Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dan Crane: Revisiting Adirondack Tourism

Upper Robinson RiverWhen I wrote my last article on the dangers of over promoting the Adirondack Park, I knew I was sticking my head out for a possible sound thrashing. Many of the Adirondack Almanack commenters did not disappoint me in this regard.

Unfortunately, the point of my article seemed to get lost in all the anger and angst, so I thought I would give it another go-around and try to explain my original idea a little better. This gives those who missed out at taking a whack at me last time another chance.

Along the way, I will attempt to address some of the many comments from the article. Inevitably, this will probably get me in even more trouble. If this proves to be the case, I can always create an alias or wear a disguise the next time I visit the Adirondacks.

Initially, I struggled with the idea of responding to the many critical comments on the article since the writing should speak for itself. With so many commenters misinterpreting the article, not to mention the insulting, condescending and disparaging remarks, I felt I had no choice but produce a follow-up to set the record straight. Rather than answering each comment individually, with all the inevitable redundancy, I decided to address all my concerns in a single post. Unfortunately, I fear few of the scornful commenters will ever bother to read this, as they most likely wrote me off as a lost cause already.

As I read the comments on my original article, I started thinking the author was a real jerk. He proposes shutting down tourism in the Adirondacks, taking away people’s jobs, destroying their quality of life and even wishes to rob them of the opportunity to have healthy teeth and gums! He even dared to mock such places as Old Forge, Lake George and Lake Placid. I was ready to grab my pitchfork, light a torch and join the stampeding mob, before realizing many of these claims were spurious – at best!

The original article’s genesis began with a phone interview by a reporter interested in tourism in the Adirondack Park. Even though I warned him that I was not an expert on the topic, he remained interested in hearing my opinion on the matter. After the twenty-minute conversation, which I am sure I gave him nothing of value, I started thinking about the idea of increasing tourism in the Adirondacks, and whether or not this is a worthwhile goal.

My intention was to write a personal commentary on a portion of the tourism debate that I feel gets short shrift. In other words, when is enough, enough? How much tourism is desirable in the Adirondacks? What type of tourism? How will it be distributed within the Park? And, most importantly, how will this tourism affect the natural ecosystems? Many of these questions appear to get lost in the flurry to do something, anything to help out those within the Blue Line.

Unfortunately, I did not explicitly state much of this in the article, favoring subtlety over lucidity. Given my status as a lowly blogger, not a politician, reporter, business leader or in any way someone yielding influence or power within the Adirondacks, I thought it unnecessary to state the obvious.

Apparently, I was mistaken, as the purpose of the article seemed entirely lost on many. The original article was not a complete, “fair and balanced” feature about the nature of tourism in the Adirondacks. It was just a personal commentary about the notion of promoting the Adirondacks too much, more philosophical in tone, rather than a treatise on the nature of tourism.

In fact, the article in no way represented the totality of my own thoughts on the topic. As Pete Nelson pointed out in his recent finely written Lost Brook Dispatch, I too am of more than one mind on the topic of tourism and development within the Adirondacks. Although in my case, the environmentalist/conservationist/preservationist side has the upper hand, with a full grasp on my heart, as well as sharing my brain with its polar opposite.

Many of the commenters, provided some criticism of the article, some valid but much of it misguided in my opinion. The criticisms ran the gamut from thoughtful to hostile, but for brevity’s sake, I will address just a few of the more salient ones. Feel free to accept or dismiss them as you see fit.

Much of the negative comments swirled around the notion that I advocate putting an end to all tourism within the Adirondacks. This is absurd; nowhere in my article do I purpose ceasing tourism within the Park. Tourism is an integral part of the Adirondacks, and has been so for a very long time. I merely questioned the notion of a continual effort of promoting the Adirondacks, and presented some of the more obvious problems that may arise from a resulting increase of tourism.

Accentuating the article’s philosophical nature, I went out of the way to avoid providing any solutions to the many issues revolving around increased tourism, as one astute commenter pointed out. The lack of solutions was not an accident, as I do not see many viable options. Promoting more tourism is like a run-away train, as inevitable as the black flies in the spring, bone-chilling cold in the winter and the next sunrise.

Another criticism was my lack of intimacy with the people living in the communities where tourism already plays a major role. Given the article’s personal and philosophical nature, there was no reason to get intimate with the few communities I used as examples of gaudy tourism gone wild as some suggested; the opinions of those living in these communities were not germane to the post. That in no way means I wish to roll back the tourism industry, shuttering their business’s windows and doors, and putting them out on the street.

Compromise was suggested as a worthwhile solution within the comments, and I wholeheartedly agree. Pete Nelson’s most recent Lost Brook Dispatch discusses just such a solution to the acrimony surrounding this, and many other issues within the Adirondacks. Yet, the call to compromise often fills me with a certain amount of trepidation, as all such agreements require a baseline in which to negotiate. Unfortunately, deciding on a baseline will most likely lead to even more derisiveness.

