Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The New State Lands: Tourism and Destination Planning

Canoe on Upper Hudson River Near NewcombThe state acquisition of 69,000 acres of the former Finch Pruyn lands in the Adirondack Park has spurred much discussion. I thought I’d chime in from a tourism perspective.

In general, the purchase will ultimately mean public access to incredible natural resources for recreational activity. Or, according to a press release from Governor Cuomo’s office on August 5th, “Opening these lands to public use and enjoyment for the first time in 150 years will provide extraordinary new outdoor recreational opportunities, increase the number of visitors to the North Country and generate additional tourism revenue.”

I applaud the Governor’s office and their efforts, and appreciate that there is opportunity for the adjacent communities to realize a positive economic impact from the resulting increased visitation.

There is no doubt that the number one driver of overnight visitation to the region is the recreational opportunities available courtesy of our protected Adirondack mountains and lakes. In fact, outdoor activities are the largest visitor draw to the area, followed by relaxing, dining and shopping, and sightseeing. Outdoor activities have not only remained at the top of the list of attractions for many years, but have steadily grown in popularity as a reported draw to visit. Of those activities, hiking is number one, followed by paddling.*

So from a tourism standpoint, public access to an additional 69,000 acres of our most attractive and popular product is a really good thing.

Here’s the question: are the communities adjacent to this land positioned to benefit economically from any resulting increased tourism activity?

Visitors to these newly-acquired lands, whether they are hiking, hunting or paddling, will certainly stop at local businesses and buy gas and food etc. However, those who visit Newcomb, Indian Lake, North Hudson and Minerva on their way to the trailheads will likely be regional; meaning day-trippers. Although overnight visitation offers the best opportunity for economic gain from tourism, these communities do not offer enough rooms to take advantage of increased visitation from overnight guests.

Here are some numbers to consider: In Essex County, which includes the Towns of Minerva, Newcomb and North Hudson, there is a 3 percent occupancy tax collected. Collection totals serve as an indicator of overall tourism activity, and lodging typically represents about a third of overall tourism spending (the other two-thirds represent retail, dining, and attractions).

In 2011, occupancy tax collections for all three of those towns combined totaled $8,360, or less than 1 percent of the overall collections. Comparatively, over $1,500,000, or 89 percent was collected in the Town of North Elba.

The difference, of course, is the number of rooms in these communities. Due largely to aging infrastructure, many of the small communities in the region are struggling to attract their share of potential visitors in a very competitive destination marketplace.

The primary challenge is to find ways to grow tourism in the greater region, while managing growth in the more established tourism bases of Lake Placid, Old Forge and Lake George.

How do we do this? Several years ago, my office spearheaded a destination master planning process to assess the product that the region’s communities offer to the traveling public. This process, facilitated by a third party consultant, resulted in the development of destination master plans for six communities, including Saranac Lake, Schroon Lake, Moriah, Ticonderoga, Wilmington and Lake Placid.

Each of the communities now has a destination master plan that identifies unique challenges and strategies specific to their needs and in appropriate scale. Most of the challenges are based on the need for updated lodging and the development of products that will facilitate greater exchange of money to contribute to the tourism economy – such as increased sale of locally-made goods associated with the rich history and culture of the region.

Not every community needs or wants to be a resort town. The task in all communities is to engineer tourism in ways that benefit area residents and their quality of life in terms of jobs and business opportunities, while preserving the culture. The loss of a grocery store because of lack of demand results in the loss of jobs for locals and a resource for both residents and visitors. However, just as a lack of facilities results in a negative spiral effect, an increase in visitor demand will drive the need for increased facilities, such as grocery stores, which in turn benefits residents.

Increased economic impact from tourism is a facilities issue…not a marketing or recreational issue.

Every one of our Adirondack communities offers our greatest visitor-attracting products: outdoor activities and sightseeing; and they all share a relationship with the Adirondack Park, a valuable, built-in platform to deliver positive visitor experiences.

The addition of this new land access offers opportunity. At first, it will primarily be locals who will explore these pristine acres. Ultimately, though, with engaged stakeholders, private investment, Adirondack entrepreneurs, perhaps Park-specific incentive programs and other grassroots initiatives, the Towns of Newcomb, Indian Lake, North Hudson and Minerva have the opportunity to realize real economic benefit from the latest and greatest attraction in the Park.

* 2011 Essex County Leisure Travel Study (PDF)

Photo: Canoeists on the Hudson River near Newcomb (Courtesy Phil Brown).


