Saturday, January 11, 2014

Racial and Socioeconomic Diversity and the Adirondacks

Lyman Epps SeniorAbout a month ago I crafted a little poll for readers to take.  The purpose of the poll was to test a hunch: that of all the issues affecting the future of the Adirondack region, the one I happen to think is most important goes all but unrecognized.  So I wrote descriptions of the ten issues I had selected, trying not to tip my hand or show bias, and released the poll.  The results, while interesting in their own rite, validated my hunch even more than I had expected.

Here is your ranking, the aggregate of more than 150 responses (some of you may notice that the results are different than published by me three weeks ago – additional responses broke the three-way tie for third place) :






Issue or Factor


Land Use Law, Policy and Practice


State Agencies, Policies and Regulations


Invasive Species


The Regional Education System


Watershed Protection


Climate Change




Scientific and Technological Advancement


The Regional Health Care System


Socioeconomic/Racial Population Diversity


Here’s my ranking:




Issue or Factor


Socioeconomic/Racial Population Diversity


The Regional Education System


Climate Change


Scientific and Technological Advancement




Watershed Protection


Invasive Species


State Agencies, Policies and Regulations


Land Use Law, Policy and Practice


The Regional Health Care System


No doubt much fun and merriment can be had by you fine readers arguing over each line in this very different ranking.  I’m more than happy to do so – in the comments section.  But that is not my purpose in this article.  My purpose here is to issue a wake-up call, because the issue you ranked dead last – by a mile – is my number one.  Either the readership is way off base or I am.  Assume it’s me at the Park’s peril.

I have two theses, one political, one moral, both of which I will explore in upcoming posts.

Here’s the political one.

The Adirondack Park is a democratic human construction, protected by the will of the people of the State of New York (and to a lesser extent, people across the country and globe).  It survives intact only to the extent that the people value it and are willing to work and vote to protect it.

People value the Adirondack Park for two primary reasons: experiential and aesthetic.  In the first case, they experience the Adirondacks for themselves and value those experiences.  In the second case they value wilderness and the natural environment in a larger aesthetic sense and want to know that it is being protected whether or not they ever visit.  In many cases both reasons are operative.

America as a whole and New York State in particular is in a period of rapid demographic evolution that will forever eliminate white majority.  New York City is already there and New York State will be there soon, probably in less than two decades.  However the Adirondack region is not following this trend and remains overwhelmingly white, both in terms of permanent residents and – crucially – visitors.

Non-white demographics comprise a rainbow of cultures each as different as the next.  However as a generalization most of the non-white demographics that will dominate New York’s electorate in the future do not have much of an interest in the Adirondack Park, either on the experiential or aesthetic level.  The experiential claim is easy: numbers and obvious anecdotal experience show that very few non-whites experience the park directly.  The aesthetic claim is more complicated but no less compelling.  First, our wilderness aesthetic is very much generated from a nineteenth and twentieth-century white perspective; in any case an Adirondack-like wilderness aesthetic is not a part of the cultural traditions of most non-white minority groups.  Second, racial and ethnic minorities are predominately urban, living in and knowing a very different world.  Third, actual appreciation of wilderness is an economic luxury more available to people with mobility, discretionary income and time – in other words mostly white people, as non-white minorities remain far below economic par with whites.  Fourth, the North Country is obviously white territory – and not only that, white territory with lots of non-whites in prisons.  It’s hard to see how it would be perceived as an appealing or welcoming place to non-whites.

Taking all these points together, since the evolving population of New York State is going to be dominated by demographics that do not value the Adirondack Park, its future support is in peril.  If future New Yorkers do not protect the park, none of the other issues from my little survey will make one whit of difference.

The moral thesis is more simply stated.  First, we as a society have a moral obligation to make the wonderful benefits of the Adirondacks more available to all peoples, especially those whose socioeconomic circumstances have them potentially benefiting the most. Second, we have a moral obligation to make Adirondack communities themselves more welcoming, inclusive and diverse, more reflective of the global population as a whole. Wherever they occur on the planet, enclaves that are almost exclusively of one race or another are by definition biased and thus help to sustain discrimination – though it must be said that not all such biases are equal, as some groups are more oppressed than others.

I see the two theses as inextricably intertwined, each reinforcing the other.  Consequently for me the whole question of racial and socioeconomic diversity is a moral imperative, not merely a strategy to ensure a robust future for the park.  Much of this imperative is driven by experience, some of which I will share as I explore these difficult issues further.

