Morning Read: Douglas entangled in train debate

The debate over the future of the rail corridor between Remsen and Lake Placid is one of the most heated I’ve seen in the last decade.

Now Garry Douglas, head of the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, is tangled up in the furor.

Advocates of converting the railroad to a trail system are demanding that Douglas step down from the NC REDC because he has pushed so strenuously in favor of maintaining and enhancing the railroad.

They cite in particular a letter, published in the Tupper Lake Free Press, where Douglas urged rail road supporters to “come out in force to drown out recreational-trail supporters” before a public meeting.

This from the Plattsburgh Press-Republican:

Douglas said the letter to the Tupper Lake Free Press was meant as a personal correspondence to Next Stop Tupper Lake Chairman Dan McClelland, who is also the newspaper’s editor.

But that email was published.

“Nevertheless, in hindsight, it went a step too far in mixing my roles. I feel badly about that and apologize,” Douglas said.

“I will, however, remain active and passionate, and I have no problem with others of differing perspectives doing likewise. Somehow, in the end, this can usually lead to better outcomes, finding the best ways to achieve two aims instead of one.”

Jim McCulley, Lake Placid Snowmobile Club president, is on the Trail Advocates Board of Directors.

“Douglas’s job as co-chair of the Economic Council is to take input and then go from there. We just need an honest debate here,” he told the Press-Republican.

This dust-up speaks, in part, to the vagaries of the Regional Economic Development Council system, which has enormous influence over state funding for projects, but which is staffed by volunteers — including Douglas — who have a vested interest in many of the region’s activities.

It is also unclear how the REDC groups will resolve controversial issues, as we saw with their debate over the so-called rooftop highway project.

So what do you think?  Do you have questions about Douglas’s role?  Or about the structure of the process in general?  Or is the system working?  Comments welcome.

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40 Responses to “Morning Read: Douglas entangled in train debate”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    I support Gary because I support free speech.
    There are those who want everyone to pretend they are impartial when what they want is people without minds who can be easily moved into their “private little camp.”

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  2. oa says:

    What Pete says.

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  3. Jim Frenette says:

    “what they want is peoplewithout minds who canbe easily moved into their private little camp” Pete.. that sounds like a fair analysis of MR Douglas’ letter to the editor of the TupperLake Free Press.

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  4. Matt says:

    I’d like to know more about one part of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise article that says :

    ” Members of the ARTA cited a letter from Douglas that was published in the June 13 issue of the Tupper Lake Free Press, suggesting “friends of the rail road turn out in force” and not to advertise the forum “on facebook or similar public means as we don’t want to attract ARTA’s attention.”"

    If this is true he should step aside.

    Personally, I don’t know what is better for our economy, but I think this is a debate that needs to happen. The rail supporters don’t want the debate. They keep saying ” the DOT won’t do it”. “this administration has no intentions of doing it”, etc. I think the rail with trail answer is also a cop-out. The cost of building a brand new trail of this scale is astronomical. We should do one or the other. The debate needs to happen. One needs to be selected (despite the rail advocates saying it the rail has been selected) and we need to move forward knowing the chosen alternative is the best alternative for the economy.

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  5. Pete Klein says:

    There is no reason why you can’t have both.
    We have bike trails that run along side of highways. Why not the same along a railroad track?
    We need to get off this “all or nothing” kick.
    I might add have a rail line from North Creek to Newcomb will not wreck the “wilderness.”
    As to the “historic” Adirondack Park, what about the “historic” railroad?

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  6. PNElba says:

    I’m with Pete Klein – let’s have both. The ARTA almost had me convinced of their position. But, they just act too much like bullies in their immediate responses in the press to any disagreements.

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  7. Phil Brown says:

    Pete and PN, the trail advocates have been arguing for months that the side- by- side option is neither economically viable nor environmenatally sound. No one has made a convincing case that it is a viable option.

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  8. Wren says:

    if you’ve ever walked a portion of the rail you’d see the impracticality. Many places it’s just a causeway though a marsh or pond. You’d have to build a brand new Causeway. If you were to do that, why put it next to the rail? Why not build it somewhere else? This would be building a hiking trail through the woods. This would be like building a brand new macadam though the least buildable location. The cost would be insane! The stretch from placid to saranac is probable the least challenging section and that is going to be very costly per mile

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  9. Wren says:

    Correction… I mean it’s NOT like building a hiking trail through the woods. It would need to be engineered like a road.