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Kim Rielly is the director of communications for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.

15 Responses

  1. Josh says:

    “Increased economic impact from tourism is a facilities issue…not a marketing or recreational issue.” Couldn’t agree more.

  2. Peter H says:


    What everyone needs to understand is that these lands ARE CURRENTLY BEING USED FOR TOURISM, albeit privately. In my club, people come from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and from all over New York State. These “tourists”, all club members and their guests, bring enormous financial benefit to the area.

    What is happening here is that an economically important user group is being traded out for a much smaller user group, who can not bring the same benefit because of vehicular prohibition.

    • Ron Vanselow says:

      Whereas previously, these lands were available to a select few who had the connections or other means to access this area. They will now be open to everyone. So in reality, a small user group will be replaced by an infinitely larger group. Potentially, everyone in New York State, the US and the world.

  3. Peter H says:

    Ron, you’re way off base. The “connections” we have are through a lease. You can have a connection too!

    The tourism statistics don’t support the argument.

    Private recreation is much more valuable to the ecosystem and to the economy.

    • Ron Vanselow says:

      Actually, Peter, I had a lease in Riparius on Finch land several years ago. They raised the price so that it was unaffordable to me. The rest of your comment is a non sequitur. And some of us think that there is more to all of this than immediate economic return.

    • Dan Crane says:

      If these hunting groups want control over a piece of property then why don’t they go out and buy some? They have the same opportunity to do so, just like any other group of taxpayers.

      • Paul says:

        That is true in some cases but not in a transaction like this. As I am sure you know the TNC has staff that work in Albany with the DEC. The only way that smaller parcels would be considered are if the state and the TNC did not have the partnership and the seller had to find a different type of buyer.

        • Dan Crane says:

          I did not necessarily mean these properties, but just property in general. I am always looking around and I often see 100+ acre parcels in the Adirondacks for sale. Just go out and buy a new parcel, build your cabin, and hunt on it as you like. Then you do not have to worry about the state buying the land out from under your group.

  4. Jim says:

    I agree with Peter, our club memebers are from all over, and we are being shut out. User group being traded for another user group. Such a shame. Nobody is coming back to hunt/fish without a camp to sleep in. Our revenue will be lost, time will tell if it will be replaced by the new users.

    • Local Yokel says:

      No Jim, you’re not being shut out. You just won’t have exclusive access anymore.

      I note that most of the folks posting here who are most strenuously opposed to this deal have camps on this land. Perhaps not surprising, but when these people post their dire warnings about loss of revenue, loss of stewardship, loss of healthy forests, readers would do well to consider the source.

      One real problem here, as the article points out, is that the towns closest to this tract (Newcomb) really lack the amenities to take advantage of the increased numbers of visitors.

  5. Big Burly says:

    A big chunk of the lands talked about in this purchase had been under lease/license to members of a venerable club — the Gooley Club. About 100 members with their families, give or take, enjoyed access to many thousands of acres. The care and stewardship of the Essex Chain Lakes, the Cedar River camp and the flora and fauna was exceptional over the many, many years the members paid for the lease/license.
    The decision about 25 years ago by Finch, Pruyn to harvest the lands in a different manner, as well as have the various clubs defray the increasing property taxes was handwriting on the wall.
    The decline in skilled and experienced manpower at DEC does not bode well for a continuing high quality stewardship. Paying for exclusive access was a privilege and responsibility that members took seriously. The magnificent terrain that will now be open to the greater public must continue to be cherished and used with the same high level of responsibility — if it happens that will indeed be a change in behavior from similar greater access “takeovers” that have occurred throughout the Adirondacks.

  6. Paul says:

    Despite the outcome it seems clear that it continues to be a major problem that we (as the state) make the management plan AFTER the purchase. Since we don’t know the plan we don’t know the impacts so nobody knows anything really. This is like buying a house without knowing what you are going to use it for, how you are going to maintain it, and what it may do to the neighborhood. Classic.

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  8. Peter H says:

    So now the local towns have been given the responsibility of marketing these areas for tourism.

    I’ve done a lot of marketing work.

    Will Newcomb and Minerva spend $50,000.00 per year to attract tourists? If they don’t, then they will be blamed for their own economic demise.

    Is this about right?

    • Paul says:

      Peter, like I said above they don’t even know what they are marketing. The land was not classified prior to the closing. Fools.