Photo: Lyman Epps, Senior, original resident of Timbuctoo and friend to John Brown. 

Photo courtesy of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

64 Responses

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Three cheers, Pete.
    While I don’t recall where I placed Socioeconomic/Racial Population Diversity, I know I did not rate it dead last.
    I have often pointed out that most New Yorkers don’t care about the Adirondacks and the reason is often because there is very little Socioeconomic/Racial Population Diversity up here.
    I believe your concern is 100% warranted. Not only that, I’ll go further by suggesting our lack of diversity is one of the many reasons some of the young who are born and raised here chose to leave. They see diversity on TV and in the movies but don’t see it here and thus determine this place is not part of the America they want to be part of.
    I don’t know how to solve the problem but maybe we can start by marketing to the minority that will become the majority, and welcoming them when they do arrive and check us out.

  2. zyxw says:

    Interesting thoughts on this issue; however, I think you are underestimating the younger generations. My observations are that the younger the people on the trails and even moving into the area, the more likely they are to be a diverse group of men, women, and minorities. I think the ageing sonservative, white demographic problem the Adirondacks has is taking care of itself as those folks retire, move away, and yes die. Very nearby, in places like Saratoga and Malta, high-tech businesses are developing that are creating great jobs and bringing a diverse group of new blood close to the Adirondacks. I see these new arrivals at outdoor shows, in outdoor gear shops, and on the trail. Sure, it is still a small number, but I believe it is growing and will inevitably fill the void as the older demographics naturally dwindle.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      This is an interesting observation. This column being an introductory piece I can assure you I have no intention of underestimating younger generations. In fact it will be directly dealt with in either my next column or the following one as I analyze younger generations specifically.

      However I can tell you already that the data doesn’t look to bear out your suspicion that the issue will take care of itself.

    • S. Simpson says:

      you work in hi-tech yourself? I used to.

      Hi-tech goals tend to be at odds with preserving nature, ie., genome manipulation, pollution, etc.

  3. Pete:

    Good column. I have been part of a small movement of individual environmental leaders since the early 1990’s to advance the involvement of diverse minorities and American Indians in the awareness, knowledge, use, enjoyment and future of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. All participants have much to gain. We helped form the Environmental Awareness Network for Diversity in Conservation (EANDC) with Black, Hispanic and Indian members back in the mid 1990’s. EANDC, while not functioning now, began at the cusp of the “No Child Left Inside:” movement; still ongoing. We sought to develop more awareness for the benefits of the Forest Preserve and nature use by minorities in downstate inner cities and also direct, equitable involvement in environmental policy, law, management and employment opportunities. Steps are slow to take root, but the cause is extremely important. One of the most active participants has been Brother Yusuf Burgess. Here is his bio from the Children and Nature Network, where he is a board member emeritus:

    Yusuf Burgess served as the current Chairperson of the Environmental Awareness Network for Diversity in Conservation (EANDC). He is the Parent Intervention Specialist at the Green Tech High Charter School in Albany, New York. Yusuf is a founding member of the New York State Outdoor Education Association Diversity Committee and a member of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks. He is also a member of the Albany School District’s Youth Safety Task Force, a collaborator on Youth Violence Intervention Conferencing, a participant in the Albany City School District’s Strategic Planning Committee and a friend and mentor to many youth from elementary school to college. As a concerned and dedicated youth professional he exposes young people to the natural world with engaging outdoor recreation activities. Brother Yusuf, as most folks call him, is a former Environmental Educator for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation where he coordinated the DEC Diversity Program and was responsible for an urban outreach to increase the diversity of their Summer Youth Environmental Education Camps.
    – See more at:

    When you are able, perhaps we can meet with Indian colleagues and friends who reside at Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation, Tayendenaga Indian Reservation – Bay of Qunite, Ontario and Six Nations, as well, of course as the Fadden family in Ochiota — where we have co-led several inter-cultural meetings and discussions on minority involvement and awareness in the Adirondack Park.

    This is also a theme I work on personally in line with my involvement with the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples which meets annually at the UN every May in New York City. I would be glad to have your collaboration in this important outreach and work. You would meet many great folks that share your passion for the Adirondacks!

  4. Marcy Neville says:

    Very thoughtful & measured, as always.
    My initial reaction, as a long time park resident is that perhaps your #1 and ‘our’ #1 are not so far apart. The distrust among many locals towards current land use law, policy & practice in the Park has its origins in the economic discrimination embedded in them. If we hope to reform these laws, attracting a bigger swath of the Park’s present and future populace into the planning process is a must.
    Thanks for re-directing our eyes to that prize!

