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Notes give view into private rail trail meetings

October 28, 2016
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

RAY BROOK - If a rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake is completed as it's now being planned, it may look similar to a plan previously put forward by Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.

State Department of Environmental Conservation officials were hesitant about using resources ARTA had compiled "due to the lawsuit and the perception," but went on to say that "clearly it does not make sense to reinvent the wheel and not use the materials ARTA had compiled over the past six years."

The press and the public have been prohibited from attending meetings of a "stakeholder group" advising state agencies on the details of a trail to replace the Tri-Lakes train tracks, but the Adirondack Daily Enterprise used the Freedom of Information Law to obtain notes from the first two meetings. This report comes from those notes.

Article Photos

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad passes through Saranac Lake Saturday, Oct. 22 on one of its last runs of the year, and possibly ever, between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. The state plans to replace 34 miles of tracks with a multi-use trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake.
(News photo β€” Morgan Ryan)

The group decided that "Adirondack Rail Trail" would be the working name of the trail, but that it may be changed based on public input.

ARTA representative Lee Keet told the group that his organization's 501(c)3 designation could be used going forward. He said ARTA's name could be changed and it could be reconstituted as a "friends group overseeing the recreational trail."

DEC put together the stakeholder group to come up with a conceptual plan for a proposed 34-mile recreational trail for biking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, pedestrians, strollers and wheelchairs. The group has now met three times. A fourth meeting planned for today will remain closed to the public, DEC spokesman Dave Winchell said Thursday.


First meeting

Eighteen people attended the first meeting of the stakeholder group on Sept. 1 at DEC Region 5 headquarters in Ray Brook. These included representatives of the four towns and three villages the corridor runs through as well as representatives from ARTA, the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society, the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, the state Adirondack Park Agency and the DEC.

The goal of the group is to "develop a draft conceptual plan for the recreational trail for public review," the notes say. "The final conceptual plan will be used for an RFP (request for proposals) to design and construct an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible recreation trail."

The second item on the agenda is the removal of rails and ties. The meeting notes say that the group would like "one RFP for removal of rails and ties north of Tupper Lake and upgrade of railway south of Tupper Lake."

The second note says there was concern expressed that the two projects, the upgrade of the rails south of Tupper Lake and the construction of the trail, should not be linked "so that work on removal of rails and ties is not delayed by upgrade of the railway."

The notes also say that municipalities may also be able to assist in the removal process and that "RFP should include installation of structures to ensure safety of users and prevent illegal ATV (all-terrain vehicle) use of trail prior to the trail being constructed."

Agenda item No. 3 says a "partnership between DEC, an 'umbrella' organization (friends group) and the municipalities" will be responsible for operation and maintenance of the trail. The group also discussed which duties and responsibilities each municipality should undertake.

The notes say operation and maintenance of the trail will be funded through sales tax, the Regional Economic Development Council and the state Environmental Protection Fund. The governor announced this spring that the state would provide $8 million for trail construction and $15 million for track upgrades.


Second meeting

Twenty-one people attended the second meeting on Sept. 22 in Ray Brook. Representatives of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, Barkeater Trails Alliance and state Office of General Services were there this time, in addition to ORDA, DEC, APA and the municipalities.

According to the notes, the DEC was drafting a memorandum of understanding between itself and the state Department of Transportation that would give DEC long-term oversight of the corridor between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid.

"APA reports that in a recent meeting DOT expressed their desire to complete the MOU and move forward on the RFP for rail and tie removal and upgrade of railway," the notes say.


Rail removal

The DEC previously said rail and tie removal would begin this coming spring.

The notes say that "municipal governments could undertake some of the removal process in November and December" of this year since "municipal crews will not be available in the spring and summer as they will be busy with their own projects." There is also a note that the Adirondack Scenic Railroad's lease from the state ends on Nov. 30.

The group's consensus was that rail removal after this winter is acceptable.

Any good rails and ties that are removed would be set aside for use in the rail upgrade south of Tupper Lake.

The rails may be used to deliver and stage construction materials.

The notes also say the APA has jurisdiction where the corridor passes through wetlands, but the agency has expressed no major concerns about wetland impacts.

The group decided on several action items during the second meeting as well, including that DEC, DOT and OGS will coordinate to develop the request for proposals. The agencies will also ensure that the contract for removing rails and ties includes ensuring a smooth surface afterward; that culverts, causeways and other infrastructure is safe and usable; that "fences, signs and other measures will be put into place to ensure safety on the corridor prior to trail construction"; and that gates will be built at certain access points "to prevent illegal motor vehicle and ATV use."



The notes go on to say that public ATV use will not be allowed on the trail, but administrative use of vehicles for maintenance, emergency response and law enforcement would be permitted.

The group agreed that "state and local law enforcement will coordinate to patrol and further prevent illegal motor vehicle and ATV use."



The notes go on to say that "DEC will not pursue the $4 million in federal funds the Town of North Elba proposed transferring to development of the recreational trail to avoid further delays," saying there is enough money in NY Works to make the federal funds unnecessary.

OGS agreed to work with DEC on a feasibility study, developing the conceptual plan and RFP, oversee construction of the trail and "develop a master plan to coordinate a phased approach to rail and tie removal with trail construction."



The stakeholder group also wants the DEC to engage local landowners.

"DEC plans to engage adjacent landowners in the near future outside of the stakeholder group," the notes say. "Landowners adjacent to other rail trails who have expressed concerns typically have no concerns once the trail is in place - in fact many find the trail an asset and use it often themselves."


Operation and maintenance

Municipalities raised concerns about funding and staffing for maintenance, but the notes say "volunteers from friends group can assist. Many people associated with snowmobile clubs have construction businesses which bring equipment, knowledge and experience."

A group discussion about operation and maintenance of the trail noted that decisions regarding fencing, signage, access points, ADA compliance and general maintenance need to be made. The group did not reach a consensus, but the notes say "current laws set midnight as a curfew for snowmobilers." It is not clear in the notes where that curfew is in place.


Stone dust surface

There was much talk about the surface of the trail as well. The group decided on stone dust for the surface, saying it is less expensive and more easily maintained than pavement and can accommodate "road bikes, strollers, wheelchairs and other wheeled equipment.

"If constructed properly it has similar characteristics to a paved road."

The notes say snowmobiles can tear up the stone dust, but it "will cause damage to snowmobiles, so snowmobilers are unlikely to go on the trail when snow depths are low." The group also said the trail could be closed to snowmobilers when conditions warrant and that certain access points should be gated.

The group also said "communities can pave adjacent trails within or approaching their community centers in the future if they desire."



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