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  10. Fred says:

    Mr Douglass is certainly entitled to his personal opinions as is Dan McClelland. But McClelland feels he has the right to publish articles in his so called newspaper that give his opinion on an issue as facts. His whole paper is an Editorial. Just look at all the misinformation/disinformation and outright falsehoods he published on the ACR(and continues weekly). Mr McClelland has been a vocal supporter of the Train and you will never see a balanced article on the Train vs Trail debate in his paper, ever. I’ll bet Mr. Douglass was more than a little embarassed when his email showed up in the TL Free Press.

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  11. Peter Hahn says:

    I like the idea of a long bike/snowmobile trail as a tourist destination made from old railroad beds. But… there are lots of abandoned rail beds through out the adirondacks. I still don’t understand why they insist they can only use the ones that the train people have restored. It would be cheaper, yes, because they could piggyback on all the work done by the train aficionados, but I don’t see that as a really valid excuse.

    Old Forge is the hub of the snowmobile business. They want to be able to go shopping (and drinking?) in Lake Placid, but maybe they can figure out another destination or another way to get there. The bike tourism is probably centered in Lake Placid, but again there are lots of places to go, and I doubt they are insisting on Old Forge as a destination.

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  12. Walker says:

    Absolutely right, Peter. There is an abandoned rail line from Lake Clear to Malone from which the rails have already been removed. Why not start by turning that into a multi-use bike/snowmobile/hiking trail, as a proof of their claims that it will be a huge draw. Then if it turns out that they’re right, they’ll have a real case, instead of studies based on trails in other places that may or may not have any relevance to the Adirondacks.

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  13. Peter Hahn says:

    That Lake Clear to Malone (and on to Canada) trail could easily be linked to the Lake Placid to Saranac Lake side by side that is supposedly being constructed next year.

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  14. Walker says:

    I have suggested this many times in many comment sections, and the rip ‘em up folks are never interested. I suspect that it is because they can already use that line for snowmobiling, and that is all they are really interested in.

    One of the chief objections has been that it would take a lot of work to make that trail usable for biking, work that wouldn’t have to be done on the ASR line. Well guess why that is? It’s because of all the work that the ASR folks have been doing over the years. If ARTA can’t be bothered to fix up the Lake Clear to Malone trail, who’s to say they will be good stewards of the Tupper to Lake Placid trail?

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  15. Snowflake says:

    Here is the deal. No one wants to bike from Malone to Lake Clear. They want to bike from Lake Placid to Tupper and the snowmobilers want to go from Old Forge to Tupper without wrecking their sleds. Tupper Lake will be the Big Loser if they don’t do this trail. No skin off my nose if they keep the train but a lot of economic benefit lost for Tupper Lake. Too bad. Both biking and snowmobiling are multi million dollar economic engines in the north country that should not be ignored.

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  16. Snowflake says:

    Also I don’t think you should discount the amount of volunteer work that is put in by the snowmobilers who, by the way, also pay millions of dollars to the state via registration fees for trail building and maintenance. That particular section of railroad from Lake Placid to Old Forge is one big economic drain on the taxpayers of NYS with literally no economic benefit to the communities served with the exception of the Utica to Old Forge. You can ask any business person in Lake Placid and they will tell you the same. The railroad has been built and restored 3 times already and failed. I guess the 4 th time will be the charm?

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  17. Walker says:

    Snowflake, what’s the basis for your claim that “No one wants to bike from Malone to Lake Clear”? Why not?

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  18. Snowflake says:

    Lake Placid is the north country’s Mecca for athletic endeavors as well as a very large tourist base camp for people and families who like to bike and hike. Having the start of a 90 mile bike trail thru the wilderness works just like being the start of climbing the High Peaks. It’s a destination to a start of something which leads to one to explore other areas in their quest to complete a challenge. The 90 mile rail trail will bring folks on bikes to other currently less populated and less visited areas of the park. Riding 34 miles to Tupper Lake on a flat trail is an easy day ride for most bikers And canresult in overnight stays as well as stopping to eat and replenish supplies. Some folks are even interested in using the trail as a commute to Saranac Lake for work and school from both Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The 7 mile trip from Rollins Pond to Tupper Lake is an easy outing for young families.
    The same goes for snowmobiling from Old Forge. Tupper Lake is a great ride ( I’ve been told, I’m not a snowmobilers) and used to be a popular destination when there was better snowpack. Now very few will travel it because of the tracks.
    A 90 mile recreation trail thru the Adirondack Park is what is known as a destination draw just like Disney Land for bicycle enthusiast or snowmobilers. This would be a nationwide natural attraction. Something that a tourist train would not be. Maybe after, a rec trail is built, the Malone trail may get more popular a a spur trail but it doesn’t work the other way around.

