The roads were torn up and dusty, with holes almost a story deep in places. It was difficult to navigate around the construction, and visiting a shop on the main Park Street thoroughfare was all but impossible.
Yet, the positive energy in Tupper Lake was palpable.
Have you been to Tupper Lake lately? I’ve been there several times recently for a variety of reasons, and in this outsider’s opinion, great things are going on.
The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) entered into a contract with Tupper Lake in 2014 to assume tourism-related responsibilities. That’s the reason I’ve been there recently; making sure I’m updated on what’s new for travelers and hosting some travel media. There are a lot of things to see and do there, but I have to admit; I wasn’t expecting the level of enthusiasm and private investment that I encountered.
We often send travel media to the Adirondack Public Observatory, as it is a great way to highlight the lack of light pollution in the region as compared to some of the cities in our feeder markets. And of course, there is still momentum following the opening of the Wild Walk at The Wild Center last year, a new attraction that is still garnering significant media and traveler attention. In addition, though, during the course of my own recent familiarization tour, I met a number of business owners who are starting new ventures or expanding existing ones this year.
My first couple of stops were a study in contrasts. First, I met knowledgable and energetic Cherrie Witten & Kristin Amell of the Health Hub on Park Street. The Hub is at a new location at 211 Park Street, and this cooperative offers nutritious, non-GMO, local and organic products at fair prices. The store is lined with bins with bulk ingredients such as grains, seeds and nuts by the pound, and callers with fresh eggs and meats and as well as ready-to-go prepared items such as baked goods, salads and sandwiches. Plus, they have racks of local-made craft items. They source local foods from the region, including the Amish farms northwest of Tupper Lake. It’s a bright and busy space, which also serves as a venue for holistic health educators, too.
I left the Health Hub to meet another cheery entrepreneur who is opening her business (with one not-as-healthy aspect) this year, too.
Jenn Walsh met me at the door of “The Connection Cafe” with a huge smile and a plate of cake balls. These treats for which she is famous (or will be) are a signature concoction.”Everything that’s bad for you, I do,” Walsh told me. I found that not everything that she offers is actually bad for you, though. The Connection at 123 park Street is a “creative hangout”, and is a collaboration between Walsh, her partner Jon Kopp, and Evan Bujold, the high school librarian, who is committed to bringing an internet arts and music cafe to Tupper Lake. I was there before they were completely set up and open, but the space is now serving as a meeting space for Mod18 teen group gatherings, as well as for craft vendor fairs, and music performances and art demonstrations. They hope to welcome teens, locals and visitors to their space. And once the kitchenette is completed, I’ll be back for more of Jenn’s “homemade, home processed, hand crafted” products and “bad for me” creations, too.
Tupper Lake is also part of the growing brewery craze, with not one, but two breweries on tap.
Raquette River Brewery, which has been brewing since 2013, is undergoing some expansion. I had the opportunity to sample a beer with owner Mark Mark Jessie, who owns the brewery along with Joe Hockey. Mark told me that he doesn’t necessarily want to do any big distribution, as it his intention to be part of the Tupper Lake experience, and support the community as a destination and a place to live. They just expanded their brewing capacity, as well as their physical footprint at the brewery, with a poured concrete deck to accommodate pub visitors as well as bands.
But wait; there’s more…beer.
I then got a tour of the new LaLa’s at Big Tupper Brewing. According to Big Tupper Brewing co-owner Jim LaValley, one third of the building will be occupied by a brewery, and the other two-thirds are LaLa’s BTB, a brewpub that specializes in Mexican and pub fare. The space is nicely designed in rustic wood and cool details like growler light fixtures, and even urinals made from kegs (something I wouldn’t ever have gotten to see if I hadn’t been there before opening!) 14 taps at the bar will offer Big Tupper Brewing’s various beers. Given the flurry of activity there that day, it isn’t hard to see that LaLa’s is opening early this summer, and the brewery is expected to open this fall.
One more stop took me to Tupper Lake’s own souvenir shop. Expanding from a successful online Etsy business to a bricks and mortar souvenir shop located in a cute house adjacent to Park Street, Faith McClelland officially opened the Spruce & Hemlock Country Store over the Independence Day holiday weekend. The adorable shop comes complete with an eclectic supply of all kinds of crafts, clothing, gifts, and a kids section with toys, many proudly proclaiming “Made in Tupper Lake NY” on the label.
After meeting one bubbly personality after another, I was hungry. And the upbeat theme continued. My colleague Michelle Clement, Tupper Lake & Hamilton County Marketing Manager for ROOST, decided to stop in at the brand new Ohanas 1950s Diner. The 50s are a bit before my time, but when you walk in, it’s like the set of Happy Days. We ordered fried pickles and two different hamburger specialties – I recommend the mushroom/swiss stuffed burger. Owners Mike and Amanda Gonyea-Kelly were there cooking and serving respectfully, and Amanda was completely in costume, right down to the bobby socks.
Rails and trails
There was more to the tour, including a short walk on the paved pathway in the Municipal Park, and a stop to see the new junction pass multi-use trail that currently connects the uptown and downtown districts of Tupper Lake, and that will connect to the anticipated rail trail leading to Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
This spring, Governor Cuomo approved a plan to rehabilitate the 45-mile railway between Big Moose and Tupper Lake and build a scenic multi-use recreation trail on the 34-mile old rail corridor connecting Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
Under The direction of the NYSDEC, NYSDOT and the Governor, the compromise has paved the way for the greater Tri-Lakes area to take economic advantage of the Adirondack Rail Trail, and now is the time to for us to start planning the marketing strategy for these new regional assets.
The all-season multi-use recreation trail will serve as a safe, scenic, healthy way for residents and visitors to enjoy this incredible natural landscape. Cyclists, hikers, runners, walkers, skiers and snowmobile enthusiasts will be able to utilize this terrific trail year-round.
It’s a product we can sell. The rail connection to and from Utica will be an attractive and unique experience. And the multi-use rail trail has tremendous potential to be marketed and packaged as part of a guided tour, an inn-to-inn biking or snowmobiling excursion, a rail/bike combination, part of the Adirondack Cuisine Trail or other connective experiences.
ROOST, as the accredited destination marketing organization responsible for promoting Essex, Franklin and Hamilton Counties, conducts research on an annual basis to determine the effectiveness of our marketing and to gather visitor data. That research shows that close to 20% of visitors identify cycling as one of the activities that attracted them to the region.* The recreation trail is an opportunity to take advantage of key attributes of the Adirondacks that travelers want to experience.
There are a lot of great things happening; the upcoming addition of two new hotels in Saranac Lake, the ongoing vitality of Lake Placid’s tourism activity and robust revitalization efforts in Tupper Lake.
ROOST has strong working relationships with the Towns and Villages in Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, with a record of spearheading cooperative programs to promote shared visitor experiences.
We applaud the efforts of DEC leadership to pull stakeholders from all three communities together to begin the process of strategic planning, marketing and implementation, and look forward to working with all parties to take full advantage of these amazing new resources for both residents and travelers.
I hear they are paving the streets in Tupper Lake – covering up all those new water pipes and cables that will put Tupper Lake at the forefront of infrastructure improvements in the region.
With all that new infrastructure, and being the hub between the rail and the trail, Tupper Lake may well be positioned best to take advantage of it all. The bed of an old rail corridor, the recreational path might be fairly flat, elevation-wise, but the positive energy level in Tupper Lake is certainly poised to continue to go up!
* 2014 Leisure Travel Information Study results.