Sunday, August 27, 2017

Glamping Catches On Alongside The Forest Preserve

adirondack safari glampingWith New York State officials contemplating new ways to induce economic development in the Adirondack Park, the idea of connecting communities more directly to the surrounding Forest Preserve makes plenty of sense.

As Governor Cuomo said at the 2017 Adirondack Challenge this summer:

“You want to develop the asset (the Adirondack Park) because we need jobs, we need the economy, we need tourism. It has to be done in a way that doesn’t disrupt or deteriorate the asset. Because the Adirondack Park is not just an economic asset, it’s not just a state park, it really is a gift from God. I believe that. There is a spirituality to the Adirondack[s] … that is undeniable. And the last thing we would want to do is diminish that asset. Our goal is to leave it even better than before for our children.”

In the most popular host communities, development of new hotels is an obvious answer to the need for more tourist accommodations. Indeed, a new hotel arose in Lake George recently. A long-closed downtown hotel in Saranac Lake is under renovation, and set to reopen soon. But in order to spread the economic benefits to smaller, more remote communities, smaller and less expensive options are needed.

Around the world, small communities near wild places are using hut-to-hut excursions to help bring hikers and paddlers to trailside businesses. The huts offer comfortable lodging, food and supplies that make the trip a little easier to manage. Even near national parks, private business is connecting to public lands in new ways without creating a lot of new construction. In Europe, this is made easier because their national parks incorporate private lands. Sound familiar?

The Adirondack and Catskill parks are among the few in the United States that are similarly designed, with private lands incorporated into the fabric of the landscape. A little more than half of each park is comprised of private land and communities. As such, there are opportunities here in the Adirondacks for private enterprises in our 130 rural hamlets and villages to make the most of their proximity to the wildest lands in the Northeast.

A rising number of local businesses are already capitalizing on the interest in upscale camping experiences by making use of private lands adjoining the Forest Preserve. In one case, an otherwise idle county fairground has been put to a new use. Such businesses provide an enhanced back-to-nature experience. They give their customers a taste of outdoor camping without the need to invest in gear or to learn all the skills needed for backcountry survival. Off-site trips are carefully planned and guided.

glamping tentIn turn, the business doesn’t need to invest in a large construction project or commit to serving a fixed number of guests. Specially insulated tents, canvas-walled cabins, yurts and other semi-permanent structures are being employed to provide three-season or year-round camping opportunities. Unlike hotels, tent sites can be reduced or expanded to fit the demand. If properly sited and permitted by the Adirondack Park Agency, these new businesses can help expand the park’s economy and the park’s visitor options.

Best of all, this private-land infrastructure doesn’t compromise the multiple layers of legal protections that exist in the Park, and in particular on the State-owned Forest Preserve. The NYS Constitution has protected the “forever wild” Forest Preserve since 1895. We guard and defend those protections to ensure future generations will also be able to enjoy and benefit from our forever wild legacy.

Large areas of well-protected Forest Preserve are the attraction that visitors come to see and explore. But the mix of public and private lands throughout the park – often in a patchwork pattern – makes it possible to establish private lodging quite close to the public Preserve. Outdoor experiences in the Park range from a simple campfire or cookout to whitewater rafting, backcountry trekking or big game hunting. For many, it is the first time to experience an overnight stay under the stars. One local glamping business even offers pony rides for the kids.

Camp Orenda in Johnsburg is a luxury camping retreat on Mill Creek, a tributary to the Upper Hudson River. Orenda provides all meals, hot showers and canvas cabins on tent platforms outfitted with all the comforts of a pricey hotel room. It was featured in a New York Times story on best places to visit and saw its business triple recently.

Yurt rentals are catching on throughout the park, too. Yurts are circular, grand tent-like structures erected on a platform using a collapsible frame and center pole.

Falls Brook Yurts in Minerva is open all year. Minerva sits amid some of the wildest of the new lands the state has purchased from The Nature Conservancy, such as OK Slip Falls, and the Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area, as well as Gore Mountain Ski Center.

You can rent a yurt from a variety of private owners on AirBnB.com as well. Don’t bring a gun or all-terrain vehicle to the yurt rental listed in Elizabethtown. The owners don’t allow trail riding or hunting on their 85 acres.