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  19. Wren says:

    The Lake Clear / Malone rail is abandoned and now has a complicated mix of owners and rights which could take many years to work out if ever. Securing the rights of way are the hardest part of building a rail-trail. The Remsen/Placid line is owned out right by the people of new York. There should be a factual debate about what use would be best use for this corridor. I believe the management plan for the rail acknowledged that rail on the whole line might not be feasible and that it should be reassessed in the future and possibly a trail should be considered. It’s been almost 20 years, why not reassess now? Don’t be afraid of a factual discussion about the best way forward. It’s funny how people like Paul Maroun are saying “a state agency already made up its mind, so forget about it” He is the first the beat a dead horse when it cones to decisions made by the APA or DEC.

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  20. Snowflake says:

    Mr. Douglas is certainly entitled to his opinion. But, as co chair of a regional economic development council, REDC, it is very unethical as well as unprofessional to attempt to use his position in the council as well as the NC Chamber of Commerce to try and influence the outcome of a public forum called with the expressed goal of inviting all possible proposals for economic development in the north country. He knows it but he did it anyway. He would like to blame it on Dan McClelland but he would know that Dan would print it anyway. I expect that Dan with fall on his sword in next weeks Free Press and apologize for putting Mr. Douglas in his current position. In the mean time ARTA is correct in calling for his removal for misuse of influence.

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  21. Walker says:

    “Having the start of a 90 mile bike trail thru the wilderness works just like being the start of climbing the High Peaks.”

    Nobody climbs the high peaks by walking out of Lake Placid. You can drive from Lake Placid to Lake Clear considerably more easily than you can drive from Lake Placid to almost any high peaks trailhead.

    “Some folks are even interested in using the trail as a commute to Saranac Lake for work and school from both Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.”

    The side by side trail will handle those users nicely.

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  22. Walker says:

    “The Lake Clear / Malone rail is abandoned and now has a complicated mix of owners and rights which could take many years to work out if ever.”

    Odd. It’s my understanding that the Lake Clear to Malone snowmobile route is well established and has been used for years.

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  23. Bill says:

    I dont know an particulars about the Lake clear-Malone trail but securing a right-of-way for a snowmobile trail is a different animal that acquiring or secure the right to build a what is essential an engineered road.

    But we are talking about the Remsen-placid line. It is time for a real conversation about what is best for the people. It is time for the DOT to facilitate a public discussion about it’s future.

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  24. Snowflake says:

    Walker, I guarantee you that a side by side will not get built with the exception of maybe Lake Placid to Saranac. The environs will not let miles of wet lands be filled from Saranac to Old Forge ever!

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  25. Walker says:

    Snowflake, I was responding to your comment about “using the trail as a commute to Saranac Lake for work and school from both Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.” That’s exactly where a side-by-side trail is planned.

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  26. Snowflake says:

    There are folks who live in SL and Lake Clear who would like to use the trail. Many students from Paul Smiths college are also very interested in using the trail for commuting and recreation purposes. Charlie’s Inn in Lake Clear, The Lumberjack Rest. and Main Street Rest. In Tupper Lake are also big trail supporters. These communities would be revitalized by a rec trail. Not so much by train. Just ask them.

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  27. Walker says:

    OK, but I would guess that the new Adirondack Carousel will be very well served by the Adirondack Scenic, and in turn, will increase its ridership.

    Incidentally, there’s a guy in Tupper Lake doing railbiking, a sport that local outfitters and bike shops could get behind. Many more photos at this site, or just google “railbiking”.

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  28. Nature says:

    Walker,

    Portions of the rails line between lake Clear and Malone are privately owned. I believe snowmobilers have a deeded right of way but other recreational users do not.

    A Lake Clear/Malone route could lead to some interesting places but I would agree with other folks who see the real attraction being the Remsen-Lake Placid corridor. Old Forge and lake Placid are both strong anchors/hopping off places for tourists. Malone is not (nothing against Malone).

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  29. Philip Williams says:

    There is a tone and attitude of rudeness and bullying in the anti-railroad crowd. I say “anti-railroad” because so many of the people insist that the functioning ADK Railroad run (SL to LP) has to be abandoned. These folks may be mis-portrayed in the news reports but are they really “demanding” this, that and the other person resign because his opinion may differ from theirs?

    If it weren’t for Dick Beamish’s good-natured, insightful support of a trail, I’d tune the ARTA folks out entirely. If the others don’t stop the attitude stuff, all his efforts will come to nothing.