  5. Jim Fox says:

    An Adirondack blog which pitches diversity? Inviting people who like cities and don’t fit our mold, to actually come up here and enjoy what we have? What a wonderful vision for our children, grandchildren and even those people with kids and grandkids who aren’t like us.

  6. Wayno says:

    Very good article, you make many points we often do not consider. I do think that race is a secondary consideration to economic status. With the growing stratification of our economy into haves and have nots there is an increasing underclass with marginal means to enjoy the ADK’s. Within the Park it is difficult to convince folks struggling to get by that the extra regulations are a long term good as opposed to an immediate impediment to economic opportunity.

    The bottom line point that the special status of the Park exists only through the support of the people is very important to note. I could see the day that a well organized group of developers and industrialists make a run at changing the State constitution for a piece of the 3 million state owned acres. The only protection the Park will have at that point is the support of the general population. If a sizable majority are unsupportive or indifferent or see the Park as some elitist playground then anything is possible, and it could be very bad.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      I would love to support the idea that race is a secondary consideration but the fact that it is coupled so tightly to socioeconomic status makes obvious a causal connection that requires it to be a primary consideration as far as I am concerned.

      With that said race is clearly not the exclusive issue, either functionally or morally. Poverty is an essential question.


  7. The recent vote on Proposition 5 in which corporate profit and jobs trumped the ideal of “Forever Wild”, even with ADK (the Adirondack Mountain Club) and D.E.C. surely illustrates how fragile the “protection” is. As long as we continue to measure everything in dollars, by the profit it produces, the park is in danger. I recognize that local economies need to be at least stable if not growing but we do need to take other things into account, a philosophy that is no where near as “white” a position as you seem to think. I would argue that the preservationists are a minority even among the white population. We’re already at the point you fear and the fact that the majority of preservationists are white is largely incidental.

  8. M.P. Heller says:

    An interesting addition to your piece would be to include the racial/social demographic data of the park along side that of the rest of NY and the nation as a whole.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      M.P. –

      This is an introductory piece that offers my thesis. The backing arguments and data are coming.


  9. Bob Meyer says:

    I think this is right on. i also think zyxw” observation is accurate, which gives some hope to Pete’s wishes for the future of the Park.

  10. Dave Mason says:


    If you want to take some time to poke around the data yourself, go to this site:

    It is set to come up with Essex Cty vs the whole State but use the menu to select any county OR city. It shows age, race, income, poverty levels and the like all across the State, by county or by city, your choice. It is interesting stuff.

    The basic point of Pete’s column here was a core feature of the ADK Futures Project endstate F looking 25 years out. You might find it interesting:

    It is a failure scenario that, needless to say, no one wants to see develop. Still, it is important to think about the Park’s downside risks long before they are upon us (that is why we used the endstate). Demographics are slow to develop and we are clearly out-of-synch with the State.

    This was a difficult topic for people to work with. Thanks, Pete, for putting this out for discussion here.

  11. OldForger says:

    Pete, I always enjoy your posts, particularly your posts on surveying. I think your concern for the impact of demographic change on political and popular support for the Park is warranted.

    The US currently resettles numerous refugees from around the world within the US. Perhaps locations within and around the Adirondack Park should be considered for refugee resettlement. This would stem the population decline as well as foster a more diverse population. The city of Utica, for example, has actually reversed its population decline largely due to its acceptance of refugees. The refugees have contributed to an expanded choices of businesses and places of worship.

    You point out that “…an Adirondack-like wilderness aesthetic is not a part of the cultural traditions of most non-white minority groups.” Perhaps it would be instructive to see how the nations from which many of our immigrants come encourage their citizens to use and appreciate their local environmental parks and recreation areas. It may be that your assessment of their cultural traditions may be off the mark.

    Several cities and regions are already minority dominant. What can we learn about what how they addressed (local) park usage and other environmental issues?

  12. Dave Mason says:

    The National Parks have problems appealing to minorities as well. Here is a NY Times article about their approach to changing this:

    I know we are nothing like a National Park, and we have different issues like attracting residents as well as visitors, but there may be some lessons to learn.

  13. Paul says:

    The Adirondacks continues to be a secret even to people that are geographically close to us.