In fact, the web site GlampingHub.com now lists yurt and platform tent rentals on private lands in the Adirondack communities of North River, Chestertown, Bakers Mills, ranging in price from $51 to $248 per night.

In Warrensburg, Warren County officials and the local glamping business Adirondack Safari have come to a mutually agreeable relationship in which Adirondack Safari uses the idle county fairgrounds for its tent sites.

Adirondack Safari’s web site says its tents are large enough to host three queen-sized beds. Sites also include a shaded picnic table, lawn furniture, charcoal grill, rest rooms and a shower trailer. The fairgrounds’ interior road network and pavilions lend themselves to easy reuse. There is even a horse ring for pony rides. Situated alongside excellent family paddling and angling on the Schroon River, and only a short drive to Lake George Village, the $99-per-night price tag seems like a bargain.

In each of the cases above, the owners are using private Adirondack lands and other non-Forest Preserve lands coupled with free access to public waters and the Forest Preserve. They are not encroaching upon the Forest Preserve with their structures and accommodations.

This stands in stark contrast to the idea of establishing lodging, huts, yurts, infrastructure and related camping facilities on the constitutionally protected, publicly owned Forest Preserve in the Adirondack Park.

The Adirondack Council supports development of hut-to-hut lodging and dining facilities, and hamlet-to-hamlet infrastructure, on private and state easement lands in the Adirondack Park. In fact in June we wrote a letter of support for a grant to Leading E.D.G.E., which proposed a “Community-based Trails and Lodging System” with “lodging on private, state easement lands, where legal…”

Leading E.D.G.E. has identified plenty of private land options. Even in the few places where routes are proposed along with consideration of lodging in the Forest Preserve, there are other options making proposals for lodging on the Forest Preserve unnecessary.

The expansion of lodging facilities and glamping on private lands outside the Adirondack Forest Preserve can help local communities to capitalize on the economic value of state lands, while honoring and sustaining the legacy of forever wild for generations to come.


John Sheehan

Before John Sheehan joined the Adirondack Council's staff in 1990, he was the managing editor of the Malone Evening Telegram, and previously worked as a journalist for the Troy Record, (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, Watertown Daily Times and Newsday. For the past 20 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.


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30 Responses

  1. Frsnk says:

    Attracting more tourist to the Adirondacks is not going to jump start the economy if it was that simple everyone on the islands of the Caribbean would be living large. Alot more people go there and spend alot more money than go to the Adirondacks. That’s just not the reality. I may be wrong but show me an example where it benefits the local population

    • Boreas says:

      I don’t think I understand your comment. It would be hard to argue that tourism is NOT an integral part of the economy within the Park. Hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, skiing, boating, paddling, camping, shopping, etc., etc., would all be considered tourism – and all directly and indirectly benefit local populations.

      • Frank says:

        Sure it’s a part of the economy but how many people does it benefit. The average Joe needs a good paying job and a future for his children and grandchildren to stay in the area. People coming to hunt and fish isn’t going to cut it I’m sorry. Now it will encourage second home building which will create some jobs in the short term until it becomes so expensive to live here people have to move elsewhere and comute back in to work like the Vail CO area.

        • Boreas says:

          Frank,

          What would your alternative be? Take away tourism and how many people would be employed then? Local people don’t make what union wages used to be, but many people are able to get by. I believe discouraging tourism would bring a Vail situation even sooner.

          Unskilled, good-paying jobs are a thing of the past – both here and around the country. In today’s America, to have a good-paying job one has to get a skill and live where the jobs are. That is why many young people are leaving the area. High-speed internet will help the hemorrhaging of talent, but it isn’t likely we will become another Silicon Valley. Rest assured, there are going to be a lot more Vail Colorados as the middle class continues to dissolve.

          • Frank says:

            Darned if I know the answer but throwing state money at some gateway campsite isn’t it IMO. Maybe create more jobs at DEC with that money there is a need there. Or build and expand colleges. Trudeau institute is a gem more places like that. I remember SL was going to try and attract more biomedical companies what ever happened to that? It seems they want to build hotels instead. Same old pipe dream.

            • Boreas says:

              Frank,

              I believe I misunderstood your objection. You are talking about the proposed Gateway vs. tourism in general. The way I read Mr. Sheehan’s article was that many types of development could be done on private lands with private funds. In other words, entrepreneurism. To me, this is a better long-term solution to economic woes in hamlets and small villages around the Park.

