Diversity on the trail: someone who looks like me?

To the editor:

Clifton Harcum, the program coordinator in the Division of Diversity and Inclusion at SUNY Potsdam, in a recent interview with Zack Floss for his Guide Lines column in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (June 30) laments that “he hasn’t seen another person of color while hiking (in the Adirondacks). Normally I do most of my hiking in the Adirondacks in the off-season from fall to spring, when the crowds fade away and the trails and mountain peaks are mostly empty. In summer, when the trails are bustling, I morph into being a competitive paddler, and the kayak racing claims all my energies. This year of the pandemic has been different. The racing scene collapsed, and hiking became my most important replacement for vigorous and sustained outdoor activity. It also gave me an opportunity to see a much better cross-section of the contemporary Adirondack hiking community than my more solitary treks in the off-season.

Clifton, we are no longer alone! On a recent hike to Avalanche Lake, I passed four African-American women on the trail some with white male partners. My destination was the Trap Dike route on Colden. While my group was still in the dike, we were passed by a faster-moving Puerto Rican of about my complexion who had come from the Buffalo area. Half-jokingly, he claimed he was going to have his dog accompany him on his next ascent of the route, which did not amuse one of my dog-loving friends! His brother and a girlfriend met him on the summit. On another recent hike of half the Great Range traverse, I meet a group of three young men humping heavy camping packs, coming up Lower Wolfjaw. One was an African American with full dreadlocks. Obviously there are now cracks in the dike of the all-white Adirondacks, and a more diverse trickle has begun. Not surprisingly, it consists of younger people, as is the case for most of the hikers on the rugged trails of the Adirondacks.

African-American families from the Bronx have not yet turned this trend into a flood of racial diversity. Aaron Cerbone’s recent article in the ADE cites that “fear” is at the “core” of “what is keeping more people of color from coming to explore, play and learn in the wilderness.” The sight of Confederate flags and bumper stickers in the North Country “has a single clear message. It makes Black people feel like they could be a target.” However, most of the hiking in the Adirondacks is on trails in uninhabited areas of the park. In some areas there are hunting cabins but no permanent residents to wave flags and have bumper stickers. Also reflective of how non-threatening this environment appears is the large number of single women I have encountered on the trails this summer. Some are with canine accompaniment, but most have been alone. I saw no African-American women but quite a few Asian-Americans, even in some of the less traveled areas of the park such as on the trail to Mount Marshal from Cold Brook Pass or doing the five-peak circuit in the Dix Range. In the Adirondacks, the times they clearly are a-changing!

Roger Gocking

Saranac Lake


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