    I think I have said in an earlier post regarding the former Finch lands that any signage should be in English as well as Chinese. I know that some larger second homes are now being actively marketed to Asian markets just like real estate in NYC. The type of tourists that you think are crucial to the areas survival can come directly from other countries if we want to market the area in that way. Once the secret gets out they will flood in. It is all about marketing.

  14. John Henry says:

    I have long seen this. I will also make this observation. Go to any sports event that takes place in the park. (or anyplace these sports thrive) The sports or activities here in the park you will see very few people of any race but white.

    Many get their first experience of the park via a sports event. Skiing,hockey, running, biking, canoe/kayaking even hunting. All sports that have a very small ethnic diversity participating. Why? part is cost, more is the lack of access growing up. How many downstate or inner city kids get a chance to do any of them or find a love of the above outside maybe hockey if you live on Long Island?

    You want more diversity? Find a way to get more boy and girl scouts from the downstate or inner city areas using the park. Plan some sports events that attract teams for the areas.

    How about a series of events planned for February, it is African American History Month? ever see one in the park ever? Get a campaign at the state level to do this.

    I do think there is subtle mindset that really wants to not only keep minorities out but anyone new and not part of “their group”. Look at how little of park is handicap friendly. This mindset wants the park uncrowded and in a large part exclusive. More people means more traffic, pollution, noise and impacts their enjoyment of the wild. It is there, I have heard it, even if many do not want to admit it.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      These are strong and important observations.

      I agree about sports being one dimension of the larger issue. Just two weeks ago I had a conversation in Lake Placid with a former down-stater who moved here many years ago. When his kids were old enough to begin expressing an interest in getting serious about sports, he told me he warned them that if they were going to try to excel they would have to pick “white collar” sports: skiing, hockey, golf, etc. When he said “white collar” I heard “white.”

      The interesting – and telling – issue is not that certain sports are overwhelmingly white, it is the question of why certain sports are overwhelmingly white. I think the reasons are parallel to and illuminate the reasons for our larger issues.

      • Will Doolittle says:

        Hockey is a largely white sport. I don’t think you can accurately call it a “white-collar” sport, the way, say, tennis and golf are. Traditionally, I think, hockey has been the “street sport” of cold-weather places like Canada and Russia, the way basketball is in many cities, or soccer is in most of the world.
        John Henry makes a great point about handicapped access, which has been resisted, if it involves motors, by environmentalists in the Adirondacks.
        Kudos to you for beginning this discussion, Pete, since it raises uncomfortable questions.
        Probably the greatest diversity among visitors to the Park can be found in Lake George in the summer. I’m not saying there’s a lot of diversity there, but more than in Lake Placid or anywhere else, I think. So why is that? Because Lake George is more accessible, has more motels and restaurants, offers more of the experience — such as a concentration of shops and restaurants; easy access to the lake; motorized, noisy recreation (parasailing, Jetskis)that middle class and working class families want when they go on vacation. A lot of people don’t want to hike for miles; paddle on remote, quiet lakes; spend $100/day per person to ski; or climb mountains. A lot of those who do want to do those things are upper middle class white people.
        So I’m not sure there’s a solution to this problem.

  15. Steven says:

    Isn’t our beloved governor already pushing more tourism in the area? I understand the point you’re making, but along with more people, you’re going to have more pollution. If non whites are interested in the Adirondacks, they will come if they can afford it. I’m far from privileged,and I don’t make enough money to be considered middle class. However I save what I can to enjoy my time in the Wilderness. Also I would argue your point that Adirondack villages and towns should be more welcoming to other races and cultures. What makes the Adirondacks unique is that it has it’s own traditions and sub-culture. I haven’t yet picked up on discrimination anywhere I have visited in the Adirondacks.

  16. John Warren says:

    “Also I would argue your point that Adirondack villages and towns should be more welcoming to other races and cultures.” – well that is some statement, you believe we should all be white and protestant. Good luck with that.

    “What makes the Adirondacks unique is that it has it’s own traditions and sub-culture.” – This is completely false. It’s a fantasy to think that there are unique traditions and sub-culture here, unless by unique you mean rural north-eastern white people. Aside from perhaps the design of guide boats please do tell us about the unique culture. It’s only unique to you because you don’t experience it elsewhere. Go visit another mountainous place in America. I can think of nothing here in culture or history that is not also found for example, in Berlin in Eastern Rensselaer County, or the Northeast Kingdom of VT, or interior Maine, or northern New Hampshire.

    “I haven’t yet picked up on discrimination anywhere I have visited in the Adirondacks.” That would be because you are obviously not subject to discrimination and don’t really encounter people who would 1) experience that discrimination, and 2) tell you, with your fabulously culturally insensitive beliefs, about it.

