Saturday, March 1, 2014

Diversity and the Adirondacks: Moving Forward

DiversityToday I wrap up my series on Diversity and the Adirondacks.  The response has exceeded my expectations, even as it has – not unexpectedly – raised some troubling voices.

I have always believed that the initial step in addressing a deep and difficult issue – especially one that is controversial – is recognition: we must first understand that something matters; that it is real; that it affects people’s lives.  Without recognition, without an embrace of the importance of an issue, we risk what will likely be at best a display of sturm und drang when we try to talk about it, signifying nothing but ego and personality.  Yet despite the sometimes perfunctory dismalness of on-line comments, I am convinced by the experience of writing these columns that the issue of diversity in the park is headed for a substantive future, not just shouting and rhetoric.

I began the series with a poll because I was convinced that in fact the issue of socioeconomic and racial diversity did not have much recognition in the Adirondacks.  The poll was not scientific but the response was big enough to be statistically significant and it confirmed my suspicions: the issue finished dead last out of ten listed.  Since then, if the aggregate number of comments is any indication (over three hundred and fifty), the issue is clearly recognized by readers now, whatever views they might hold.  The off-line discussions that have occurred are even richer and leave no doubt: there is momentum to address diversity from a regional perspective.  So now we can move on to the next step: understanding and action.

In that vein the off-line conversations have led to a great result.  In August there will be a symposium held at SUNY-ESF Newcomb, “Diversity and the Adirondacks,” to explore this issue further.  We will hear from a broad spectrum of voices, most importantly from people who already devote energy and effort to addressing the lack of diversity in the park. We can learn a lot from them and from a deeper discussion that builds our understanding of the multiple dimensions this issue possesses.  As this symposium takes shape I will be sharing details here in the Almanack.

In the meantime, some readers have been waiting to see what I propose to do about the lack of diversity in the park, what my agenda is.  Sorry to disappoint but I have no agenda beyond wanting to get a deeper conversation started.   The issue isn’t mine to wield with an agenda in the first place.  With that said, there have been some common themes raised that at least suggest some possible strategies to address the diversity issue.

Oddly enough, just as I was writing this article out came the April issue of Adirondack Life with several of the themes represented back to back on four consecutive pages. You don’t get much more noncontroversial than Adirondack Life, yet with no obvious agenda their latest issue illustrated the relevance of diversity in clear terms.

On a page 7 “Box 410” Letter to the Editor, Brian McNaught referred to a February 2014 article, Planning Your Adirondack Dream Wedding: “Your editors and advertisers made a mistake in selecting only straight white couples to pitch weddings in the Adirondacks.  For a region that is struggling economically, it made no sense to limit your appeal to the nation’s fastest shrinking demographic…  …we struggle to see ourselves in your otherwise fine magazine.”

This speaks to the theme of imagery.  There is plenty of evidence that the perception of the Adirondack region by many segments of our ever-more diverse population is not what we would like.  Some of it may reflect reality (yes the Adirondacks are overwhelmingly white, yes there are prisons in the North Country) and some may not reflect reality (the region is unwelcoming and there’s nothing to do).  The frustration of some Adirondackers at being misperceived was made clear in several comments.  But real or not, perception is obviously important.  This leads to the question of image marketing.  Carol Cain wrote about how so much of the marketing she sees offers nothing but reinforcement that the park is a good choice for white families that like skiing and camping.  On the other hand she described how moved she was by an Ad Council spot she saw where a young black boy and his father gaze upon a redwood in awe.

Typically it is difficult for a predominately homogenous region to see how exclusive their imagery can be.  Brian McNaught’s letter calls attention to but one example.  Just a few weeks ago a new web site,, was unveiled to much fanfare by the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council.  This site is by definition the product of the best current thinking about how to market the park.  Curious, I pored through it counting the number of pictures that showed non-white people enjoying the Adirondacks.  My count, out of dozens of visual images, was one.  And that one was ambiguous.

On the next two pages Adirondack Life reflected a second theme.  This was Elizabeth Folwell’s article The Known World, about an early map of Hamilton County and her musings about how a shrinking county population is evoked by the map’s blank spots and editorial liberties.  The column talked about the “dire future of Hamilton County” and its shrinking demographics.  This starkly illustrate the theme of economics.  The economy of the park must be improved even as the economies of the diverse cultures and communities we would seek to include are themselves improving.  If the park is to appeal to urban populations it must have the economic infrastructure to do so: robust connectivity, modern places to stay, varied nightlife, coffee shops, event destinations.  The mutual economic benefits of broad appeal across socioeconomic groups seem obvious to me.