              State projects on state lands really adds little to the local tax base. Projects undertaken (perhaps with state seed money) on private land managed for camping, biking, birding, and other naturalist opportunities vs. private POSTED land exclusively for private hunting would add much more to public coffers directly and indirectly.

              For many decades, sportsmen have been buying/leasing small-moderate tracts of land to be used strictly by friends and family for hunting, fishing, and possibly some timber extraction to help pay the taxes. These lands often remain in the family or as a preserve for generations. This is great, but doesn’t add as much to local economies as opening up the same lands to many other types of activities like glamping, as just one example. But this requires investment and an entrepreneurial spirit – both of which may be missing with current landowners. I think local governments should be looking to appropriate seed money from state and county sources for landowners who may be interested in converting part or all of their private holdings to tourism opportunities. I feel if we are looking to boost local economies, this would have a better long-term benefit rather than dubious state projects envisioned in Albany rather than locally.

  2. David Thomas-Train says:

    Hut-to-hut and tenting on private lands are economic incentives to keep those lands as open space.

  3. Balian the Cat says:

    …”the asset.” How very humble.

  4. Sandra says:

    Poor WiFi connections have turned folks away .

    • Boreas says:

      Sandra,

      For clarification, do you mean poor WiFi in public places or poor internet speeds in general? If they ever get the optic cable trunk and associated network throughout the core of the Park it should help with growing the economy.

      • Bruce says:

        Sandra,

        We, as a society have come to heavily depend on the availability of the Internet and Wi-Fi, and as mentioned it has become a staple of business life. However, I don’t believe your assertion that while it may be true in some measure, is having a significant impact on park visitation.

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      There has been record breaking visitation in the Adirondacks.

  5. Paul says:

    This article makes it sound like this can only happen on private land. Hunters have been “glamping” on Forest Preserve land for as long as its been around. You can get a TRP from the DEC to do it. I guess hikers and paddlers just don’t want to spend the time to set up a camp like that?

    • Boreas says:

      Paul,

      While your suggestion is one option, don’t you feel a private enterprise on private lands adding to the tax base and perhaps more permanent jobs (in other words, a business) would be a better long-term solution for hamlets and villages? How much local income would be generated by TRPs other than food and gas bought by the few individuals willing to undertake the TRP? And at what point does the state begin to limit TRPs? When we depend too much on state funds, state agencies, and state lands for revenue, we are more susceptible to the ever-changing winds of politics.

      • Paul says:

        Fore sure. I was just pointing out that you can do this w/o paying a private entity if you want. One of the reasons we see more of these type of things is that they are considered “temporary” so they don’t require the permits that a camp would require. Its basically unregulated. Surprised the Council supports this.

        • John Sheehan John Sheehan says:

          You are correct that the DEC has been issuing permits for extended stays on one location for hunters, but that is not what this is about. Our first concern is about building permanent structures on forever wild lands. Our next concern is that commercial operations will want to set up virtually permanent camps on the Forest Preserve — camps that they control and rent to paying customers, excluding the public from public lands.

          • Paul says:

            Like I said the regulatory agencies don’t consider something like a Yurt to be permanent. Permanent structures on FP land is certainly not a new thing. For example lots of lean-to’s and a huge staircase up ore-bed brook come to mind. And these are on land designated as Wilderness. You don’t have any issues with these structures right? The constitution does not allow the lease of FP land. How would a commercial entity be able to legally rent out any sort of structure on the FP?

            • John Sheehan John Sheehan says:

              Paul:

              We do have issues with structures in wilderness, when they diminish the park’s wild character.

              It doesn’t have to be permanent to be a commercial structure or to affect the park’s wild character. I don’t think it would be OK, for example, for a company to park and rent-out home trailers or travel trailers on the Forest Preserve, even if you were only renting the use of the trailer.

              Rental yurts may require a permit or two. I would advise consulting the Adirondack Park Agency first. The APA has clear jurisdiction over tourist accommodations.

              As for other structures maintained by the state, we have supported them only in places where they appeared to be needed to protect the resource. This decision is based partly on the popularity of the High Peaks Wilderness Area. There are fewer cases in other wilderness areas where structures are a part of the conversation. The key is not to make the solution worse than the problem had been.