The northern spotted owl/old growth forest controversy in the Pacific Northwest during the 1990’s illustrates the importance of a proper baseline. During that time, environmentalists wanted the small remaining portion of old growth forest in the Pacific Northwest to be fully protected, while logging interests called for more timber production (using jobs as their argument – sound familiar?). An obvious “compromise” would allow some logging in these forests, despite the fact that logging had already claimed the vast majority of old growth forests in the past.

Several commenters posited that any worry of tourism degrading the wildness of the Adirondacks to be premature, if necessary at all. The Adirondacks is a big place and there is plenty of room for different types of tourism, the argument goes. Fair enough, for now that is certainly true. The Native Americans probably entertained similar thoughts about the Europeans moving into their North American home hundreds of years ago. We know how well that idea served them.

The existence of strict rules controlling development pressures was cited as another reason for not being concerned about the increase in tourism. Although these controls on human behavior seem strict enough (sometimes even onerous) to manage any of the tourism-based development’s negative aspects, they remain ephemeral in nature over the long term. Humans create laws and ordinances, and they just as easily dissemble them when they become too inconvenient – especially when big money interests are at stake.

It was interesting that almost no one even mentioned the threat to nature from tourism and its accompanying development. This crucial constituency is usually absent from much of the decision process; these true Adirondackers, the plants and animals that called the Adirondacks home long before humans ever stepped foot within the area are all too often an afterthought. This situation is not likely to be resolved anytime soon since the comments on my article imply it is often difficult for many of us to imagine merely giving up our own parochial interests, let alone ever actually doing so.

Many of the commenters felt it was not enough to discuss the issues brought up in the article, but believed it necessary to throw in a few disparaging remarks about me personally. This is an unsavory, and unfortunately, common aspect of the Internet these days. It amounts to nothing more than intellectual bullying, providing no illumination, but instead stifling and suppressing discussion through intimidation, as other readers/writers avoid making future remarks lest this derision be directed at them as well.

A couple commenters brought up my apparent hypocrisy, as I decry tourism in my article on one hand, while contributing to the problem every time I cross the Blue Line for a visit on the other. In addition, my quest for a guiding license found its way into the comments, revealing that I may profit (at least potentially) from some of the tourism that I decry. Well, you got me on this one. Apparently, it was not enough that I admitted being selfish, but I have to fess up to being a hypocrite too. So I am a hypocrite, you might as well just call me human. At least I am in good company, as one commenter felt it necessary to spit vile scorn at me for my views in one sentence, and then in the very next chastise me for not being accepting of others’ opinions. Apparently, there is enough hypocrisy pie for each of us to have a slice.

The call for increased tourism in the Adirondacks remains a Faustian bargain at best in my mind. Of course, people living in the Adirondacks need to make a living, and currently one of the easiest ways to do so is through tourism. Yet, too much tourism can just as easily run amok, degrading the very reason for the tourism in the first place.

Hopefully, the comments on this article can avoid the insults, derision and threats of the last one, and instead stick to the issues as stated here or in my original article from two weeks ago. Otherwise, if the comments continue to increase in aggressiveness, I may just have to don a disguise every time I cross the Blue Line from now on.

Anyone know where I can buy a decent beaglepuss?

Photo: Upper Robinson River in the Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

18 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    “I started thinking the author was a real jerk”
    Well you did compare visitors to cattle if I remember correctly.

    “I merely questioned the notion of a continual effort of promoting the Adirondacks”
    Tourism promotion isn’t exactly a one-and-done deal, but I’m sure you understand that. It’s continual by it’s very nature, so there is your answer.

    Since you are writing philosophical articles, here is a philosophical question: If everyone is the world had seen and experienced all you have in your own Adirondack Wilderness adventures, would the world be a better place?

  2. joe nexr says:

    A number of very powerful rich organizations speak for nature. Protect!, ADK Wild, The ADK Nature Conservancy, the ADK Council, just to name a few.

    Witness the ACR lawsuit…..each of these groups can stop anything single handedly and they do.

    Who speaks for the residents and visitors? No one with power that equals these groups. If you agree that the communiites are a legitimate part of the Park, then the current siutation is put of balance.

    • Wren Hawk says:

      There are many, many people that support the work of one or more of these groups that work to conserve and protect the park and its resources. With the exception of the national TNC, whose chapter is based in Keene Valley, the groups are pretty small and far from rich. They play an important role in the ongoing debate on what this fabulous place should and could look like. To support them doesn’t mean to agree with them on every stand they take. If they “stop something” it is usually not singlehandedly but because others in the park or our legal or legislative system agrees with them. And that’s not to say they are always right or wrong. There are many groups, just as powerful that speak for other residents and other visitors who might not want to support the work or specific projects of these groups…many legislators, ANCA, ADK Govt Review Board, North Country Chamber, tourism councils. Indeed the debate is so healthy here that I think we sometimes loose track of the value of the park’s non-human components and their well-being for their own sake.

