Monday, January 9, 2012

Peter Brinkley: The Adirondack Brand

What follows is a guest essay by Peter Brinkley who lives in Jay and is Senior Partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve. This essay was prompted in part by new Almanack contributor Kimberly Rielly’s piece “Understanding the Adirondack Brand“.

We hear of the need for businesses in the Adirondacks to develop a universal brand to attract tourists.

This impulse indeed is strange. The Adirondacks has enjoyed a brand since the second half of the 1800s, one which has broadened and deepened its appeal.
Just think of the romance and adventure in the names Saranac, Oswegatchie, Ticonderoga and Adirondack itself. Imagine the great sweep of history with Native Americans using the region as a seasonal hunting ground before European powers arrive, then the period in which the bounty of rivers, lakes and lands become contested and finally Americans enter the Adirondacks.

This Adirondack brand is wild mountains, wild lakes, wild rivers all with their wildlife. People who have never been to the Adirondacks or New York State know of “forever wild”.

A brand can cover a product, service or experience and is characterized by reliability, value and authenticity. It must be time-tested and, above all, become trusted.

Visitors to the Adirondacks take home something in a mental camera box: the dancing late afternoon glint a fisherwoman sees on the river or the early morning quiet against a pink sky that the hunter takes in before he sets out. Rarely do we let others in on these inner photos of beauty and serenity but imagine them again when hit by the sound of a rolling subway or bus.

These experiences are cherished. Anyone visiting today feels the wild and does not need it explained to them.

Each person returning to the Adirondacks relies on these experiences, ones that cannot be manufactured or generated by synthetic advertising. They are real, dependable. They are our Adirondack brand.

Adirondack businesswomen and men possess a double gift. The first nature has given and provides every day; the second gift more subtle, a conservation history of protecting wild nature by the people of New York.

Unique brands are rare and we possess one.

There are parks but none in this country, or perhaps anywhere else, where the core lands are protected by the law of the land, the New York State Constitution, and where private lands are subject to governance meant to complement the wild public lands to form a conserved whole.

Many here can embrace our natural abundance but can’t abide by the existence of the Forest Preserve, the State Land Master Plan or the Adirondack Park Agency. Without these voted on by the people or enacted by the Legislature, the Adirondacks likely would be different, certainly lacking much of its wild character.

I see wild nature as the golden economic goose, drawing visitors to our mountain communities again and again.

Everyone has this dual legacy at their marketing fingertips and can promote themselves. They don’t need consultants to tell them what they value and love; they just have to tell their own stories.

Ecotourism we know is big business. Also, researchers are a market as often they spend weeks here rather than days. Universities and towns, along with the DEC, can encourage such work and benefit from its output. We see this with the SUNY School of Environmental Science and Forestry in Newcomb.

A third marketing asset virtually goes unused – the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve designation by UNESCO, a branch of the United Nations. Yes, I know there are people who get hives at the mere mention of the U.N. and I don’t want the U.N. telling us what to do either. However, it is a designation we ought to be proud of and involves no political or boundary issues.

We are in good company regarding American Biosphere Reserves. Think of the Everglades, Big Bend, Yellowstone, Glacier, Mohave Desert, Sequoia, Cascade and Denali – the best of the best of America’s natural areas that attract millions of people every year, many from outside the U.S.

These designations contain a plain and simple message: these areas are special, some unique, go see and enjoy them.

However brands may be sullied or permanently damaged. Any town that begins to look like every other place and backcountry sites or trails too heavily used will lose out to other areas where residents have demonstrated an appreciation for, and defense of, their wild country.

I believe more prosperity can be achieved by putting this brand to work, each community or business in its own way. Through exchanges with other parks in the world, we have learned the importance of strongly linking a park’s brand with its mission. And then encouraging and funding communities in or near those parks to identify their own mission-driven themes and visitor centers.

Our Park mission springs from our 1894 Constitution – “forever kept as wild forest lands.” Our Adirondack brand has several taproots of great importance which derive from that enduring mission. These include a natural bounty of forests, wildlife, rivers, lakes and mountains, histories of sports, conservation, health and healing, among others.

Let us remember our Park mission, be proud of our Adirondack brand, inspire and support communities to use it, and stand up for it.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

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