    Also: You fail to appreciate that “non-white” people have a long history here in the Adirondacks – longer than yours, and longer than white people.

    What we really have with this comment is the perfect example of scared white male, pretending his (!) traditions are under threat by “non-white” people.

    See for example: Ku Klux Klan.

    • Will Doolittle says:

      Referencing the Klan is harsh, I think, but I agree with you on substance, John. Adirondack subculture is mostly a myth, and it’s just silly to assert that discrimination doesn’t exist in the region.

      • westernedge says:

        John and Will,

        If you think that “Adirondack subculture” is mostly a myth than, maybe, you have not gotten around all that much?

        I am originally from Europe and have chosen to spend much of my US time in the Adirondack Park exactly because it has so much of its very own distinct “culture”, as we do have,from region to region, all over Europe.I guess, one notices this more when one sadly misses it! (And I have
        lived all over the place in America!)

        I also rejoice, again and again, that there are literally countless small camps in the Park, handed down from generation to generation, often not much bigger than postage stamps and yet loved passionately.Children who spent their summers in them often return, year after year, with the same enthusiasm,the same passion for the land as their parents and grandparents have done. And I am not talking about “estates”, but small, often very modest cabins, held onto by “budgeting life” very care-fully to make this “luxury” possible.

        My advice? Allow children to experience what a simple life WITH and IN nature has to offer – away from the constant noise, the distractions, the hectic, the pressures and worries, the “stuff” that clutters our day-to-day lives, and they will gladly return to nature as adults….with their little ones in tow..regardless of race or color. Deep down, we are all wired the same way!

        My “neighborhood” in the Park has no upper middle-class
        contingent. It has “salt of the earth people” who are deeply grateful for their “good luck” of owning their two room place. Many of their children are young adults now, but miss no chance to travel back – often long distances –
        to sleep on mattresses on the floor if need be….just to smell the pines once more.

        In other words: I am hopeful…….!

    • Steven says:

      That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think. You sound like just another paranoid liberal. Relax a bit Johnny boy, I’m not wearing a white hood, just prefer to see less traffic up there. Wow.

      • John Warren says:

        You’d prefer to see less traffic up here from people who don’t look like you.

        You don’t have to wear a white hood to spew bigoted nonsense, or apparently to pretend it’s just a liberal thing.

        Xenophobic much?

        • Steven says:

          You are a typical progressive liberal. Instead of debating a point you disagree with, you instead attack my character. Those who preach tolerance are the least tolerant. I treat others based on how they treat me. You can take your white liberal arrogance and spew your intolerant hate filled opinion to someone who will listen. I know your type all to well. I’m all full here.

          • John Henry says:

            Wonderful now you pull the “typical progressive liberal” moniker out. You forgot elitist as a life republican I resent that name calling from both sides.

            Racism exists and the ADK is as white as you can find. I am not willing to just ignore it. You need to tune in less Faux news and Rush.

            The world is not ganging up to cheat white males out what you have earned or love about the park. Demographics are changing and that is what the article is about how will that affect the parks future is the question. Not liberal or right wing political point scoring.

            We white males did this by having less kids and losing the vote. So blame yourself.

            • Steven says:

              Why must you assume I listen to Fox or Rush?? I do neither, and I’m certainly not a Republican. Why must you assume I’m white? You know the saying about assuming.

          • John Warren says:

            I’m sorry, where is your response to the criticisms I raised? You seem to be too busy being affronted by criticism of your views, and pretending I called you names, to engage with the criticisms I raised.

            Also, your continued use of “typical” only proves my point about your xenophobia.

            • Steven says:

              I don’t need to respond to your criticisms. My opinion was stated and I’m not changing, or apologizing for it. Last I checked we still live in a democracy and we’re all entitled to our opinions. You may not agree with mine, but you should respect it, just like I respect yours.

              • John Warren says:

                No, you can have an opinion, but the minute it insults and demeans others by declaring them persona non grata as you have done, then no one has an obligation to respect your opinion, or the person delivering it.

                Indeed, we have just the opposite obligation in this case. It’s our responsibility to publicly reject abhorrent attitudes such as yours. Particularly those based on falsehoods and founded in the ignorance of bigotry.

                You think it’s entirely OK for a good white guy such as yourself to visit the Adirondacks, others, not so much. If you are truly concerned about restricting the impact of visitors, you could start with yourself, or some of your approved white relatives.