    • Mike says:

      joe, the lawsuit is not against the ACR, it’s against the APA. It does not stop the ACR, if they had any $$s they could go ahead and start the project. The ACR developers are just using the lawsuit as a scapegoat because they don’t have any money, they haven’t even bought the very land they are proposing to develop.

  3. Paul says:

    Like you I also prefer to keep tourism in check. We both don’t live there and mostly recreate there (at least I assume that since you say “visit”) Yet perhaps your reason is a more noble one than mine, environmental preservation for preservation sake. For me it may be more selfish in that I want environmental preservation for my sake, I don’t want any more neighbors and I want the trail heads empty when me and my family arrive. I also hope to see that place there and looking about the same for my grand children and beyond. But despite all that we see Wilderness land on the rise, never on the fall, and more on the table for the near term. So I don’t really see a threat to either of our goals. I grew up in the Adirondacks and I have family there also so I can see where most folks are coming from. If you have more tourism (folks like us)or more local folks moving in and using the land to recreate isn’t the effect the same? But with the latter you save the idea of people living in close proximity and hopefully in harmony with the woods.. I say promote whatever can facilitate that.

  4. Bunker says:

    “With so many commenters misinterpreting the article, ”

    Plain and simple, if (many) people misinterpret your article, it’s not the many readers fault — they didn’t write the article.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    Tourism, here or anywhere, can never solve the economic problems of a place.
    NYC remains the #1 tourist destination in NY but tourism is not the most import part of its economy.
    Personally, I would never chose to live in Adirondack tourist destination hot spots such as the big three: Lake Placid, Lake George and Old Forge.
    They, to me, are not the “real” Adirondacks.

  6. M.P. Heller says:

    Dan, don’t write pieces defending pieces you wrote in the past. It makes you look wishy-washy on the issues you chose to write about in the first place, and it undermines readers opinion of future writings. (Is he serious about this one, or will he backtrack if he doesn’t like the feedback.)

    It doesn’t matter if you get a lot of negative feedback on something you publish. In fact high levels of feedback only serve to underscore the feelings that piece stirred up in the reader(s). You may not like everything that folks say to you, but saying something is a lot better than going back to view your submission and find out you got no comments at all. That would mean that you wrote a piece nobody cared about one way or another.

    So I say to you, stick to your guns. If you thought enough about a topic to write about it in the first place that should be enough to justify your actions. You aren’t always going to like the feedback you receive all of the time. That not a reason to go back and write another piece defending yourself. Just move on and maybe the next time you feel the urge to write it will be received differently. You can’t be friends with everybody, and even your friends won’t always agree with you.

    Keep your stick on the ice.

  7. Bob Meyer says:

    First: you are 100% correct in that ALL discourse should be civil and respectful regardless of the writer’s opinion. Otherwise we all lose. Please folks!
    We are ALL “hypocrites”,Pete, Dan, me, the hunter who wants both more access and the solitude of “his” patch of woods, the hiker who wants good motor access to trail heads, well marked trails AND solitude,the snowmobile who wants… well, you all get it…
    Opinion from the philosophically “purist” perspective is HEALTHY and NECESSARY for democratic debate. i appreciate and respect the ideas and opinions of all sides from Dan to Fred Monroe. i do not respect the insulting, derisive and threatening comments directed at ANYONE. this has NO place in a legitimate discussion. the uncensored expression of thought and ideas is vital to a healthy society. History proves this and the progress of action comes from this.
    Inevitably, compromise will happen, whether in the land classifications of the new and upcoming Forest Preserve acquisitions or snowmobile trails or home development etc.
    there is NO magic bullet answer to the many questions and issues effecting the Adirondacks.
    We ALL care.
    Dan, leave your disguise at home. you are welcome in my camp anytime.