On the following page (page 10) in the Northern Lights section, we find a quote from Chris Hildebrand, of Friends of Eagle Island which is in a suit against the Girl Scouts of New Jersey: “Inner-city girls and suburban girls are not exposed to the out of doors and to the wilderness.  They’re not going to understand the importance of protecting it.”  Here we have the theme of experience and the need for multiple pipelines to bring wilderness experiences to people who would otherwise have little chance of them.  I think now of Brother Yusuf Burgess and his laudable work to share the “restorative power” (his words) of the Adirondacks with inner city youth.  But in recent conversation with me he spoke of the need to do much more of this, to broaden efforts to a regional commitment to these kinds of pipelines and programs.  How better to make the park more relevant than that?

There are other possible themes, among them criminal justice policy and the future of the North country’s prisons, so ably under consideration by the Prison Time Media Project, bringing students from outside the park to our schools and bridge programs to give “Adirondack-style” woods experiences to urban youth where they live, as a first step in developing a connection to our region.  All of this and more will be discussed at the symposium.

This will be my last column on diversity for a while.  I now turn my attention to the upcoming symposium.  But for me this is only the beginning of a journey I hope to continue throughout my relationship with the Adirondacks.  As the world changes the inevitable evolution of the Adirondack Park, wherever it may lead, must include preservation of its irreplaceable wild character.  For through that wild character we experience immeasurable benefits, benefits that must be understood by and available to all the citizens of New York if we are to fulfill the ultimate potential of this special place.  If we fail to make the park as relevant – as valuable – to all New Yorkers as it is to those of us who love it, we will inevitably fail both the park and the people of New York along with an increasingly diverse world population whose appetite and need for wild places will only become greater.

Image courtesy of

Previous Entry.

Related Stories

Pete Nelson

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.

34 Responses

  1. Bill H says:

    Ahhhh….the “Kumbaya” Adirondacks by Pete Nelson. A new Novella soon to be published.

    Maybe you can finish writing it by August and have a book signing before the opening of the Symposium. Wouldn’t that be awesome Pete.

    • Bob Meyer says:

      what a useless, reactionary comment by someone who is part of the problem!

      • Bill H says:

        Part of the problem?

        Don’t think so Bob. I like to think I have a good feel for the Region. I graduated from the Ranger School, then ES&F in Syracuse and have spent a considerable time in the western part of the Park since 1980.

        To me, diversity includes all walks of life, regardless of background. Diversity shouldn’t be defined as people of color only. Period. And I’m tired of Leftists and PC nut cases telling me that it is so. Apparently you and Pete are two peas-in-a-pod in that regard.

        The Park and North Country will evolve on it’s own, as it always has. What it needs most now from Albany is a profound effort to create jobs and living wage opportunities for those already there that call it home.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Dear Bill:

      Here we go with the “kumbaya” thing again. You’re not helping me here with John Warren, I can tell you that, but that’s off topic.

      Okay, I’m game this time. At least I’m going to take the opportunity to have some fun and write about a happy subject for me, wasting everyone’s time in the process.

      What we have here from someone hostile to the issue of diversity – no, wait a sec, hostile to “overplaying” the racial part of diversity, apparently – is, not surprisingly, a bunch of stereotyping. But of course stereotyping has nothing to do with diversity problems, now does it?

      So let’s see: I’m a lefty, Political Correctness nut college professor, no doubt with beard and pipe – and sandals – who wants everyone to be nice and get along. Someone even wrote a comment in obvious, dismissive disgust that I probably drive a Subaru with bumper stickers. It probably has a stereo playing folk music with messages of self esteem and value.

      Ahhhhhhhh!! Got me!! I do in fact drive a Subaru. And it has bumper stickers. Guess I got told by all of you. In my defense I haul a lot of stuff and I drive about 40,000 miles year, almost all in northern climates, so my AWD hatchback with roof rack that drives well in any conditions is eminently practical for me.

      Let’s explore how stupid stereotypes are, shall we?

      Here’s my stereotype: I imagine you’re a rugged guy who drives a big, macho SUV or truck with an NRA sticker and impressive tires. My little bumper-stickered Subaru might encounter you on a snowy Adirondack road some day.

