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Thanks, black flies

Black flies are bad this time a year — or, if you look at it another way, they could be good.

They were ravenous last weekend on a hike up St. Regis Mountain. We gave them our proverbial pound of flesh, and other hikers did, too. A surprising number of people were hiking with bug nets over their heads, as if they were in the jungle trying to fend off malaria. It probably works, although it looks kind of silly.

We who didn’t have bug nets — or even bug dope in our case, since we forgot it at home — were left with bloody, itchy welts all over our necks, arms and legs. It leaves you with something to think about beyond a good workout and the serene beauty of the Adirondacks in June.

And that’s good.

We shouldn’t think only about the nice things in this world, because they don’t come alone. There’s always a cost, and not just in money — which means being financially comfortable doesn’t necessarily make it easier.

You can ride a wooden black fly on the Adirondack Carousel, recognition of its role in the park’s pantheon of animals. And there used to be a saying in these mountains, “Thank God for black flies and long winters.” Someone even made it into a T-shirt; a friend has it tacked up in his sugar shack, too worn out to wear but still a message he feels is worth promoting. You don’t hear that saying much anymore, now that the state-sponsored tourism industry has grown to such huge proportions, but for that very reason the notion is worth reviving.

Black flies and long winters play an important role in keeping out the uncommitted, those who don’t love the Adirondacks just the way they are — who want the view but not the struggle of the hike, bugs and all.

Let’s be clear: We love welcoming tourists to the Adirondacks. We are tourists ourselves, to other places, so reciprocity is in order. We also think this is the kind of place people should visit, for their own inner peace as well as to help support those of us who live here year-round.

Also, despite an overcrowding of hikers on some trails at certain times, and vacation rentals prompting a housing crunch in Lake Placid, we don’t think Adirondack tourism has reached an over-saturation crisis point — yet.

But it could happen soon. We’ve been reading horror stories about residents of Barcelona and Venice protesting tourism, which has long exceeded capacity there. That backlash movement is spreading among residents of other tourism sites worldwide.

We suspect this over-tourism is a consequence of global prosperity. More nations have become more developed, and more of their population has money and time for leisure travel. Also, the internet and social media have given people more access to where others have gone, whetting their appetites to visit certain places before they die.

There is only so much we can do about that here in the Adirondacks. We can’t make the would-be tourists poorer or give them less free time.

But we can stoically accept natural obstacles tourists must overcome, such as black flies, long winters, long drive times and the lack of transit. We don’t have to bulldoze over those speed bumps just to make it easier for more people to come here.

As we well know, the ones who want to come here will come anyway — and we love that the kind of people most attracted to the Adirondacks have some important character values in common with the people who enjoy living here: a scrappiness and a sense that good things must be earned.

Yes, some people come to the Adirondacks to “glamp” — glamor camp, with beds in tents and staff to wait on you — but let’s hope that fad dies quickly.

For the most part, tourists and locals have had a steady symbiotic relationship since the 1800s.

To keep it sustainable, people need to accept the realities, costs and limitations, and not let profit change what shouldn’t be changed, not ruin the indescribable soul of the Adirondacks.

This is a constant dilemma in pretty much all tourism sites. No one here is going to suddenly solve it — and if they try too hard, the unintended consequences will be a lot worse than black fly bites.

Our bugs have an important role, and they play it with gusto.

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