After about a year of reporting and a summer of travel, our initial series on solutions to increasing visitor use is complete. My last two stories ran in our May/June issue and are now up on our website. Of course this story never ends. This was our first crack at exploring what other outdoor destinations are doing to balance natural resource protection, accessibility and inclusivity.
The reporting didn’t always go the way I had hoped. For example, by the time I was able to visit the Peekamoose Valley Blue Hole in the Catskills, the season requiring paid permits had ended. Other timings were just right, like when I visited Acadia National Park in early September and had to get a permit to see the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain. But even that wasn’t the perfect reporting scenario because I had never visited the mountain before the permit became a National Park Service strategy.
Like with all journalism, you do the best you can with the time you have, and you talk to as many people as you can. On Cadillac Mountain in Maine I found people who weren’t able to get a permit and had hiked up to see the sunrise. They had just missed the sun pop over the horizon, but they were still in time for a spectacular color show. I talked to the successful permit holders, happy to not jostle for a parking spot. You can watch a short time-lapse video I took of that here.
The last story posted online over the weekend, is one I know has more threads than the few I weaved. It deals with the question I posed to many of my sources: Does the conversation around visitors, crowds and overuse inhibit your conversations about inclusivity and accessibility? And similarly, how do you make visitors feel welcome while implementing permits, reservations and other strategies that inherently limit access?
My reporting led me to a paper by a socioeconomic specialist. The paper is one federal agencies reference when considering management techniques. It warned about using words like “crowds” and “overuse,” as they tend to have negative connotations. But what is crowded for one person may be sparse for another. The presence of other people, the specialist wrote, more greatly impacts those seeking solitude. I’ve been guilty of using these words, “crowds” and “overuse.” Since reporting this story, I have made a concerted effort to eliminate them, unless they are attributable. I try to use “visitor management” instead.
In reporting this story I had the chance to talk to students from SUNY Potsdam, who are from New York City. It was striking to me how close the park is when they’re in school, but how far away it is when they don’t have a car. I spoke about this with NCPR’s Emily Russell a few weeks back. You can listen to that here: https://www.
Jackie Ostfeld, director of the Sierra Club’s Outdoors for All Campaign, I think summed it up best on how land managers think about inclusivity and access. “Equity doesn’t mean the same for all people,” Ostfeld said. “It means focusing on those who are most likely to be left out and finding ways to make sure they’re not.” You can read the story here.
Editor’s note: This first appeared in Gwen’s weekly “Adirondack Report” newsletter. Click here to sign up.