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  30. Bill says:

    I went to ARTAs info meeting at the Wild Center last year. The only “bullying” I saw was from the train advocates. The shouting, laughing and heckling was hateful. Many people came with an open mind but the train people came to heckle. I saw a new dark side of many folks in my community that left a very bad taste in my mouth. I lost respect for a lot of these people. Most notably, the new president of the TL chamber of commerce was so rude that I haven’t been able to patronize his business since. For all of the positives the Chamber has been doing the last 2 years, i am convinced they will not be part of anmasochism any progress in our town as long as their board is full of close minded rude people. I understand advocation for the train, but the seething hate I saw from my ” neighbors” was disturbing.

    As far as demanding Douglas to step aside, he clearly has some compromised ethics. He is in a position if great power in handing out millions if taxpayers dollars. It is outrageous that he, with any if his hats on, would work behind the scenes to orchestrate support for one project while stifling supporters for another at this public forum.

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  31. Bill says:

    Anamasochism?!?!?!?…gotta love autocorrect. Intended word was significant, I think

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  32. Philip Williams says:

    Bill,

    I think saying Mr Douglas can decide how to “hand out millions of dollars” is not correct. He follows the plan developed by a committee and he just happens to be the chair, at this time. If he, as chair, states the committee position, how is he unethical, dishonest, conflicted etc. as the ARTA folks suggest? It is a shame about the tone of the meetings; my own view is that ARTA’s success does not require the attack on the railroad, at least not at this time. Is there something in the water at Tupper Lake causes lifelong friends to turn on each other in public gatherings?

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  33. Bill says:

    Philip – His goal was to get supporters of a project he is in favor of to come out for the meeting while being careful not to grab the attention of the supporters of a project he personally opposes. If you think he is on solid ethically sound ground, I am going to guess that you are a politician, lawyer or similar.

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  34. Snowflake says:

    I believe it was Dick Beamish who called for Mr. Douglas resignation at the REDC Forum. I think the the rail folk are the ones who have set the nasty tone here. Lots of derision done by them. ARTA folks seem to be much more fact base than emotional. ARTA seems to be doing a great deal of actual research on the issue and basing their opinions on facts rather than emotions. I’ve heard a lot of ARTA folks preface their comments with the words ” I ( we) respectfully disagree……” while the rail folk rant and rave at them for daring to suggest an alternative use for railbed. We all have a vested interest in doing what’s right for the communities and the taxpayers. An open debate is beneficial and should be done. Dean Lefebvre and Paul Maroun practically banged their fist on the table and demanded the rail will never be torn up. Mr Douglas was rude and disrespectful to the audience. Mr Collins on the other hand was respectful to all parties, a gentleman and a breath of fresh air.

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  35. Jim McCulley says:

    No matter what side of the debate you are on the facts clearly favor track removal and trail building. The recent Stone study commissioned by the ASR stated that for a 16 million dollar investment in the rail the region would see 7,000 new users. From an economic perspective this just does not equate into new jobs or a worth while investment of tax payer dollars.
    For those of you that think we can have both it should be noted that the only place there has ever been a rail with trail any where in America is when there were to tracks in a corridor and one was removed. The North Elba trail is a dream that will die once the engineering studies come in and the real cost is known.

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  36. Jim McCulley says:

    I would also like to add the 7,000 new user numbers are based on the ASR’s current passenger counts. The problem with this is the current ridership is counted by counting a passenger that rides from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake and back 2 different riders. Same for the Utica and Old Forge area. This is from page 13 of the Stone study.

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  37. Walker says:

    Yes, but who’s to say what effect the Carousel will have on ridership? It should prove no small draw for tourists in Lake Placid.

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  38. Jim McCulley says:

    You can’t give facts to people in denial.

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  39. Walker says:

    There we agree entirely!

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  40. Kirsch says:

    Anyone that has walked along the tracks from Saranac to Moose can easily see that there is already a well worn trail used by 4 wheelers and probably snowmobiles. The only places where they go up on the tracks is where it crosses water. Rails to trails says they want to use the rail road bed but yet they say how poorly maintained it is. Yet, every spring and fall the volunteers move the engine and cars along these same tracks from Old Forge to Saranac. I also have read that the Lake Clear to Malone corrador is abandoned. If that is true then why have all the bridges been rebuilt and the train bed been cleared of vegetation. Obviously someone is maintaining it. In Iowa, local business people and farmers are buying up railroad right of ways to preserve the train from being converted to trails stating that railcosts are far less than transporting their goods by road. In Texas, many old rails are being brought back to life so farmers and manufacturers can do the same that live in rural areas (view on Google from Houston north to Texarcanna along route 59. The value of a working and well managed rail systems goes way beyond simple scenery excursions and doubling with a bike trail can be accomplished if you would have to rebuild anyway. If the bike trail does not pan out, no real loss since the tracks will still be there

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