Last night at the Wild Center, we got a taste of just how eclectic and fungible the various factions in the Adirondack Park can be.
The debate centered around the best use of the rail corridor which stretches from Lake Placid to Old Forge. The referee for the evening was a relatively new group called Adirondack Action.
On one side of the ring you had a weird coalition of train enthusiasts, climate change activists (who think Adirondack railroads will be a real transportation option in the future), Tupper Lake boosters, and chamber of commerce types who hope to win Federal funding for the rail project.
In the other corner, you have an even weirder alliance of snowmobile riders, hikers, cross-country skiers, and bicyclists who think a multi-use trail is a better, cheaper idea.
Seeing snowmobile activist Jim McCulley and cross-country ski booster Tony Goodwin on the same side of any issue is remarkable. The two have wrangled and litigated over the proper use of the Jackrabbit Ski Trail for decades.
This coalition is rounded out by deficit hawks who don’t want the government to spend more money on tourism trains.
Another vein running through this debate is the growing gap between attitudes in Tupper Lake, where the train remains a kind of cause celebre, and Lake Placid, where interest in the project has cooled.
North Elba town supervisor Roby Politi has suggested that the tourist train is a “boondoggle.” (Attitudes in Saranac Lake seem to be somewhere in the middle, ranging from mild skepticism to mild excitement.)
How will all this settle out? I’m guessing the real answer will come in the form of budget priorities, in Albany and Washington. If there’s taxpayer money to refurbish the train track, the project will probably muddle forward.
But if funding continues to dwindle , the tracks could eventually reach a point where maintaining them — especially the long, vast stretch through the wilderness of the central Adirondacks — makes no sense.