Tourism exploding in some North Country towns, invisible in others

Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a new Upstate New York tourism push in his State of the State Address on Wednesday.  (Photo:  NYS)

Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for more tourism in the North Country with more robust advertisement campaigns. (Photo: NYS)

I’ve been writing a lot recently about tourism in the Adirondacks and the North Country region more broadly.   What I’m finding is kind of a tale of two cities, or rather two very different types of small town.  Some communities in our region are really surfing the tourism wave.  Others, not so much.

“We’re extremely fortunate in the Adirondacks that our principal industry is tourism,” says Lake George Mayor Robert Blais.  In his community, tourism is booming so fiercely that they actually have growing pains.  They earn more from parking meters than some North Country villages earn from property taxes.

“No smokestacks, no getting up in the morning and reading the paper and finding out [the major employer] is going to close in six months. We’re part of the picture I think of the great Adirondack Park where families can come and find so many things to do,” Blais says.
Village of Lake George, NY. Photo: reivax, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Village of Lake George, NY. Photo: reivax, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

But in a detailed article for the Adirondack Explorer magazine, which you can read here in full, I found that a lot of the region just isn’t gaining much traction with that “principal industry.”

“Tourism’s heyday as we have traditionally defined it may be a bygone era,” warned Ernest Hohmeyer, owner of Lake Clear Lodge, who writes about economic issues in the Park.

While the Park’s visitor industry “will continue to play a dominant role” in hub towns such as Lake George and Old Forge, Hohmeyer and others are convinced that more remote Adirondack villages will struggle to compete. “Some of these communities are so small, their infrastructure is so out of date, and the amenities they offer no longer appeal to today’s visitor,” Hohmeyer said.

So what do you think?  Is tourism working in your town?  Are you in the industry?  If so, what does your community need to do to harness more visitors?

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21 Comments on “Tourism exploding in some North Country towns, invisible in others”

  1. Tourists are a pain in the butt. The benefit (revenue) comes with various costs. Some communities are willing to put up with that cost (and therefore see the benefits) and others are not (and do not see the benefits). Either you take the good with the bad or you reject both.

  2. Alex says:

    The Irony of Brian’s Comment above is I was reading this comment thinking to my self, a big part of bringing tourism to your small town is a willingness to welcome tourists to your small town.

    When I worked in Economic Development for a Small Town in the North Country, I was surprised by the attitude of get out it’s my small town! That attitude is exactly the opposite that many small towns should be taking, Why? Because tourism is changing.

    In the modern economy, big lavish vacations are just out of reach for most. The alternative is becoming road trip vacations. If you want to look at an area similer to the north country look to the state next store in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

    You have a brewery in Hill Farmstead that people travel from all over to go too, Parker Pie in the Tiny Town of West Glover that is legendary and regularly packed, you have the quiet hamlet of East Burke that booms in the summer thanks to Kingdom Trials. The Town of Hardwick has become a food hub, with a couple of really top notch locally sourced restaurants. These small towns have opened their doors to entrepreneurs, and the outside travelers that come with them, much to the benefit of the town.

    The North Country has many of the same assets and challenges as the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, it’s just a matter of welcoming in the new brand of tourism, which is more locally sourced so to speak.

  3. John says:

    So, what are we to make of the Tupper Lake game plan? It sure isn’t handy to get to from downstate. Where is the clientele going to come from? Is this going to turn into a black hole that accomplishes nothing more than despoiling hundreds or thousands of acres and builds an artificial, short-term economy on a pie-in-the-sky dream that somehow it will turn into some sort of continuing economic miracle? For the sake of people living there, I hope for their sake that it turns out to be what they are hoping it will be, but i sounds like a big roll of the dice to me.

  4. The Original Larry says:

    I’ll say it’s working in my town when I see my property taxes go down.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    Tourism should be only one piece of the economic pie. When it becomes the whole pie, you have a really bad pie.
    NYC gets more tourist than the Adirondacks but the tourists coming to NYC never out number the full-time residents.

  6. Two Cents says:

    constants in life:
    1- we’re all tourists
    2- property taxes will never go down
    3- you can’t push a rope

  7. Walker says:

    From the Explorer article– “The question remains, though: is tourism enough?”

    It better be. Does anyone seriously think the Adirondacks has serious potential to have an economy based on anything else? Like what?

  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I believe there is potential for business in the Park if towns get good broadband and cell access. There are lots of people with their own businesses or who can telecommute who would love to be able to spend their lives here. By “lots” I am speaking in relative terms, but adding 20 full time residents with decent income in Long Lake or Speculator would make a real difference in the community.

  9. Walker says:

    Yes and no. First, the broadband would have to materialize.

    Second, I think realistically that those businesses would be far more likely to choose the Tri-Lakes area than a more remote area– people do need to be able to buy food.

    There’s a whole bunch of reasons that business investment is primarily concentrated in cities.

  10. Walker says:

    Oops– italics was supposed to begin and end with “do”. Oh well…

  11. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I agree that businesses choose to be where it is more convenient but there are some – and we don’t need that many — who can and will be in more remote areas for their own reasons, if we make the effort and put in the infrastructure to make it happen. I certainly dont foresee major manufacturing moving to an industrial site in the heart of the Park, but there are lots of other possibilities for people working in information, small craft or arts, design types of businesses and others I am not thinking of.

    And believe it or not, there ARE people who live in Long Lake and Speculator already! They have stores, and restaurants, tourist accommodations, schools, medical facilities, all kinds of stuff! I’ve been there, I’ve seen it!

  12. dbw says:

    No one seems to be asking how will tourism fare in a time of persistent high oil and gas prices. Auto travel has declined 10% over the past decade. Furthermore, the middle class continues to be hollowed out. Not much discretionary income for travel and tourism for an increasing number of American families.

