by Dan McClelland
Tupper Lake members of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's stakeholders group that helped the agency fashion a plan for the new 34-mile trail that will be built on the railroad corridor between Lake Placid and Tupper Lakehosted a community forum at the library Wednesday. The hour-long session drew over 75 people.
While the Tupper Lake representatives were excited about the trail that may be constructed this year, once the tracks and ties are removed, they shared some concerns, including the creation of a large salvage yard just up the tracks from the Tupper Lake station, on the corridor just about where Malerba Ave. intersects Washington.
Tupper Lake members of the stakeholders group included Town Supervisor Patricia Littlefield, Planner and Assessor Paul O'Leary, Village Code Officer Pete Edwards, ROOST's Michelle Clement and Councilman John Quinn. All were in attendance that evening.
Last summer the state agency formed the volunteer group, many representing villages and towns along the proposed trail, after the DEC and the state Department of Transportation announced the amendment to the state Unit Management Plan for the transportation corridor. Others on it were Adirondack Rail Trail Advocates supporters, ROOST staffers and historical society members from Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. There were no rail supporters, however.
All of the 11 meetings were closed to the press, but the minutes were regularly released.
Mrs. Littlefield called it “a good working group,” who didn't always agree but who worked towards solutions.
DEC officials hosted two public information meetings yesterday afternoon and last night in the community room at the Emergency Services Building.
Dave Winchell, of the DEC's public relations office, called the state plan to build the new trail and rebuild the railroad to Tupper Lake from Big Moose “a good project for Tupper Lake. It was a second opportunity here for people to “ask their questions and write down their concerns.”
All written comments are to go to Steve Guglielmi, senior forester, Region 5, P.O. Box 296, Ray Brook, N.Y 12977. Social media addresses for the state agency were www.facebook.com/NYSDEC, twitter.com/NYSDEC or www.flickr.comb/photos/nysdec by a deadline of June 2.
Giant maps of the entire trail proposed and measuring in total over 40 feet long were on display at both events.
The engineering for the propsed multi-use trail was performed for the DEC by Bergmann Associates, architects and engineers.
Supervisor Littlefield welcomed the guests and delivered a 15-minute presentation on the new trail Wednesday.
“We'll share some of the ideas we brought to the DEC meetings,” shetold the group, inviting people to jot down their ideas on small pads that were circulated Wednesday evening.
“This is still a draft, so put your questions and concerns on paper and we'll make sure they get to the right parties.”
“This won't be a debate of rail versus trail; that's been beaten to death!”
She said the more ideas and concerns that are shared with the DEC stakeholders the better the final plan. “We want to make sure this is a quality trail!”
“This will be like no other trail in the entire northeast, 34 miles of flat, open trail from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid...an all season, multi-use trail for people of all abilities,” she continued.
She said the committee of planners had tried to meet all American with Disabilities Act requirements, as best they could.
The trail will be open to almost all outdoor uses, with the exception of all terrain vehicle riders and people on horseback.
The entire 34-mile trail is owned by the state, with the exception of three parcels owned by North Country Community College and other groups which will eventually be sold to the state, she explained.
Mrs. Littlefield said the time schedule is for the plan to be completed, in final form, by this summer and fall with a final design in place by fall. Construction, involving the removal of rails and ties, is set for summer, 2018.
She admitted there may be “some factors” to throw the plan slightly off schedule, but the DEC is moving ahead with the project.
The plan is to restrict access to the corridor at all road crossings during rail removal and trail construction in 2018.
“There's still plenty to do,” she reminded everyone, explaining that sub committees have been created to tackle signage, historic preservation and operational issues. ROOST is developing a branding and marketing planfor the trail.
During the meetings the stakeholders group considered many issues, including access points, bridges and culverts, connections to communities and businesses, emergency response routes, the function of the three train stations, historic preservation, parking areas, possible areas of conflict with adjacent landowners, rules regulations and enforcement, signage and surface material, which will be stone dust.
The proposed design is a ten foot wide stone dust trail with a minimum shoulder of 2.5 feet on each side within a 15-foot wide cleared right of way for the entire 34 miles.
The new corridor features 22 “at grade” crossings, some of which will need to be realigned so the trail is perpendicular to each roadway.
The trail also encompasses four bridges and nine large culverts. All the bridges and five of the culverts will be topped with “open timber tie decks,” according to the plan.
There are also dozens of trails, some of which are DEC-owned, along the corridor, which will increase the hiking, biking and snowmobiling possibilities off the main trail.
Another member of the committee, Paul O'Leary, detailed some of the things the Tupper Lake members were looking for in the new trail.
He commended Mrs. Littlefield for all the work she did with the group.
He said DEC officials were “very receptive” to the concerns of the individual stakeholders.
Paths were found to connect to other areas in Franklin County and to many local businesses.
“Tupper Lake is a main gateway to this new trail. People will be coming here to try it out, so we need to make this gateway spectacular,” he told the crowd.
He stressed that visitors who come here must enjoy “a good experience,” as it will reflect on the entire community.
He said he and his colleagues from Tupper Lake have a number of issues and concerns that must be worked out with the DEC before the final plan is made.
One of the local concerns was to make sure there was a good connection from the trail to Little Wolf Beach and the Adirondack Public Observatory via an eight foot wide stone dust trail to cross DOT property and connect to Washington Street at the intersection of Coney Beach Road.