      Here’s the problem with that encounter. If I do come upon you, going the same direction in your over-wrought, gargantuan hunk of tin, I’m going to be annoyed. Because you will be in my way. My Subaru hatchback is a late-model WRX with three upgrades: an improved exhaust output that boosts horsepower, a short throw rally shifter and a subwoofer. It’s a filthy bad car. Driving it is more like driving an enraged slingshot than anything else. In the summer, at 0-60 in around 4 1/2 seconds, it is one of the fastest cars on the road. Currently it is equipped with high performance snow tires and, being from a rally car heritage, handles in bad weather better than anything else, even those laughable BMW or Lexus SUV things. Meanwhile Corvettes are in the garage. So in the winter there is no one who is going to keep up with it.

      So there you’ll be in front of me with your “rugged” whatever vehicle and I’ll downshift to third, snow or not, and utterly shred the bejesus out of you as I have been doing all winter long to the idiot SUV drivers around Wisconsin who spend 30k for a car that according to the ads is supposed to be able drive up Mount Everest or some crap, but is being driven at 27 mph because it’s snowing and people drive like cowards and/or don’t know how to drive at all. Or they’re already in the ditch.

      You, being an Adirondack type, get the benefit of doubt; you almost certainly can drive. But your car ain’t my car and you’re probably more of a get-along-follow-the-rules-and-be-sociable type than I am, so it’s bye bye anyhow. And as I pass you won’t hear folk music coming out of the sub but maybe “Hater” by Jill Scott with that awesome funk baseline or Stanley Clarke’s “Silly Putty” with Steve Gadd layin it out on drums, or Tool or even Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” or something with some power like that. Or it could be Lester Bowie or Clark Terry or Paul Motion or Joe Lovano or Maynard hitting high A’s a mile wide (those were for you Bob).

      And the one bumper sticker on the car you will only have a half-second to read as I leave you behind will say “Mountaineer, Keene Valley.” I have no political stickers at all because I think they’re stupid. Despite your fervent stereotyping, political correctness annoys me more than did your macho mobile I just blew past. PC isn’t even in my zip code.

      And don’t come back at me that you also have a Mustang GT or something like that because the last guy in that car who actually worked so hard to get me to engage that he made the road dangerous for other drivers, finally got me to bite and got shredded too.

      So much for the value of stereotypes. And all this writing was a complete, off-topic waste of time. Except that I did get to describe my car which is fun because I love this beast.

      Note to John Warren: you have an open invitation to drive it some time. It’s almost a religious experience, it’s so good, especially on a winding Adirondack road. Bob Meyer, what the hell, you have an open invitation too.

      Sorry to be so hard on you there, Bill, just so I could riff on my WRX on a Sunday morning. Let’s hug and make up.


      • Bill H says:

        You at least made me smile rather than frown today.

        But you need to re-write your stereotype of me. As a ES&F Stumpie, a badge I wear proudly, I’m tree hugger at heart. Always will be.

        Oh, if you were to pass me on snow covered road, it would be an FJ Cruiser with an ADK sticker next to a Ranger School, Wanakena NY silhouette moose sticker.

        • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

          Dear Bill:

          I’m glad you got my tone right. Tongue planted firmly in cheek. Although truly, I’m definitely not the PC guy.

          You have a great weekend.


          PS – I do like those moose stickers too. I might get me one.

          • M.P.Heller says:

            Pete, I’ll put any one of my 3 Benzs up against that hunk of crap any day. Thankfully I won’t be able to hear you crying about how you got smoked over the Grateful Dead playing through the German engineered audio system.

            I too am a big fan of diversity, so in addition to the Mercedes cars I also have a BMW and a Volkswagen.

            Put that in your pipe and smoke it! 😉

            • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:


              Except for a handful of Benz models, which cost 3-4 times what my car costs, you would be unwise to try.

              But your stereo is better. Your average Mercedes is a fabulous car…

  2. Richard says:

    Thanks. Extremely important topic and fascinating, and instructive, conversation.

