After federal wetland rules scuttled a $2.6 million project to create a biking and hiking trail along train tracks between two Adirondack resort villages, town officials have thrown their support behind a controversial proposal to remove the rails and create a multi-use trail bisecting the Adirondack Park.
The town board in North Elba this week shelved plans for the trail parallel to the tracks between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, where a tourist train runs in summer. The action, ending 10 years of planning, came after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that extensive additional engineering and costly environmental review would be required because of surrounding wetlands.
The board’s move comes as state officials are holding public hearings on what to do with the 119-mile rail corridor bisecting the Adirondack Park from Remsen to Lake Placid. Tourist trains run only at the ends, with the vast midsection deteriorating.
Railroad buffs and some local officials want the state to renovate the tracks or at least allow the tourist train to stay as it is. But a large coalition including snowmobile clubs, mountain bikers, hiking groups and businesses has been urging the state to sell the rails for scrap and use the money to create a year-round multi-use trail through the heart of the Adirondack wilderness.
In hopes of striking a compromise, railroad enthusiasts have pushed the idea of building a trail beside the tracks. But trail advocates have maintained that the numerous lakes, rivers and wetlands along the route would make that impossible.
In a resolution endorsing the proposal to replace the tracks with a trail, the North Elba board said a bike path from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake will be used and enjoyed by a diverse group of users and expand economic opportunities throughout the region.
The state departments of transportation and environmental conservation are holding the last public hearings on the issue on Monday in Utica and Tuesday in Tupper Lake.