                • Steven says:

                  Sorry you’re suffering from white guilt my friend, but you shouldn’t expect everyone else to feel the same. Nor do I recall giving you permission to put words in my mouth. If people want to visit the Adirondacks, all the power to them. All I was saying was if you want to come here, then pay your way and earn it, just like everyone else. I’m not wealthy, but I save what i earn so I can use the privilege of going there. I don’t see any reason to make it more diverse, because I don’t detect bigotry or racism when I’m visiting. Last time I visited a town I don’t recollect a cross burning or stars and bars flying. Do you? If you sir, feel you must make a difference, then I volunteer you to put your money where your mouth is and start changing whatever you think needs changing. As far as me not being welcome, in your dreams little man.

                  • John Warren says:

                    Well Steven, you certainly are not going to intimidate me with your “little man” comment, and your racist “white guilt” comment identifies you as someone not worth a continued anonymous online exchange.

                    You are making demonstrably false claims. Stars and Bars are seen here, and we have had cross-burnings and other racists incidents, including recently. You should read more.

                    You think your experience is an accurate picture of what is, when really it only represents your limited experience.

  17. John Henry says:

    I think Steven has just proven many of points. I have heard many times “do not talk about this too much, do we really want everyone to be here, that will spoil it and what I love of it”

    We whom own a part of it kind of like it the way it is. White and pretty exclusive is a historical part of ADK history. Maybe like a Indian Nation this mindset is not all bad in many peoples view.

    I take the I love it and want to share it with others that will respect it and use it, no matter where they come from.

  18. Paul says:

    This is a very interesting topic. If tourism is to be the key economic engine for the area then it is likely to bias the area away from leveling the economic playing field. Lower income people don’t go on vacation that often so they are not going to be visiting but they will be living here like many do now. Some areas of the Adirondacks have pretty good economic diversity. You have very upper income and very lower income individuals living side by side and interacting often. A tourism based economy that we seem to be pushing for in the Adirondacks exacerbates this dynamic. You can up the racial diversity. Many resort towns out west do a good job at attracting a racially diverse population. But it isn’t really the model we are looking for.

    They have the newer wealthy Asians owning homes that are being built and cleaned by poor Mexicans.

    • Pete Nelson says:


      I think more diverse tourism is valuable as a means to experience and it is on that basis I reference it as important. I too don’t think a tourism economy is enough. In the end it must be about permanent residents with a variety of employment opportunities. That’s why I’m high on broadband and robust connectivity.


  19. Pete Nelson says:

    To all:

    One of the less scintillating threads that has developed in these comments reinforces my decision to delay the demographic arguments and evidence in favor of more fully constructing the moral argument, which will be pursued in my next post. In short, perspective born of experience matters in the question of racial discrimination.

    I will be very curious to see what those who think racism and the need to deal with it is a status quo issue – “I’m not a racist, I mind my own business, I don’t see racism here, therefore the status quo is fine” – will make of my next column.


  20. zyxw says:

    One point on economic diversity is that hiking, camping, and just visiting can be an activity that doesn’t require a lot of money. I grew up in a lower-middle class household that didn’t want for any of the essentials, but we didn’t have extra money for things like fancy hiking boots or skis. We made do with work boots bought at Sears, used stuff from Army/Navy stores, and clothes we often got second-hand. We still climbed a lot of mountains, camped out in the middle of the winter, and had a lot of great experiences. I was a member of a Scout troop with really poor kids. Almost none of them owned a backpack or sleeping bag, but we gathered used stuff, got donations, and took them on real wilderness hikes and camping trips. The biggest hurdle for many people without money is getting there if you don’t live nearby. In any case, my point is that the perception that enjoying the outdoors is somehow only for the economically elite is ridiculous.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Good point. But of course the perception matters and must be factored into our thinking. Changing that perception is a good idea.

  21. Paul says:

    It sounds like one way to attract the “non-white” demographic is to have the place be more appealing to that demographic. Maybe it is the only way. Pete, you state it well here:

    “First, our wilderness aesthetic is very much generated from a nineteenth and twentieth-century white perspective; in any case an Adirondack-like wilderness aesthetic is not a part of the cultural traditions of most non-white minority groups. Second, racial and ethnic minorities are predominately urban, living in and knowing a very different world. Third, actual appreciation of wilderness is an economic luxury more available to people with mobility, discretionary income and time – in other words mostly white people, as non-white minorities remain far below economic par with whites. Fourth, the North Country is obviously white territory – and not only that, white territory with lots of non-whites in prisons. It’s hard to see how it would be perceived as an appealing or welcoming place to non-whites.”