  13. Two Cents says:

    ..in addition to gas, it’s always been time.
    this isn’t Europe, we don’t get the month of august off!
    weekend treks must fit a time constraint. it’s not probable you would drive 8-10 hrs from nyc to spend a night in the adks.
    if you want to draw people from montreal, nyc, and points beyond, you’ll need a direct train into the heart of the park. even then, once off the train, transpo to your destination would need to be available.
    after all we are not talking about drawing in tourism from messina, Potsdam and Malone are we?

  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I guess since nobody else is doing it I’ll have to…
    Tourism has been a big part of the region’s economy since the early 1800′s. There have been changes in tourism since then and there will be changes in the future, but we will always be a tourism destination. The question is, how do we best take advantage of the opportunities?

    Wealthy visitors have always come here, vacationed (vacated the squallerous city during the hot summer) and bought property. It runs in cycles to some extent, but the state establishment of the Park has flattened the sine wave a bit. Auto travel has declined for many factors, one of which is that young people are not getting driving licenses at the rate they used to. But many young people still like to go on wilderness adventures – they just go on shorter duration trips with more people in a car.

    Those who figure out what visitors want will succeed. Those who complain that visitors dont want the things they wanted in the past will fail. Our business people need to have a hunter’s sense of stalking prey – predicting it’s behavior, luring it, shaking it down for every loose coin in it’s pockets.

  15. dave says:

    And again I find myself asking…

    Am I the only one who likes the Adirondacks just the way they are?

  16. mervel says:

    Well that is the issue.

    For some the current model works, for the poor, the marginalized, and the unemployed, no it does not work very well and we have a lot of those families living among us, as much as we like to pretend they don’t exist.

    The Adironacks are very unique particularly in the East. I think there is further potential appealing to the a younger more adventure based/ wilderness interested crowd. There are wide swaths of the Park that are the most remote part of the park that are very unique; the largest old growth forest in the East is sitting out there in the Five Ponds Wilderness.

    I don’t think paving the place for the leisure tourist is the answer. We can take some lessons from the wilderness areas of the west on how to capitalize on the tourist dollar.

    Plus on the fringes of the Park tourism is stepping up. We are becoming a national fishing mecca for example on the St. Lawrence, black lake are etc.

  17. mervel says:

    However I don’t think tourism by itself is ever enough to carry a healthy community.

  18. dave says:

    You will always have people who are not doing as well financially as they would like.

    In every town… every city… every region… everywhere.

    There is no changing that. The very dynamics of our economic system insist on it. You can’t plan, or grow, or improve your way out of that reality. There is no magic formula. More tourism, less tourism, manufacturing jobs, no manufacturing jobs, prisons, casinos…

    There will always be people who feel marginalized, and there will there will always be people who are just not happy with where they live. This is true even when the evidence shows that things are actually not that bad… and it is true even when the data proves that compared to similar areas, things are actually pretty good. Oh and hey, by the way, it is true even when you get to live in one of the most beautiful places in the country.

    Personally, I think it is time to stop buying into this negativity… and it is definitely time to stop enabling it.

  19. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    dave is right about the negativity. From some of the comments here you would think the hotels, motels, and cabins are all empty right now; that nobody is riding their bike on Rt 28 or 30, that Tupper Lake and Blue Mt Lake dont have world class museums that tens of thousands of people go to every year; that a glamping resort in Johnsburg hasn’t gotten press in downstate papers or on the Huffington Post.

    Tourism has changed over the years. My great grandparents vacationed here in the ’20′s and liked it so much they bought property on a little lake and opened a cabin camp. My grandparents buit cabins of their own and ran them for over 40 years. Other family stated a restaurant/bar that operated for about 80 years until the current owners decided to retire and keep it as a home for retirement. The other businesses are still open, though no longer in the family.

    I worked in the hospitality business starting at 8 or 10 years old cleaning the pool, arranging lawn chairs, mowing lawns, giving pony rides. It used to be that families would come to stay for a week or two, a few would stay for a month, and many of the same families would return year after year, and there were plenty of attractions nearby that benefitted. Now there is better access to travel around the country and around the world. People don’t have the time to take off, especially with both spouses working, or seemingly the discretionary money.

    Many mom and pop motels have been knocked down and converted to private residences. Consider that change for a moment. If a motel is owned by a couple with 2 kids there are 4 people buying groceries year round and 2 kids in school, a family active in school functions and community activities. If the motel has 10 units and averages 2 people per unit with a 50% occupancy rate that is 3,650 extra people in the community through the year from one business. 3,650 x 3 meals, sales of gasoline, trinkets, visits to local attractions. But as a private second home it equals a small family from elsewhere that often buys much of their food at home who dont go to school and aren’t personally invested in the local school and don’t really participate in community events.

    Still, there are lots of people who come to visit and for those who do something well and are willing to work hard and re-invest, there is opportunity in tourism.

  20. Peter says:

    I stopped visiting the region. My club is being forced to close. I speak for hundreds of other club members too.

  21. Mervel says:

    Dave,

    Yes I realize that there will always be the poor among us. But I the North Country is one of the poorest areas of New York State. So I do think we should look at ways to address that, I don’t think we should just ignore it and say hey everything is great I have everything I need and it’s really pretty here.

    So I think economic development and yes that means good jobs with benefits is something we continually need to consider and plan for and seek.

    But I also realize that this area has many great benefits and I think tourism is one of them. As the last great wilderness in the eastern US where essentially you can go out on your own into many places without a permit, without hassles and have the place to yourself, we have a wonderful asset that I believe will only grow in popularity. I am not sure it is going to be small hotels though? I think it may come in other forms.

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