Sunday, August 10, 2014

Adirondack Diversity Symposium Slated For August 16th

image001(4)Civil rights leaders, community activists, social scientists, and organizations will get together in Newcomb on Saturday to discuss the need to broaden diversity in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender-identity among the Adirondack Park’s residents and visitors.

A symposium entitled Towards a More Diverse Adirondacks will feature a day of discussions about challenges to, and opportunities for, widening the pool of people who use, enjoy and care about the future of the Adirondack Park, the largest park in the contiguous United States.

The day-long event is slated for Saturday, August 16 at the Adirondack Interpretive Center at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry on Route 28N in Newcomb. The conference will explore approaches to attracting new Adirondack enthusiasts, and raising the awareness of these issues and opportunities for those who already love the Adirondack Park.

Participants will include social-justice activist, Adirondack native, and seasonal resident Alice P. Green of Albany; Capital District outdoor educator Brother Yusuf Burgess; corporate diversity educator Brian McNaught; teacher, writer and social activist Pete Nelson; and, multicultural travel writer/blogger Carol Cain; as well as representatives from a variety of Adirondack not-for-profit organizations.

Keynote speaker Amy Godine will discuss how historic accounts of life in the park have affected its diversity as well as public perceptions of who belongs here.

Registration ($20) is available online at Register by phone via the Adirondack Interpretive Center at 518-582-2000, or email The registration fee includes lunch and a reception at 5 p.m.

Encompassing 9,300 square miles, the Adirondack Park is as big as the State of Vermont. Unlike most parks, it is designed to incorporate dozens of rural communities as well as commercial timberlands, farms and homes, which sit alongside millions of acres of state-protected, “forever wild” public forests. It is one of the only parks in the world where society is designed to live in harmony with nature.

The Adirondack Park’s year-round population is fewer than 135,000 people, or about one-quarter of Vermont’s. More than 90 percent of the park’s population is white, as are a vast majority of visitors.

“Adirondack history, written history, has never privileged diversity,” notes independent historian Amy Godine in a statement announcing the symposium. “In fact, the old exceptionalist regional narrative has worked real hard to deny or undermine the diversity of the region — and the damage has been lasting. It’s high time that narrative was challenged. This region has always been more inclusive than the written story shows.”

A half dozen Adirondack leaders have expressed support for the symposium efforts. Among them is Cali Brooks, Executive Director of the Adirondack Foundation. “Having grown up in the Park, and now as the mother of a young family, I fear we are at risk of raising another isolated generation without addressing this issue,” she said.

“The Forest Preserve exists at the pleasure of New York State voters,” Adirondack Futures’ Dave Mason says. “The direction of the State’s demographics is starkly at variance with the Park. If this remains the case for years to come, the risk is that the Forest Preserve and the Park could become a largely abandoned, increasingly irrelevant and neglected backwater of the State with fewer residents and visitors than ever. This does not have to be our future, but it could turn out to be the default if we don’t take some steps to address this.”

“In our reality of climate change and growing cities, it is important that our inner-city youth have an opportunity to bond with the natural world to learn to love it, before being asked to heal its wounds,” said Brother Yusuf Burgess, Director of the Youth Ed-Venture & Nature Network and Board Member of John Brown Lives! who often brings kids from the city to experience the Adirondacks.

Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway sees bridging gaps as a part of his group’s mission. “We want to help break down any barriers that are preventing people of all races, faiths, ethnicities, sexual orientations and backgrounds from enjoying this amazing place,” he said. “We want people to know this is a park for everyone.”

Among the concerns that will be aired are those involving LGBT communities. LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexsual, and Transgender, to which is often added Q, for “Queer” or “Questioning”.  LGBT is a term used to encompass the many varieties of human sexuality and gender.  “I hope to help attendees see how we all might personally be perceived as not only welcoming of differences, but proactively courting diversity in the Adirondacks,” Brian McNaught said.

McNaught hopes to bring a focus on these issues to Newcomb and address questions such as: Do LGBT people feel valued in the Adirondacks or merely tolerated and accommodated? What efforts have been made to present the Adirondacks as eager to have LGBT come here to live, work, and play? Do LGBT youth in the park’s schools feel safe? Do LGBT people see the Adirondacks as a friendly place to get married, to ski, or buy a second home?

The symposium evolved from a series of articles published in the Adirondack Almanack over the past year by contributors Pete Nelson and Paul Hai, of SUNY-ESF’s Northern Forest Institute.  Nelson and Hai both see diversity in the Adirondacks as an important step forward for the region.

“Whether your primary interest is in the Adirondack Park’s wild places or its rural communities, we need to broaden and diversify the group of people who care about this place,” Nelson says. “The racial and ethnic make-up of New York and the nation are changing much more rapidly than rural areas like the Adirondack Park. If the Park’s base of support doesn’t change with the rest of New York, public attention and money will go elsewhere.”

“Issues of low-diversity in the Adirondacks is something many of us have been aware of and working to improve for some time” Paul Hai said in announcing the event, “but what makes this symposium different, and the intent of the planning team behind it, is that this represents the first effort across the Park to bring together in common conversation everyone interested in working on these challenges. Our hope is to foster an initiative going forward maximizing our collective efforts and creating a more welcoming and diverse Park than we could have achieved individually.”

Partner Organizations for the event include the Adirondack Almanack, Adirondack Council, Adirondack Foundation, Adirondack Futures, Common Ground Alliance, John Brown Lives!, the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, SUNY-ESF’s Northern Forest Institute, and The Wild Center.

Supporting Organizations include the Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Wild/Friends of the Forest Preserve, Newcomb Central School District, North Country Community College, Paul Smith’s College, Protect the Adirondacks!, Riverkeeper, and Ujima Journey of the Capital District.


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Community news stories come from press releases and other notices from organizations, businesses, state agencies and other groups. Submit your contributions to Almanack Editor Melissa Hart at

5 Responses

  1. Frances Gaffney says:

    In a world where so much intolerance is reported I felt fortunate to witness a gathering like the Adirondack Diversity Symposium. The language was honest and humble. It was agreed that we must strive to achieve more than tolerance for others but to appreciate and value everyone. Diversity can bring about much more than increased commerce. When cultures collide innovation happens. It’s an exciting prospect. It was said several times that perhaps we are only preaching to the choir, but to bring about change one has to begin somewhere. Let their be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

  2. Outlier says:

    “When cultures collide innovation happens.”

    The resulting innovations have often been of a military nature.

  3. Bibi Wein says:

    What an eloquent summary of Saturday’s invaluable, indeed essential, conversation. Maybe the concept of increased diversity’s value to commerce will hit many where they live (reminds me of The New Yorker’s recent piece on the new approach of the Nature Conservancy) –but I want to see diversity here for different, though perhaps equally selfish reasons: that clash of cultures Frances mentions, the stimulation of differing points of view. I’m profoundly bored with living in Vanillaworld, beautiful as it may be.

  4. Pete Nelson says:

    Frances, Bibi:

    It was a great event: authentic, challenging, motivating, lots of truths spoken… it was the hard stuff, the important stuff, not rainbows. Thank you so much for participating and for these comments.

    Now we move forward. This was an essential start but it cannot be allowed to fade into little more than a memory of a good day. You’ll hear more from the organizing team. We, in turn, will look to hear more from you.



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