There has been a long-held belief about Newcomb among many Adirondackers visitors and residents alike – there’s nothing there. I’ve heard this about Newcomb on and off for thirty years. It’s Nonsense!
Sure, I don’t deny that the Newcomb area could benefit from more places to dine and stay the night. But I can’t think of any place better equipped to appeal to one class of tourist the Adirondack region has so far mostly ignored: ecotourism.
Ecotourism is a high value, high income travel sector that requires a combination of things that are right up Newcomb’s alley. I’m convinced Newcomb could make it happen as well or better than any community in the Adirondack Park.
To see why that is so, take a closer look at what ecotourism is. Jim Herman and Dave Mason of the Adirondack Futures Project already have, in this blog entry on their web site. They participated in one of the world’s most developed ecotourism adventures in Costa Rica. Their experience provides a good idea of what successful ecotourism is like.
Jim and Dave’s experience highlights that there are specific and important aspects that distinguish ecotourism from generic tourism. The International Ecotourism Society provides this definition: “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”
In other words, ecotourism is meant to be an educational experience uniting local communities and visitors to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of an area. It’s an active, engaged, committed, form of tourism that necessarily relies upon local experts – guides, educators, artists, craftspeople, historians – to create and lead an immersive adventure. It’s not just taking a hike or staying in a motel. Seen in that light, it’s obvious why Newcomb is such an ideal ecotourism hub.
First, every model “green” Adirondack adventure reaches its zenith in the area: the best of the High Peaks (with a far less crowded access point at the Upper Works), outstanding rock climbing, great lake recreation (Henderson Lake, the Essex Chain), world-class whitewater, extensive flatwater paddling, and backcountry forest adventures of every description from bushwhacking to biking to guided tours to horse-and-carriage excursions.
In Newcomb all of these opportunities occur alongside an educational infrastructure second to none. Newcomb has strong, established guide services, an excellent, innovative and diverse local school system, annual educational programs at Camp Santanoni, and the world-class resources of the SUNY-ESF Northern Forest Institute, with its Huntington Wildlife Forest and Adirondack Interpretive Center. All of these elements could be leveraged to provide an integral component of an active ecotourism program.
Then there are the fabulous historical and cultural amenities, another essential component of ecotourism. With all due respect to Sagamore, the most interesting and impressive example of the “great camp” era, so important in Adirondack history, is the Santanoni Preserve. Its existing interpretation, its remoteness and non-motorized access and its extensive acreage practically scream ecotourism. It would be a change to existing plans and regulations, but imagine Camp Santatoni re-purposed to support ecotourism with green, sustainable lodging, superb dining with locally sourced foods, visitor services and enhanced access (perhaps 100% solar electric vehicles). A more functional, indulgent, yet green Camp Santanoni visitor experience would be very much in keeping with the historic spirit of the place.
Then there is Adirondac and the McIntyre Iron Works, an important American cultural artifact and a fascinating and valuable historic site that is newly interpreted but woefully underutilized. Adirondac has two bang-for-the-buck features that ought to make it an ecotourism “can’t miss” destination: it retains its remote ghost-town allure, irresistible to the curious, and it is a mother lode of amazing stories from its history, just waiting to be told around a fire or at an outdoor lecture.
I think there is also a big opportunity right in the Newcomb area to tell some part of the woefully ignored story of the Native American history in the region. The Algonquin-speaking nations and the Haudenosaunee are both a vital part of the American cultural fabric, and were both present in the area. The stories of these Native American nations provide a terrific opportunity for curious ecotourists to indulge their desire for indigenous education.
Some will say there is nothing new about an interest in promoting ecotourism in the Adirondacks. Indeed, it has been said that that basic idea originated here. But while that may be true, the modern conception of ecotourism is paid little better than lip service . It is treated as a flashy catch-word or term, not a sustained strategy. For example, the I♥NY web site has an ecotourism web page, here. But while it uses the term, it offers little concrete help, plus the Adirondack draw gets diluted by the need to highlight all of the state’s regions. The “Leave it to the Experts” link for the Adirondacks takes you to VisitAdirondacks.com, which is a really good web site, but has no mention of Ecotourism at all. Inlet produced a video promoting ecotourism. A few hotels reference the idea in their literature. That’s not enough.
The very nature of ecotourism requires a sustained, integrated, intentional strategy, not a compilation of buzzwords. It requires a conscious and active marriage of education, cultural and historical interpretation, high-touch service, and a shared commitment among tourists and local communities they visit.
What better place than Newcomb?
Photo: High Peaks Overlook, Newcomb