  3. Henry says:

    OK, I work in marketing, and I must say that the call for diversity in marketing images is overly simplistic. I think of the commercial for a male product showing a rugged guy dealing with a minor breakdown on his sailboat, and then in the final scene his boat is being towed dead into the wind with the sails aback–a ridiculous scene if you’re a sailor that flips the whole commercial upside down. Instead of appealing to me, the white middle-aged male guy like the one in the commercial I’m think what a lie! We all have laughed at the ridiculous ads that feature one white guy, one black guy, one Asian, an equal number of women, and someone in a wheelchair–how much diversity can you cram into a photo! You can’t fake it. Market your real strengths, like mountains, clear streams, rocky summits, snow-covered frozen lakes, and send those marketing images to a diverse audience via diverse channels, but please don’t throw together a group of ridiculous looking but diverse models all dressed in brand-new stuff from Eddy Bauer standing and smiling from a mountaintop.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:


      Believe it or not I am in 100% sympathy with this comment. If it ain’t honest it’s manipulative crap. Most ads are, and I can’t stand hardly any of them. Forcing a rainbow in an ad annoys me as much as you.

      But the kid looking up at the redwood wasn’t like that (go check it out). There is middle ground. Like marketing your real strengths – mountains and lake and such – but doing it with wider appeal. Again, it’s another thing to discuss.

      That said, companies like Coke, who shook things up on the Superbowl broadcast, know what they’re doing. Advertisers aren’t embracing diversity to be nice. They’re in it to make money.

    • Will Doolittle says:

      It’s too easy to say, the Adirondacks are almost all white people and visitors are almost all white people, so the marketing should show almost all white people. If you want something to change, you have to make it change, and that means, in this case, marketing to those people who aren’t in the Adirondacks yet, as residents or visitors. There’s nothing wrong with going out of your way to make a point, or putting up with a bit of awkwardness at first. What seems awkward or false initially can soon seem natural and right if you keep an open mind and give it a chance.

      • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:


        “What seems awkward or false initially can soon seem natural and right…”

        That was very well put! This is a truism that speaks to initial discomfort caused by so many initiatives that push us a little, that push us off stasis. That in turn speaks to how important they are and to their effectiveness.



        • Henry says:

          I’m talking about effective marketing, not awkwardness. I highly doubt very many people are even remotely contemplating a trip to the Adks to meet the people. Sell your strengths: the mountains, the views, the recreational opportunities. On the other hand, a very effective marketing technique might be to have someone like Carol Cain blogging and/or writing about her experiences exploring the Adks. That’s real marketing to a diverse audience.

  4. I have been hiking the Adirondacks for several decades and I have noticed the limited diversity. Of particular note (to me) was the dearth of Native Americans despite their history in the area and proximity to the park. My problem is ‘how do you create an interest in and love of wilderness in someone who doesn’t already have it?’.

    For my part I don’t think simply seeing a photo in an ad of ‘someone who looks sort of like me’ is going to do it. Nor is that the proper function of marketing which is to attract those who are already interested into coming here vs somewhere else, i.e. the western national parks which have wilderness on a grander scale. I agree with Henry that phoney photos with hired models are not a convincing inducement to someone not already disposed to seek out wilderness.

    Nor do I think that turning the Adirondacks into a ‘destination’ with all the amenities of “robust connectivity, modern places to stay, varied nightlife, coffee shops” and events is the solution. Why? Because doing that alters the very character we are trying to preserve and promote, “forever wild”. We need to find ways to promote the Adirondacks for what what they are and resist the temptation to Disneyfy’ them as an easy and quick economic boost which will, in the end, destroy what we have since 1894 been trying to preserve.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    Is diversity a goal or does something else need to be the goal?
    I pose the question that way because I think diversity as goal frightens some people. Rightly or wrongly, it does.
    I believe something else needs to be the goal and that something else is economic growth. Without it, you will never have diversity in the Adirondacks.
    If you have economic growth, some diversity will happen naturally.
    But there are many who really don’t want to see economic growth in the Adirondacks. They say they want to preserve it. What they end up doing is turning the Adirondacks into a natural history museum – and I am not talking about the museum in Tupper Lake.
    The natural beauty of the Adirondacks is already largely preserved. What isn’t being preserved is the economic viability of its towns.
    If you think you can save the towns economies and even see them grow just by attracting people of color to visit the area, you are dreaming or lying to yourself.
    Tourism can be a major economic engine but it cannot be the only engine.
    Many people visit NYC but the diversity of NYC is not the result of tourism. Its diversity is the result of people moving there for economic reasons other than looking for jobs in tourism.
    So maybe the lack of diversity has nothing to do with the people who live and work here. Maybe the lack of diversity is caused by people who don’t want the Adirondacks to become an economically viable place to live and work because they view economic viability as a threat to the museum they wish to create.

