Tourism in the Adirondack Park is all the rage today. From the approval of the Adirondack Club & Resort in Tupper Lake to the governor’s proposed Adirondack Challenge, there is no shortage of ideas to promote the Adirondacks. The ultimate hope presumably being that people will flock to the area to experience the unique opportunities the Adirondacks provides.
They had just better bring their wallets.
In the race for the almighty dollar, it appears few are stopping to ponder whether increased tourism is a good idea for the Adirondacks. How will increased tourism change the nature of the Park? Will more people turn off those who already loyally visit the Park and favor its plentiful opportunities for solitude? Are hikers prepared for crowded trailheads and busy trails, muddied by the increased traffic and littered with rubbish from uncaring or careless hikers?
It is indisputable that an increase in tourism will result in a financial boon to the resident of the Adirondacks. Unfortunately, with this potential increase of visitors, there will be an accompanying host of adverse issues. More people lead to more traffic, more roads, more development and eventually more crime.
Vehicle traffic, the favored form of transportation, with its trailing plumes of global warming pollution, could clog the current roadways. Since many of these narrow roads may not support this increase traffic, expansion is inevitable. Wider roads will allow for easier access, potentially bringing even more traffic in an unending positive feedback loop.
The increase in roads and other associated development must occur at the expense of other land uses. This means fewer forests, less unspoiled landscapes and reduced unscathed mountain vistas; all the things that make the Adirondacks the unique place it is today.
Many will scoff at the notion of the Adirondacks becoming overcome with crowds of people. How could such an increase in human traffic occur? Old Forge stands as a warning to those skeptical about the adverse changes traffic can present.
While I was a young boy, Old Forge was a relatively quiet little hamlet, perhaps a little kitschy, but not garishly so. One could cross State Route 28 without waiting indefinitely, and comfortably stroll down the sidewalk without constantly dodging other people and choking on car exhaust.
The last time I drove through Old Forge some years ago, traffic was bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see. Meandering pedestrians crowded the sidewalks, walking shoulder to shoulder like a herd of cattle unknowingly marching to the slaughter. The friendly little hamlet of my youth had turned into a little city, one I was thankful to see receding in my rear-view mirror when I finally emerged through the gauntlet of people and vehicles.
Old Forge is not an anomaly in the Adirondacks either. Lake George and Lake Placid have their share of crowds and the gaudy tourist attractions that appear to attract them. These three developed communities form an axis of tawdry tourism in the Adirondacks, based not on the beauty of nature’s wonders, but on the brazen vulgarity of man’s ultimate hubris, commercialism.
Is this the future fate of the Adirondacks? Is this what we want for such an area of natural beauty? Given the rush to promote the area, apparently it is, at least for some. What is the sole purpose of all this promotion? To fleece the greatest amount of cash from the maximum number of poor tourists, of course!
The backcountry will not be immune from any increase in human visitation. Crowded trailheads, muddy and eroding trails, increased garbage and other refuse, and less opportunities for solitude are just a few of the impacts. Essentially, most of the trail system could become more like the High Peaks Region, while that busy region would become even more crowded and congested. At least, the back-backcountry, the trail-less areas well off the beaten path, should remain unscathed, at least for the near future.
Is this tourism harangue just a selfish attempt at maintaining the current conditions, so I can continue to enjoy my own opportunity to commune with nature in the relative solitude of the unappreciated backcountry? Absolutely, at least to a point.
Also, I think about the denizens of the Adirondack backcountry, those creatures with no say in whether humans invade their home in higher numbers in the years ahead. While politicians, residents and other stakeholders promote tourism in the Adirondack Park, the forests, meadows and bogs wait in silence, performing their age-old activities, unaware of the looming threat on the horizon. The black bears get no say in this matter, nor do the yellow-rumped warblers, redback salamanders, balsam trees or the even the lowly black flies.
And that is a shame.
Photo: Five Ponds Wilderness in early morning from Cat Mountain by Dan Crane.