    How about change the aesthetic? Why try and come up with some way to force an aesthetic that some people don’t want onto them? Haven’t we been doing that for too long now with many minorities. Is the idea that if we can just show them how great we think it is they will learn to agree with us?

    Also, many ethnic minorities are only predominately urban because they find it more comfortable to be in an urban setting where they will find people that are like themselves. Our urban centers grew by the addition of many rural people to their streets.

    I dare not say it here but perhaps give up the gigantic wilderness ideas and make the place a bit more urban like it has been in the past or could be in the future and maybe some minorities will be more attracted to the place to visit and live?

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Paul, my man! You have the seed of an excellent and very important point here. Who says our “white male” perspective of wilderness, for lack of a better description, is correct, or best?

      I’m not sure “more urban” is how I’d like to see the aesthetic changed, but you’re on to something. Nice one.


      • westernedge says:


        This – “more urban” – is probably easier to digest when one owns one’s own wilderness of sorts, far away from it all.

        For most of us who come to find mostly unaltered, pure nature and see it as a refuge, an urbanized Park would be a sad development.

        I still maintain that many people just simply have not had the chance – or the encouragement – to give “nature” a try. As zyxw stated, it does not take much money to hike, camp, etc. Once exposed, however, to a night sky
        ablaze with stars, the haunting beauty of a loon call,
        the utter stillness of the woods, the morning fog rising from a pond……your life will never be quite the same.

        All of us who KNOW, have a wonderful opportunity to slowly make change happen: By being hospitable and share
        what we experience by opening our doors……..and lives to those who have never experienced it. Just imagine what could happen!

        • Pete Nelson says:

          I agree with these sentiments. I do not want to see the park more urbanized in infrastructure or development.

          I agree wholeheartedly with your imagination.


    • John Henry says:

      Ugh a more urban ADK park? no thank you. I have no problem saying to each his own place and desires. The park should not try and become urban to attract a group whom does not like what we have.

      We have Old Forge-Lake Placid and Lake George. That offer more a tourist vive, last thing I want is for them to be more like Niagara Falls.

      I do not think the Park needs to become more urban or hip hop. I just think we need to do more to promote the park to the them and make it easier for them to get to here.

      • Paul says:

        John Henry,

        The point is that if you don’t attract that demographic and they don’t come to appreciate and support the protection of the Adirondacks then it may be lost for all of us. Since the Adirondack Park requires support mainly from outside this area it is essential.

        No one likes the idea of changing things they like, and no one is talking about “paving paradise and putting up a parking lot” but if you can tweak some areas to have the amenities and attractions that will diversify who visits and lives here you might avoid the slow death (and perhaps the paving that might come with it) of the place that comes when there are very few people left who give a rats ankle what happens to the park.

  22. Paul says:

    Also our state is more diverse than it has ever been and the Adirondacks is wilder and more well protected than it was over 100 years ago. Diversity going up statewide. Adirondacks more protected over that trend. Pete, the trends don’t seem to support your premise? Not saying all is well, it isn’t, just not sure we need diversity to save the park. We do need it to make the park a better place.

  23. Paul says:

    No, I agree, “more urban” is perhaps not what I would want either. Just used that since it was kind of a working term above.

    BTW how did you know I was a white male??

  24. Paul says:

    Of course there are also a lot of “white male” perspectives on Wilderness as well! No shortage of perspective here on these pages anyway.

    • Paul says:

      I don’t know if you all ever use the “Adirondacktrailhead” page. If you are looking for a pretty comprehensive list fo Adirondack realated links it is good.

      I also get a kick out of the link comments they have sometimes. For this story it was:

      “Clearly, social engineering within the Forest Preserve should be included within the APA’s functions”!

  25. Johnny says:

    I don’t care what color you are or how much money you make. Just leave your fireworks, boom boxes and generators at home.

  26. Nature says:

    Interesting to note that most Adirondack Almanack, and Adirondack explorer writers are white folk (I almost went snowblind looking at the pictures of all recent writers). Not sure about the commenters, as many are anonymous such as myself. Pete’s piece here, and perhaps a piece a few years ago by Dave Gibson(?) are the only posts I can remember that dealt with the topic of racial diversity.

    I am sure there have been more writings by, or about, folks from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds than white Europeans that I have missed. But even so, I bet they represent a very small percentage of blog posts here. Maybe the Adirondack Almanack could host a writing contest or some similar thing to allow us to hear the voices of the folks who we are talking about here.