  6. Pete, you are switching your original proposition which was that diversity should be the highest priority. Now you are suggesting that growing the Adirondack economy will attract diversity. Is there significantly greater diversity in Lake George, Lake Placid and Old Forge? I don’t know. I’m asking. If so that might support the idea that growing the economy attracts diversity although in the case of Lake Placid I suspect any increased diversity has more to do with the attraction of Olympic sports than the general economy.

    As for preserving the Adirondacks as a natural history museum, yes I am in favor of preservation. That is what the Forever Wild clause was all about. If you read the history of the Adirondacks, any boom times all involved exploiting the forests, the minerals and/or the wildlife. The authors of Forever Wild policy sought to curtail that exploitation and left us the legacy of the largest wilderness (or as wild as we let any place be anymore) east of the Mississippi.

    Can we find a way to preserve that wilderness legacy and grow the local economy at the same time? Like many others in the past you pose the question (albeit framed in terms of diversity) while admitting you have no answer. From my perspective it is a “have your cake and eat it too” dilemma.

    I strongly believe wilderness is worth preserving for its own sake and that we benefit from its existence even if we don’t all ‘use’ it some way or another just like society benefits from opera and ballet even though I (and most others) personally will never attend either. Humanity is is both an animal and a civilized creature rolled into one. We need wild places just as much as we need cities and I don’t see it as any more unreasonable to argue for preservation than for the preservation of symphony orchestras.

    “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”. I would add that there is place for everything as well and I do not embrace the notion that the Adirondacks are the place for a robust and growing economy if it comes at the price of losing the character of the place. To date I have seen no suggestion that would achieve both of these essentially contradictory goals.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Dear Jim:

      I don’t mean to switch my proposal. When I did the original survey someone wrote in and said I was leaving “improve the economy” off, thus the survey was no good and thus I was showing I don’t care about the economy. I replied to the contrary, I took as a given that protecting wilderness and improving the economy of the towns were two overarching themes and that most issues in my survey affected both. Here I’m arguing that addressing diversity in the park has a crucial economic component.

      How this is or what are the effects of appealing to a more urban population are good topics for debate. I don’t claim an answer but I will say that in my view that given the history, context (1/2 land private) and political basis for the Adirondack Park, a park with robust communities, robust tourism and people with jobs is practically by definition a better protected park as well.

      Just remember my last paragraph. The value expressed was that of wilderness. We are allies in that. Where we disagree is this: I think that in the real world of the Adirondacks and New York State, in the long term we will not in fact be protecting it best – and valuing it best – by roping it off, either literally or figuratively.


  7. Pete Klein says:

    I do not consider LG, OF or LP as models of economic development for any of the 100 or so other towns in the Adirondacks.
    Also, exploitation of natural resources as was done in the past is not and never has been a way to secure future economic growth. The current Adirondacks is a good example of that.
    In a sense, tourism is also a form of exploiting a natural resource.
    That is why I am suggesting that we need to find other “businesses” to create growth and I believe this can be done if we look for business and growth opportunities within the hamlets or whatever you want to call them.
    Specifically what they might be needs to be determined.
    Promotion of telecommunting might be one. Back in the day of the much hated “Adirondacks in the 21st Centruy” there was one baby that was thrown out with the dirty water. It was the idea of establishing a college in Hamilton County. That would have been a real game changer if that had ever gone forward.
    But now we face the opposite problem. Now the governor seems to be willing to kill off local school districts. Yes, their enrollments are dropping. But if they aren’t preserved, we will kill off tourism because there will not be anyone left to provide any services for the services they demand.
    At the very least, these small school districts need to be preserved and enhanced so that some people will find a way to live and work here (telecommunting?) so their children will receive an excellent education in a wonderful environment.

  8. Yes, tourism is a form of exploitation but it is a traditional one and the only one aside from forest and mineral exploitation that has worked. Modern medicine has negated the need for the cure cottage which I suppose could also be considered a form of tourism.

    I agree that a business model that does not compromise preservation is needed but we are back to the core dilemma, what is that model? Unfortunately the ‘telecommuting’ model isn’t living up to expectations. Indeed there are reports of companies cutting back on telecommuting. I’m all for the expansion of broadband but I think it is unrealistic to expect that even the most remote Adirondack communities will see the necessary level of access in the near future. That would cost many many millions of dollars. Nor are most of those shrinking communities likely to attract the high tech personality as a place to live if telecommuting were available.