              A lean-to may be preferable to tent sites due to local conditions, but often are not appropriate in wilderness. A staircase may prevent erosion or serious accidents in a place where people will not resist the urge to climb. But they shouldn’t go where they will encourage intensive use in a sensitive location.

              We supported allowing Marcy Dam to fall down, as we do with other wilderness dams. We opposed the retention of obsolete fire towers in wilderness and canoe areas. We have expressed our disapproval when state retains buildings after it purchases lands for the Forest Preserve,when those buildings aren’t needed for the administration and stewardship of the Forest Preserve.

              • Paul says:

                Thanks for the reply. It’s interesting we do require the amendments that allow the type of intensive use on FP land that we see in places like Whiteface Mountain. But we also have things like boat launching sites and the structures involved there or things like the upper and lower locks in the SL Wild Forest that I guess you could argue diminish the parks wild character and they are not necessary to protect the resource.

                • John Sheehan John Sheehan says:

                  Very true. It’s been a tough row for DEC to hoe. They have huge pressure on them to make things easy for visitors. APA is feeling that heat these days too. But the High Peaks are seeing record numbers of visitors, so we need to keep talking and acting on these issues. It took 20+ years to get the first management plan in place for the High Peaks. It helped right away. But everyone knew that was just step one. It looks like there is some desire for a similar conversation now.

                  • Paul says:

                    The answer to too many cars in the parking lot or too many boats at the launch seems to be a bigger parking lot (like Second Pond) or another ramp (like the Lake Flower launch). Personally I don’t think that this is a High Peaks specific issue. What the HP’s needs are limits on numbers. That is basically how it works in some other areas. Take the Saranac Islands campsites for example. There are only so many sites. The DEC will not let you camp just anywhere (try and camp on Bluff Island – now day use only sights). The HPW is a free-for-all. It’s crazy. Not really sure you need a new plan just need to do some enforcement. One issue is that lots of the users are local and/or seasonal (the ESF study) the DEC doesn’t want to kick out their neighbors! The folks they gotta see and interact with in town all the time.

  6. ScottyB says:

    Tent camping on forest preserve is a time honored thing. So what is wrong with fancy big tents and guide services? I get the issue with closed cabins. But tent camping, however fancy, shouldn’t be a problem.

  7. Charlie S says:

    “Poor WiFi connections have turned folks away.”

    I cannot help but think how this comment is so contrary to what places like the Adirondacks used to be about…to get away from the mad race and take-in a wilderness experience. To be free of mechanical devices! We are becoming soft as a society which is unfortunate but that’s what happens when we get too comfortable or are overly convenience’d such as we are.Used to be black flies turned us away from the woods now it’s shoddy internet service. How sad!

    • Paul says:

      The Adirondacks is an “experiment” in how people and Wild lands can live side by side. They are not a purely wilderness get away from society concept like some here seem to think. Good broad band service is essential to function in our modern society. Deprive Adirondacker’s of this and you jeopardize their ability to make a decent living.

    • Boreas says:

      Charlie,

      Having poor internet and cell phone coverage isn’t a big negative for tourists visiting for a weekend, but it is a major negative to people living here or deciding whether to move here or considering moving here.

      It isn’t only a statement of personal lifestyle – it is an issue with modern society. Many services that were performed via US Mail can now only be done via smart phone or internet. For an example, NYSDMV continues to push online services as a convenience but is also a cost-saving measure for the state. Unfortunately in today’s society it is assumed everyone has hi-speed internet, and people without it will become more and more inconvenienced in the future. The same phenomena happened with the wheel, fire, electricity and the telephone.

      • Paul says:

        Absolutely, you can always turn your phone off if you want to. People live in the Adirondacks they don’t just visit.

      • Charlie S says:

        “Having poor internet and cell phone coverage…”
        I understand your angle and wasn’t thinking that when I wrote the above Boreas but still…there is some truth to what I say. We’re lost without our handheld contraptions. We were lost before they even surfaced.

        “Unfortunately in today’s society it is assumed everyone has hi-speed internet, and people without it will become more and more inconvenienced in the future.”
        Inconvenienced! The story of my life Boreas. What is ‘in’ is usually not Charlie and so I suppose I’ll continue going along with the flow the best I could until at last the sea swallows me.

        • Paul says:

          Well you are here online (probably via high speed internet) making anonymous comments like others so at least we know that – is Charlie!

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