Is the Adirondack Park an economic engine?

Can places like Mt. Baker help draw business and prosperity to villages like Saranac Lake? Photo: Brian Mann

Can places like Mt. Baker help draw business and prosperity to villages like Saranac Lake? Photo: Brian Mann

I was talking yesterday with Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who was unveiling his village’s new “6er” program, designed to convince people to come check out the cool little mountains that ring his community.

“I talk to people on the trail, which I often do and I ask them if they know about Saranac Lake and most of them don’t.  So this is a way to introduce Saranac Lake and our beautiful mountains to that community.”

That community is the small army of hikers and outdoorspeople — many of them affluent and willing to spend a few bucks while visiting the mountains — that flow out of Boston, Montreal, New York City and other population hubs each weekend.

The interesting thing here is that more and more local leaders seem to be embracing the idea mountains and hiking trails and paddling spots can be a draw and an economic lifeline.

When I first came to the Park a dozen or so years ago, I would often hear elected officials grousing about outdoorspeople.

The general assumption was that they didn’t spend much money or stop at local businesses.

These days, I hear a different sort of thinking:

The idea now is that the marketing needs to appeal to potential visitors and local businesses have to offer products and services that this kind of traveler wants to pay for.

Hikers and paddlers may not spend money in the same way as fishermen and snowmobilers, but they’re still good potential customers.

But getting that formula right, translating more trailheads and boat launches into local prosperity, clearly isn’t easy.

The modern Adirondacks is reaching the half-century mark and a lot of communities are still taking baby steps to try to integrate their marketing, and their business opportunities, with the wild lands and recreation opportunities that surround them.

So here’s my question:  Wherever you are in the Adirondacks, do you see the hiking, paddling, climbing and camping opportunities around you as an economic engine?

Are the public lands and open space that surround your community doing good things for local merchants and workers?  If not, why not?

And what about you folks who visit the Park?  Do you spend a few dollars when you pass through on your way to the trailhead?  Are you finding the services that you’re willing to crack your wallet for?

Comments, as always, welcome below.

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13 Comments on “Is the Adirondack Park an economic engine?”

  1. Hank says:

    Almost never do I visit the Adirondacks for hiking, snoeshowing or just general sightseeing without spending a night in the area at a motel or B&B and going out for a nice dinner or two. I live too far away to want to rush down, do my outdoor thing and rush back home in one day. I’m clearly the kind of person that that this new focus on outdoors tourists appeals to.

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  2. Pete Klein says:

    First, I must promote Hamilton County. County Tourism office offers two challenges that if you complete, you can earn a nice patch. One is the Fire Tower Challenge and the other is the Waterfall Challenge. I’m guessing OK Slip Falls will soon be added to the Waterfall Challenge.
    The Fire Tower Challenge includes some of our really tall mountains, including Snowy, Blue, Wakely and Pillsbury.
    To answer the question, of course they spend money. Some camp at the state campsites but many stay at motels and cabins, eat in restaurants and shop at the stores. It is just idiotic to think they don’t spend any money when they are here.

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  3. Peter Hahn says:

    In terms of attracting hikers and paddlers willing to spend money, one thing that would help is more of a foodie culture. (There has been progress in the past few years). With Montreal and Albany so close there are many young professionals who would like to spend a weekend outdoors in the mountains hiking or paddling. They, like Hank above, would like to combine outdoor recreation with equally esthetically interesting restaurants and lodging.

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  4. I’ve gotten into hiking quite a bit recently. I don’t think I’ve done one yet where I didn’t spend at least a little money locally. At the shorter hikes, it might just be grabbing some grub at Stewart’s. More often, me and whomever I’m hiking with stop at a local diner or restaurant. I admit these aren’t huge sums but Peter Hahn is right. You have to cater to the visitors if you want their money. Keene Valley does a good job at that. Several quirky little shops. Hoss’ in Long Lake is good too.

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  5. Will Doolittle says:

    It’s interesting to me you put up the photo for the sign to Mount Baker, one of the easiest but most satisfying and prettiest summit hikes in the Adirondacks. At the bottom is Moody Pond, a lovely little lake, perfect for strolling around.
    I don’t think many tourists climb Mount Baker. It never was promoted much in Saranac Lake that I know of. Maybe the problem is, when wilderness is all around you, lakes are everywhere, and it’s all quite beautiful, as is true in much of the Adirondacks, you 1) take it for granted and 2) don’t know where to begin in promoting it as an attraction.

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  6. Mick says:

    The back country attracts a certain type of visitor, usually someone who enjoys roughing it (tent camping, sleeping bag on the ground, dehydrated food, little or no amenities, etc). The high density tourism areas, like Lake George, draw an entirely different type of person. There’s very little middle ground though, and I’m one of those people who is being displaced as our private club is being forced to close, and I spend around $500-$1,000 on each of my trips into “camp”. In fact, last time I was in camp, there were people from all over the country who spent enormous sums to be there. I don’t think the economics of private clubs has been justly analyzed, and I think the DEC acquisition is a huge mistake for a number of reasons. I’m planning my last trip into the Adirondacks next week. Oh well.

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  7. Jim Bullard says:

    I’m not a big spender. I don’t have a lot of disposable cash but I do spend modest amounts every time I do a trip down to the ADKs, usually on things like food and gas. If I’m a bit more flush I may buy something from an outfitter or the remaining bookstore in LP.

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  8. Dee says:

    We do a lot of boating/fishing in the ADK’s. The quality of the boat launch and parking definately impact where we will go. Wherever we go we spend something locally. Sometimes just ice and snacks, sometimes meals out and decorative items.

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  9. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The one thing that people try to avoid buying in the ADKs is gasoline because it is so much more expensive than elsewhere. But they have made the Park big enough that it is often difficult to avoid it.

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  10. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Oldsters often think of hikers and cross country skiers as being cheapskates because they like to do things that don’t require spending a lot of money. What they don’t understand is that these tend to be highly intelligent, well educated people who understand value. They will drive past tourist traps filled with junk at cheap prices but they very well may stop and order a piece of rustic furniture for several thousand dollars.

    I know I’m suppose to be polite here but sometimes you just have to say “wake up dumb-asses!”

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  11. mervel says:

    I don’t live in the park and I backpack, hike and canoe on a regular basis. I don’t spend much on tourist crap, but knuckle makes an excellent point. I will buy something of value once and a while I also try to buy my camping gear locally, which is not cheap. (well its cheaper than a lot of other stuff, but it is expensive for me).

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  12. mervel says:

    I have met some people on the trail who certainly have means and have traveled a long ways to fly fish a very particular pond for example or they are just hiking etc., I do think there is untapped potential there, but I honestly don’t have any good ideas for how to really get at it? After a weekend or longer of backpacking, I am tired, the last thing I want to do on the way home is stop and shop somewhere, I just want to get home and shower. So I am not sure how to increase that spending for this group?

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  13. Walker says:

    My wife and I moved here for the hiking, paddling and camping, so we now spend all our money here. Before that, we’d come camping for a week or two at a time, and we bought gas, groceries, camping gear, maps, etc. here. And ask any of the local guides, outfitters or sporting goods stores if hikers and campers spend money.

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