  8. Dan,
    I love the Adirondacks, born in Brooklyn (where all life begins), started family Adirondack camping when I was 5,55 years ago, worked there as a forester and made many friends. Left a great job there to go for the $ in Manhattan, bad move. I always kept in touch with my Adirondack friends with visits, never considered myself a tourist. Now I enjoy the Adirondacks for the birds and solitude (which I can only take so much of) and then it’s off to the Carolinas for the shore birds that will pose for you compared to Adirondack birds that can hide behind a blade of grass.
    You may want to warn the reader “Danger personal views may upset you, proceed at your own risk.” 🙂
    Keep on writing,

  9. Bill Quinlivan says:

    I personally have no problem with growing tourism in the Park that respects the nature of the Park and tends to preserve what makes it such a unique place to visit and live. I personally think that some of the areas of the Park, particularly the Central Adks. would very much benefit from an increased residency, especially with younger, family aged people. For that we would need some infrastructure that is about to come into place, namely, cell service and fiber optic based broadband. These technologies would make it possible to attract young people interested in starting or moving a clean-based small business to the Park. Just think how enticing it would be to be able to run your internet based business or consultancy business from a location in the park that affords all the wonderful outdoor recreation right outside the door. We in turn would need some food resources, small community staple and special interests shops. I live in Indian Lake and we have a really well -resourced school and a very active volunteer community working on just this concept and need for our community. It will soon be possible for young people to begin to live a life that was no more than a dream a decade ago in a very safe, forward looking community with a really great, recognized school district. I say to young people, “Come visit us and then investigate living and working here — soon it will not be a dream — it will be a great life.

  10. Paul says:

    The telecommuting thing is a good idea. The problem is that we don’t need more Wilderness for this (we already have plenty of Wilderness for lots of people) we need a large airport. Many people who work in jobs where they mainly telecommute they also have periods where they need to travel. Getting to and from the Adirondacks can be a process. Two friends of mine that telecommute from Saranac Lake (the largest town) are always having issues getting out of there easily when they have to. Same goes for tourism. It doesn’t matter that the place is a days drive from such and such a number of people. Most tourists don’t want to spend even half a day driving. They want to fly into a large airport that is less than a few hours from their destination (BTW Albany doesn’t qualify). The reason the Adirondacks is having this debate on how to get people there is because it is simply hard to get there by most peoples standards. Look at most prime tourism locations (someone mentioned NYC above), even ones based on the outdoors (skiing and hiking in the US and Canadian Rockies), and you will see they have good access by air. Dan, the Adirondacks is pretty safe for now.

  11. Charlie says:

    Paul says, “we need a large airport.”
    Alos he says,”Most tourists don’t want to spend even half a day driving. They want to fly into a large airport that is less than a few hours from their destination (BTW Albany doesn’t qualify).
    This is the generation that is all about convenience. I’ve seen people drive their kids down their 100 foot slightly inclined driveways to wait for the school bus,so that they dont have the inconvenience of having to walk back up.I can go on with a multitude of examples of how lazy we have become.We’re becoming wimps because of all of the conveniences.There’s no sense of adventure in hardly anybody anymore. Paul proposes an airport in the Adirondacks to make it easier for lazy (or rich) people to get there quicker. Next we’ll be building a road up to Mt Marcy.

    Paul also says,”The reason the Adirondacks is having this debate on how to get people there is because it is simply hard to get there by most peoples standards.”
    Most peoples standards are pretty shallow Paul if you really look at it.In my neighborhood,when it snows,i have a neighbor who,instead of shoveling,pours this pink liquid on the sidewalk so as to melt the snow chemically.He is a microcosm of the whole.
    We dont have enough wilderness and the Adirondacks does not need a major airport!

  12. Jimmy says:

    Sorry this is off topic but I wonder if ADK Almanack has noticed hat APA has the clear cutting general permit on their agenda for next Thursday. Seems they have renamed it. Cute. Ddo they think that will make it easier to love? Or do they think people who objected to it the first time will miss it now that it’s been given a new name. Shameful.

  13. Peter says:

    As to airline inconvenience, it’s interesting to note that many people who work from the Adirondacks view flights as quite convenient. I have a friend who works out of Lake Placid. He moved from NYC, and he said flying out of the city was impossible compared to flying out of LP. In NYC, you have to leave at least 90 minutes to get to the airport, and the whole process is a pain. Now he can fly from Plattsburgh (60 minutes), Albany (120), Burlington (120), and the experience is simple and pleasant. Lots of flights. Minimal headaches. He can live and work in the Adirondacks and get out with ease.

    As to the central question of over promoting the Adirondacks, all that needs protection is the wilderness. Research indicates that 99% of visitors don’t go into the woods. What we need is protection from recreationalists who feel entitled to have access to every inch of the back country. The group that advocates for the most damage to the park is the ADK. They keep pushing the mantra of access, and yet they somehow try and display themselves as environmental advocates. Tourists don’t damage the concept of wilderness; most of them just see it in the distance. The reality is that it’s the people who feel entitled to camp and explore places like the Essex Chain of Lakes who are destroying it. So please don’t blame the tourists, blame the likes of the ADK and the Adirondack Explorer. Look at their ad: “Wilderness Awaits You!” Not much different in my eyes than an ATV ripping up a trail, just a bit slower.

  14. Sue says:

    @ Pete Klein – define “the real Adirondacks”….

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