    Some have proposed promoting the park as an art colony. There is a base of artists there already and in various communities, Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Blue Mt Lake, Old Forge among others, there are groups promoting the arts but I can tell you from personal experience that is a very difficult way to make a living anywhere, much less far removed from large cities. The local population can’t support it so we’re back to tourism.

    Another college in Hamilton county? That might help but what would be the draw? Especially in terms of attracting a more diverse population and how would it help the existing population? I live near the 4 colleges in St. Lawrence county, both my children have college degrees and they both had to leave to find work. Young people leaving for lack of suitable jobs is a problem the entire North Country has already. How would having another college giving local young people more degrees change that? More of them would just leave after completing college instead of to go to college.

    The shrinking public school enrollment is a reflection of that outflow of young people. It simply becomes too expensive to provide the kind of education needed in the modern world in districts that are too small. Young people leave the area for work, have their families elsewhere and can’t afford to return to the area until retirement. Educating more young people for jobs that don’t exist here won’t help change that.

    I grew up on the Tug Hill Plateau in an area that once was home to many small farms. In my youth the farms were dying off because of both the harsh climate and changing farming methods. Many were turned into reforestation areas including the land surrounding our home on three sides. In recent years I see it is becoming an area where commuters to Watertown and Ft. Drum live.

    Change happens. Communities grow and contract. Sometimes they fade away entirely. It is sad but I think that a community will only grow and thrive by the ingenuity and enthusiasm of those who live there. It won’t happen because of some plan proposed by folks in Albany or by you and I who don’t actually live there. If that sounds harsh, I’m sorry but I believe it is reality.

    We all live with limitations, some imposed upon us by nature, society and government. Some we impose on ourselves by where we choose to live and what we are willing to do to pursue the goals we set for ourselves within those limitations. I would love it if someone came up with a brilliant plan that allowed everyone to live where they wanted and make a good living doing what they wanted without any negative effect on the environment. If you have that plan, more power to you.

  9. Pete Klein says:

    I am not thinking of having a college in Hamilton County as a way to keep kids here. I’m not in favor of keeping kids anywhere.
    What I’m thinking of is the employment a college creates and the resulting exposure of students from the diverse background they would bring.
    Educating children is a duty and responsibility no matter where they live and that is a duty of the state that the state doesn’t want to pay for even though the constitution of the state requires it.
    Of course, the state could shirk all of its obligations by closing all public schools and require all parents to homeschool their children or not. Maybe just change the constitution by dropping the requirement for anyone to get an education? That should make all the taxpayers happy.
    Schools are not the problem. The state is the problem.

  10. Henry says:

    Rural areas are struggling all over the country, except for a select few that are exploiting their natural resources like in North Dakota. Demographers predict that our urban areas will continue to grow. It is a tidal wave we are powerless to do anything about. However, there are rural economic success stories, but one strategy doesn’t fit all. One option that appears to be working to some extent is attracting retirees, and that by its nature will be a diverse crowd as we are ageing as a society. Yes, the Adirondacks is cold in the winter, but there are still lots of active retirees who enjoy hiking, skiing, etc. I believe Vermont and Maine remain two of the top retirement states, despite their similar climates. But, retirees also want access to cultural attractions, public transportation, top-flight medical facilities, restaurants, great communications, etc. Those things require workers, providing jobs for younger people. Instead of lamenting the loss of young people maybe the Adirondacks could instead make a greater effort to attract people who want to be where there isn’t industry, noise, light pollution, crime, etc. Just a thought.

    • The Adirondacks have cultural attractions and restaurants. They also have varied year round recreational opportunities. Saranac Lake has good medical facilities with access to ‘top-flight’ facilities in Burlington. There’s the rub though. When you are as spread out as the park is, those things for most are “a far piece” away. One reason the cities are growing is that such things are close and there is public transit, another thing that doesn’t work well in the ADKs. Attracting enough retirees to make such a network, except at a few islands of population, would have to happen first so that there was demand. The ‘islands’ of those services already exist in the larger communities. That’s the current state of things. To spread it to every ADK community, places like Long Lake, Newcomb, etc., how much would the population have to grow and at what cost, both in money and loss of the park’s character?

