amount of snowmobile usage in February and March with a total of 349 near Big Moose Lake and 474 near Sabattis."  Since these numbers are from February and March alone, and since an improved trail available to snowmobilers all winter would only increase the numbers, I believe that a trail along the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor is more likely to mitigate winter unemployment than a railroad.

While I am ultimately conflicted and do not see one option as significantly preferable to the other, I think I would ultimately prefer to see a conversion to trails.  Both certainly have their benefits, and, in a perfect world, we would be able to reach a compromise.  However, because the Corridor traverses through wetlands, which are strictly protected, a railroad with a continuous parallel trail is not feasible.  And TRAC's proposed compromise would not adequately accomodate snowmobilers, who are essential when considering the economic potential of the Corridor.  So, though I understand and value the sentiment attached to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, I hesitantly support the removal of the tracks to make way for a recreational trail.