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A New Year’s Wish to the Governor
January 7, 2013 - Ernest Hohmeyer
We appear to have a Governor who is genuinely interested in the Adirondacks.
He has an opportunity to etch his legacy on the North Country unlike any Governor before him: create a true Adirondack Park.
Is there a Park?
Believe me he has done much already. The fast response to Hurricane Irene, funds to the North Country and perhaps what says the most: his repeated appearances in the Adirondacks.
But he has the real opportunity to make structural and lasting changes to the Park. This may need to go beyond money or revisions to the APA Act. It may be about creating a a singular regulatory, economic and marketing focus with state sanction and local buy-in. Would this then be a true Park with a cohesive environmental and economic strategy – and mandate?
Who is Accountable for the Park?
Community and business initiatives often fail when no one is held accountable or they have multiple mandates. For many of our small businesses, we often struggle because we are expected to be wearing so many hats. We know that while we can complain about other factors such as the economy, ultimately we are responsible for the success or failure of our business.
The buck stops here.
Except from a regulatory perspective and even that is a yin and yang in the environmental sphere, the buck does not stop at the Blue Line. It is not so much that the Park is split between multiple economic and tourism regions; it is that the success or failure of these offices located outside of the Adirondacks does not rely solely on what happens here.
The bigger bang for their buck is based in Plattsburgh, Albany, Watertown and Utica. Marketing programs have to share branding messages with the Leatherstocking and 10000 Islands regions. Our own local Franklin County is symbolic of the tension that sometimes exists between the Park and the northern tier.
A Park Identity
For many of us today in business, we need to create a niche that is easily identifiable and targeted. The Park has been deemed special enough as an environmental area to separate it from the rest of these regions.
Why do we not recognize and separate it as a special economic and tourism region as well?
Whether it is because the Park was created as a regulatory region or due to its natural environment, we have evolved as a very different place than our neighbors – we even have our own brand of architecture!
When you think about it we have all the ingredients to be a world-wide identifiable Park. Yet we often hear about how the Adirondacks are undiscovered.
Grant and loan dollars are much needed and appreciated. But there may need to be a more systematic approach to stem the economic cancer that is wrecking our communities. We may be in danger of devolving into 3 regions: Lake Placid, Lake George and Old Forge. If this occurs beautiful environmental vistas and historic communities may become underutilized and potentially barren while other environmentally sensitive are over-run.
What can be done?
I don’t claim to know this answer but perhaps we can create a framework for discussion that looks at new policy, management and strategic thinking for this place that everyone calls a Park.
We may first have to agree that there is no true Park – and that we have an exciting opportunity to take this private-public land experiment to the next step. Perhaps we can consider the following as a frame-work to begin this discussion:
A Park Economic and Tourism Council
The Governor, like his father before him has favored regionalism. He can take the next step and tie in the regional councils with local and county efforts.
Here is how it may work:
Saranac Lake or the “Bi-lakes” create a local economic council. Representatives of these councils are members of a county economic council. A link has now been established between local efforts and county strategies.
The state can jump in as a partner by creating a Park-wide Economic Council. Members of the Park Council are made up of representatives from the county councils.
Creating a Coordinated Approach
There is now a linkage between grass-roots community development and state economic policy.
It is no longer top-down or bottom-up, which may be old thinking.
It is now seamless and networked. With today’s technology platform you won’t even have to go to these meetings. Think of the things we can share with the state’s resources and expertise, county economic offices and local on-the-street know- how: one funding application to all resources, coordinated business development strategies and working with each other on marketing.
The same can be done on a tourism and marketing level. Goodness, the potential for a true Adirondack Park branding message!
State Park Linkages & Networks
With the Park-wide Councils now established, linkages with state agencies can be developed. It is great that tourism is recognized as important to our region by the Governor. He gets it. Can we take the next step and understand it is not just a marketing issue alone but an amenity problem as well?
I am not sure trail or rail advocates if your visions of economic wonderment can be realized until the lack of amenities along the corridor is addressed. Is that the first priority in this debate we can do together?
State agencies in the Park from the DEC, APA to even DOT may need to become more involved with promoting the Park.
A Place to Go
There is simply no place to go to talk about Park-wide or significant regional issues such as the rail corridor debate. There may need to be a state sanctioned, locally partnered mechanism to do so.
Again, perhaps this can be a Park Council.
All of these ideas may fall short of what is needed in the Adirondacks and that is a true Park management system.
We may never get there but if the Governor can recognize that while we need funding, this may only plug a few holes in the continual flood that is washing away our communities and way of life. What may be needed is a host of systemic and policy issues to really revitalize the Park.
This may need to come from the state sitting at the same table with our communities. Efforts such as the Common Ground Alliance are excellent resources but New York may need to create a mechanism with community participation to create substantive change in our state park.
Recognizing that we have not had a true Park may be the first step to the path of creating long-term sustainable recovery.
My New Year’s wish as a small business owner and as a father who would like to keep his families Adirondack roots, is that the Governor recognizes that in this case, the buck may only be able to start with him. He certainly has indicated he cares.
Wishing all of you a healthy, happy and prosperous 2013!
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