      As much as I try I cannot see a path to providing city amenities and opportunities to the park without turning it into a city. Most wilderness parks around the world don’t have a permanent mix of population on private land and wilderness. Managers from other parks have come to the ADKs to see how we have managed it because they can’t figure out how balance the two in their parks. I keep coming back to that piece of cake that we want to both eat and keep.

  11. Henry says:

    Jim: We already have a fair number of retirees living in the Adks at least part of the year. Judging from retirement publications I (sadly) now receive regularly taxes are a huge factor for many retirees. Maybe the governor’s push to roll back the so-called “death tax” would help. I could see New York helping the Adks by instead of declaring tax-free zones for industry creating tax-free zones for individuals and/or small businesses. That could be a huge jump-start for the Internet workers Pete has mentioned before. I know a fair number of high-net-worth individuals for one reason or another, and taxes do factor into their decisions as to where to base themselves, especially when in retirement.

    • joe says:

      With respect to retirees, if you are on any NY State pension, that income is not taxed by the State. So these people have an incentive to stay in the State.

      With respect to tax free zones for small businesses, see:

      • Henry says:

        You’re not going to attract diverse retired people from away who don’t have NYS pensions, and take a look at the requirements for those tax-free zones. A lot and I suspect most small Adirondack-type businesses wouldn’t qualify.

  12. Paul says:

    Pete, Adirondack Life’s obvious agenda is to help their advertisers sell Adirondack real estate!

  13. @tourpro says:

    As a minority that recreates and live in the Adirondacks, I find diversity greatly overrated.

  14. Frank says:

    This doesn’t speak to diversity but it might have some bearing on which segments of NYC population would be inclined to vote for the protection of the ADK which I think was part of the initial concern in this discussion. This past winter I noticed a lot of folks with Eastern European and Russian backgrounds enjoying the area. I’m a NYC guy. In my youth, I could navigate alleyways better than trailways but to make a long story short, I’m now a part-time resident. My guess is that those city folks who come from a winter tradition in their homelands will find their way to the ADK. That’s a least one pool of voters that will help keep the area forever wild.

    • Paul says:

      The Russians! Now I am starting to get afraid of diversity. Just kidding this is a good point. If the Olympics is any good measure of who spends lots of time in the snow and on ice much of the rest of Asia fits the bill as well.

  15. Paul says:

    “Carol Cain wrote about how so much of the marketing she sees offers nothing but reinforcement that the park is a good choice for white families that like skiing and camping.”

    Pete, I think you understand that I share your concern regarding diversity issues in the Adirondacks.

    But I do think we need to remember that things like “skiing and camping” are a good example of what the Adirondacks has to offer. So what should the conclusion to something like this be?

    Does the park not have what would be appealing to a more diverse population? I guess the question I am asking is it the “product” the problem here? If it is in the end no amount of marketing will help. Despite the funny Larson cartoon with the title “Greatest salesman that ever lived” where there is a picture of a guy floating off on an ice float where he has just sold freezers to the folks living in igloos, in the end you can’t sell a person what they do not want to buy.

  16. What I’m hearing in this discussion is that that what the Adirondacks are now isn’t appealing to a diverse potential population so we need to change it to something that appeals to them. Unfortunately that idea is contrary to Forever Wild and preservation. You are basically saying the ‘product’ needs changing to appeal to a broader demographic. My position is that the Adirondacks aren’t a product. It is nature that we are trying to preserve.

    The alternative is to educate people to appreciate what it already is, to accept it as itself, a place of value the way it is. That’s both harder and not as certain to succeed as generations of environmentalists and preservationist can testify. The lure of the dollar to be had if we just do this or that almost always trumps nature. That’s the way our capitalist consumer economy works but it is inherently contrary to Forever Wild.

    In the end there will always be a modest number of people to whom the Adirondacks appeal, just as they are without “amenities”. Perhaps in the interest of Forever Wild we need to accept that the economy inside the park will ebb and grow over time in relation to the determination of that group to live there, make a living there/retire there/make do with the limits of living in the park, because they love it like it is. I think the gloom and doom forecast of not enough permanent residents to provide the necessary services so that it won’t even be available to tourists is exaggerated.

  17. Peter:

    Thanks for carrying the right tone and messaging in support of advancing cultural diversity in the knowledge, use and commitment to our NY Adirondack Park and Forest Preserves. The benefits of doing so have been clear for years and many of us have been making steps along the path and many, many more will follow.

