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There's a long history of trains and tourism in the region -- when the Adirondacks was home to large, mountain hotels in the early half of the last century, visitors got there by train -- and it would be even better if they returned with connections from big cities.

New York state regulators are proposing to extend a tourist train route and create a multi-use trail through the heart of the Adirondacks, moves which could boost visitors to remote areas currently accessible only on foot, kayak or canoe, officials announced Thursday.

“This wilderness-access train could potentially serve as a means by which people of all ages and abilities can access remote areas they would otherwise never see,” according to the proposed plan.

The proposal would extend the tourist train route on the southwestern part of a 119-mile rail corridor, convert the northeastern segment to a 34-mile multi-use recreational trail ending at Lake Placid, and develop a community connector snowmobile trail system surrounding the corridor, officials said. Places like including Lake Lila and Low’s Lake in the Whitney Wilderness would be more accessible.

The plan announced by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation formalizes a proposal the agencies discussed at public meetings last fall.

The transportation agency estimates the cost of rehabilitating tracks at $11 million, which would bring them up to federal standards for passenger train speeds of 30 mph. It estimates the cost of the 34-mile trail at $7.8 to $9.8 million.

A public hearing is scheduled at 7 p.m. July 8 at Tupper Lake Middle-High School. The proposal will be available on the DEC website on Friday.

The fate of the rail corridor through some of the wildest reaches of the Adirondacks has been hotly debated for years. Trail advocates have been pressing the state to rip up the rails and create a 90-mile multi-use trail, while train buffs want dilapidated tracks restored. The state has attempted to compromise.

If the plan is implemented, the tourist train would be able to extend service an additional 45 miles for a total of 85 miles from the Utica area to Tupper Lake. The state would enter a long-term contract with the railroad to enable it to obtain long-term loans and grants.

The state will issue a request for proposals to solicit a rail developer to lease, operate and maintain the railroad. The current Adirondack Scenic Railroad is operated by the non-profit Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, which hopes to win a 20-year lease to operate on the corridor.

The proposal calls for creation of a new snowmobile trail connecting the remote hamlet of Beaver River to the heavily used snowmobile trail network in the western Adirondacks. The hamlet is now accessible on foot, by boat, or by snowmobile along bumpy railroad tracks.

“The proposal will reinvigorate the economies of neighboring communities by implementing a comprehensive approach to recreational use of the corridor including establishing a multi-use recreation trail from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and other compatible uses and a renewed commitment to rail from Remsen to Tupper Lake,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens.

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Tags: new york state, tourism

Photo credit: Train car at the Adirondack Museum and North Creek Railroad. Jim Duell / Flickr

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