Another big concern of the local group is a proposal to create a large salvage yard to store rails, ties and extra stone ballast removed as part of the railroad removal and trail construction. The site would be south of the trail to Coney Beach Road and north of the train station.
The plan is that the salvage yard, the only one planned for the 34 mile trail, would eventually be converted to parking for 70 vehicles, including snowmobile trailers.
Mr. O'Lear said his group likes the latter, with possibility the addition of rest rooms and water-bottle filling stations.
According to the draft plan, “the DOT salvage yard at Tupper Lake may need to remain for several years. Its location will affect the current design of the trail (it occupies on the available land on the north side of the active rail) and if it remains it is not available for snowmobile trailer parking as is currently desired.”
Mrs. Littlefield said she has spoken with DOT officials and told them any salvage yard would be better placed south of the Route 3 and 30 highway crossing, adjacent to the town's highway garage, where similar types of debris andsoil and gravel materials are stored.
“I've received no promises yet!” she told the group.
The proposed salvage yard would be on DOT-owned land that some village residents whose properties adjoin the corridor use for various private uses like vehicle parking or wood storage.
“We need a safe place for the parking of cars and trailers adjacent to the trail,” she added.
Pete Edwards said that even though the salvage yard would have a limited life and eventually converted to parking, the local members of the stakeholders' group don't think it should be placed there at all. The town garage site makes a better place to store those construction materials.
“Why should Tupper Lake have to wait for three or four years” for a new parking lot along the trail, he questioned.
Mr. O'Leary said they weren't sure why rails, ties and other materials had to be stored for three or four years.
Mr. Edwards said they would also like to see a second trail to connect directly to the train station site, where there is parking, and to the Junction Pass trail which connects to it.
He said the state DOT wasn't represented at the stakeholders' meetings and it would have been nice to have representatives there.
Chris Keniston, a member of ARTA, wondered about town plans for the train station and Dan McClelland, chairman of Next Stop! Tupper Lake which built and owns the historically-decorated station, said the building has always been considered a future welcome center for all visitors here.
“Discussions (with Mr. McClelland's group) are currently underway,” Mrs. Littlefield told Mr. Keniston.
Michelle Clement, a ROOST staffer who works out of the newly redecorated ROOST office on Park Street, said more parking is planned at the train station site, as part of a new grant the town has applied for in this year's round of the DEC Smart Growth Grant program.
“We're expected to hear on the grant application in June,” she told the group.
Another proposalwould see the erection of fencing along the trail as it approaches the train station. “If you live on McCarthy Street or Webb Row you'll want to get right on the trail,” the supervisor said.
She said without gates at the endof the streets near the trail, people will have to travel to the train station to access the new trail.
One of the main concerns of the Tupper Lake representatives was the illegal use of the trail by ATV riders, said Paul O'Leary. ATV use is rampant on the trail now and any day or evening of the spring, summer and fall they are very visible racing by the station.
“How will illegal ATV use be enforced?” planning board chairman Shawn Stuart wondered.
“Why wait? Why not enforce it now?” he continued.
Chris Keniston, a veteran state police officer, said the situation can be improved through “enforcement,” using a combination of increased patrols by the state police and state rangers.
There are many private areas along the trail that provide access to the corridor that only the locals are aware of.
More gates on those access points would keep a lot of the ATVs off the trail, Mr. Keniston said.
Councilman John Quinn thought gates at the Lead Pond crossing would also help.
Mr. O'Leary said the Tupper Lake representatives want that ATV use on the trail eliminated.
One of the group's ideas is to solicit help from the states Parks and Recreation office and its police for more patrols here in the non-winter months.
“We've mentioned the problem to our local police,” noted Pete Edwards. “But officers are not going to chase kids down the trail to their death.”
He thought maybe cameras along the trail in this area could be used to determine the identities of the culprits. “It's outlaw rodeo every night of the week and there is never anything done about it.”
Mr. Edwards said it will be up to the public, once the trail is completed, to report ATV users they come upon when using the trail.
“It's very difficult to enforce, said Mayor Paul Maroun. He said he has spoken at length with village and state police here on the issue. Cameras on the new trail may help, however, he thought.
“When they are caught there should be stiff penalties,” advocated Hope Frenette, who lobbied heavily for the new trail through her membership in ARTA in recent years.
“Confiscate” the vehicles, said her husband, Jim. He felt that measure should convince young riders to stay off the trail if they risk losing their machines.
Equipment and vehicles seizures are what happens to offenders who break DEC laws, Councilman Mike Dechene reminded the crowd.
Mr. O'Leary said the three villages along the trail are also working on a consistent snowmobile policy, so every town has the same rules and there is no confusion for visitors.
“We also want to make sure the Washington Street playground is not impacted in any way by the trail construction.
The plan pinpoints the large open area beyond the playground as a vehicle parking area.
Retired Tupper Lake Rescue Squad paramedic Bob Collier said there needs to be provisions for access to emergency personnel aboard ATVs to all points on the corridor.
Businesswoman Michelle Blair wondered if there has been any discussion at the meetings about improved cell service or emergency telephones on the new trail.
The DEC's Dave Winchell told her there are no plans to install “anything special” in terms of communications on the trail. “As our technology improves, we may do something,” he told the group.
by Dan McClelland