    As Pete and Paul mentioned above, it may be a bit condescending to simply expect people to fall into line with one group’s view of what this place should be. Let’s have a dialogue to see what the future stakeholders have to say. There may be a much more diverse way to manage the Adirondacks than what one cultural group is capable of envisioning. Am I wrong Pete, Or is this what you are trying to tell us?

    • Pete Nelson says:


      Your point is true and important. This discussion needs the voices of people other than white Europeans.

      Stay tuned, exactly that is coming, from a nationally recognized voice on this issue.


  27. Jim Herman says:

    Look at the way the Adks presents itself today to the outside world. Dave and I have tried to find one community or tourism website in the Park that has a photo of any non-white person. Look at for example. And it’s the same at the websites of Old Forge, Tupper Lake, North Creek, Lake George. Look the pages of Adirondack Life. When I asked someone at one of the Tourism Promotion Agencies about this they said that they would have to hire models to come up from the city to do a photo shoot to get any diversity into the photos. It’s natural to show the place as it is, but this leaves us falling further and further behind the rest of the state, the nation and the world.

    • Paul says:

      You can’t pretend you have what you don’t have. For now those ads are honesty portraying the Adirondacks to the outside world. That is the problem, you can’t fake it.

      • adkmike says:

        Gee, Paul, marketing is all about selling what you have to new market segments. You may call it ‘faking’ but that what marketing has been about since the invention of the idea.

  28. zyxw says:

    “Taking all these points together, since the evolving population of New York State is going to be dominated by demographics that do not value the Adirondack Park, its future support is in peril. If future New Yorkers do not protect the park, none of the other issues from my little survey will make one whit of difference.”

    We need more evidence for the central theory of this piece. Why do you say, “…the evolving population of New York State is going to be dominated by demographics that do not value the Adirondack Park…?”

    As I stated earlier, my experience is opposite of this. I believe the young people I meet, and in particular those “from away,” are much more environmentally aware than older generations regardless of their background. Many of the Park’s current residents are notoriously anti-environment except as it serves their needs and desires as demonstrated in many ways, including the recent NYCO fiasco. If it weren’t for the efforts of many people from outside the Park it wouldn’t exist.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      You are quite right. This is the only weak point in my argument.

      You are also partly right, I think, about young people’s greater concern for the environment. But the increasing changeability and uncertainty in people’s lives, also an increasing social dynamic, enhances a different motive force, which is to place priority on matter more immediate to one’s life. The Adirondack Park has traditionally been protected as a valued abstraction by many people to whom it is not immediate but who have had the luxury to support it. I’m concerned about that changing.

      In any case you are quite correct to hold me to my claim that our new demographic makeup largely does not value the park as older demographics did. That is no given, just a thesis. I will be addressing that as we go, and not just from my own perspective.

      Thanks for the good comment.

    • westernedge says:


      Thank you for your hopeful thoughts and comments. I totally agree!

  29. Blaikie says:

    Happiness! If all the Adirondack summer camps found ways to diversify, and did a good job, the people who loved their experience would be lifetime Park supporters whether or not they returned. And all the campers would benefit.
    ould need inspiration and coordination.

  30. […] his post “Racial and Socioeconomic Diversity and the Adirondacks” over at the Adirondack Almanack, Pete Nelson wrote of the demographic danger confronting […]

  31. I am very grateful for this discussion. I am African American and have recently (like 3 1/2 weeks ago) discovered the beautiful Adirondacks and Lake George in particular. As a child/teenager, my family owned a lake house in Clear Lake, located in the county of Lucerne California. My parents sold our lake house when I was in college and I have dreamed of one day owning a lake house and having a place where our children can look forward to vacationing.

    Prior to discovering Lake George, my focus was Lake Tahoe in California. However, seeing as we live in Maryland, it’s quite difficult to get out to Lake Tahoe as frequently as I would like to. I was curious about the race relations in the Adirondacks. While I did not expect any hostility, I still wondered how we would be received by those who live there, which is why I found the subject of this article interesting. It takes concern and courage to present a topic for discussion like the author of this article and even though we don’t own a vacation home in the Adirondacks (yet!), I am very grateful for the number of like-minded individuals who have submitted comments in support of this article! I can’t wait to visit the Adirondacks! We are scheduled to visit this summer and I look forward to having a wonderful time there! Take care & God bless!!!

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