    No matter the small numbered jaundiced viewpoints that bristle with anti “PC” commentary and a “leave us alone – everything is just fine” attitude. That will always exist and is demonstrative mostly of moribund thinking.

    I don’t read self-absorptive “hand-wringing” in your writing. Just that with vision we have an obligation and an opportunity to advance beyond the status quo and – think of this way: share the beauty, wonder, wildness and communities of the Adirondacks, Catskills and the Forest Preserve with a far broader, diverse audience. And in so doing to hopefully teach others to love and help plan and care for these tremendous natural, wild and recreational landscapes.

    New York’s Adirondack, Catskill Parks and “Forever Wild” Forest Preserve are owned by ALL of the People of New York State. As of the 2010 census, the population of New York is 19,378,102 people of which 58.3 % are White, 14.4 % are Black, 7.3% are Asian, 17.6% Hispanic and probably less than 1 % American Indian. Since the 2000 census, the White population dropped by just under 4 percent – a show consistent with a long term trend.

    It only makes good sense and is a “win-win” for the Park and Forest Preserves – and our Park communities – to be encouraging of greater diversity in tourism, small business development, resident populations, university and colleges, elementary education, arts, cultural institutions, social and health and healing programs, wild land stewardship, etc., etc. to plan for and build for integration of greater cultural and ethnic diversity going forward.

    It’s not about playing the “race card” or being politically correct. It’s being smart and true to our diverse humanity. We are all humans and our color or ethnic diversity does not impact our interest or ability to appreciate and gain from wilderness park experiences. Black, White, Hispanic, Asian or American Indian – we all gain from the “tonic” of wilderness.

    The real issue comes down to urban versus rural and wild land access and opportunity. We here in the Park and North Country ensconced in the wealth of wilderness will do well to do more in outreach to share its wonder. We gain new friends, more economic diversity as well and a larger, more aware constituency for the Park and Forest Preserves.

  18. Don Papson says:

    I heard about the recent diversity meeting in Newcomb yesterday and thought you might find the following articles from a 1931 issue of the Lake Placid News of interest. The racist “joke” which appeared next to the article on Essex County demographics was like ones I have seen in 19th century newspapers. Things had not changed much.

    North Elba Largest Town in Essex County
    Has More Women Than Men—Three Townships Have No Negro Residents

    There are 56 more women than men in the town of North Elba, according to a population bulletin issued by the United States Department of Commerce which also states figures showing that this town is the largest in Essex county. Twenty-nine negroes and 478 foreign—born residents help to make up the total population of 6,472. 3,243 are males and 3,299 females.
    Three towns of Essex county have no resident negroes, Crown Point, Schroon and Norh Hudson. The town of Ticonderoga lists one. Moriah has more negroes and more foreign-born than the other townships.
    Moriah is the second Essex county town in population, with a total of 6,191, comprising 3,362 males and 2,829 females. Moriah has 45 negroes and 189 of its residents are foreign-born.
    Ticonderoga takes third honors, with a population of 5,105, of which 2,563 are males and 2,542 females. Ticonderoga has only one negro resident and 257 born in foreign countries.
    Schroon has 932 residents; 478 males and 454 females, no negroes and 28 foreign-born.
    North Hudson, with a population of 235, is the smallest town in the county. There are no negroes and 4 of its residents were born abroad.
    Total population in other towns is as follows: Chesterfield, 1,599; Elizabethtown, 1,113; Essex, 1,116; Jay, 2,153; Keene, 1,001; Lewis, 667; Minerva, 567; Newcomb, 437; St. Armand, 1,194; Westport, 1,534; Willsboro, 1,612; Wilmington, 567.

    “North Elba Largest Town in Essex County
    Has More Women Than Men—Three Townships Have No Negro Residents,”
    The Lake Placid News, October 23, 1931.

    That’s the Way With Interest

    After vainly trying to collect $40 due him from one of his customers the colored man consulted his lawyer.
    “What reason,” his lawyer asked, “does he give for not paying you this money.”
    “Boss,” said the colored gentleman anxiously, “he’s gimme a mighty good reason, sah.”
    “Well, what is it?”
    “He done say, Boss, that he’s been owin’ me dat money so long dat de interest has et it all up.”

    “That’s the Way with Interest,” The Lake Placid News, October 23, 1931.

Wait, before you go,

sign up for news updates from the Adirondack Almanack!