“In diversity, there is beauty and there is strength.”
— Maya Angelou
The ultimate saving grace of the Adirondacks might not be found in setting aside more land from development, banning ATVs from the Forest Preserve or wiring it for the Internet, but in expanding the diversity of the people who visit and live there.
If you visit the Adirondacks or skim through regional magazines, the color you see, besides green, is decidedly and uniformly white. Caucasians, and particularly Caucasian males, dominate the human landscape of the Adirondacks, as U.S. Census data can affirm.
As New York’s population continues to shift away from a white majority and becomes more racially, culturally and socially diverse, the Adirondacks must embrace and encourage a similar adaptation in order to stay alive.
With diversity comes new ideas, a variety of perspectives, new energy and greater acceptance of one another. Through diversity, we tear down boundaries among people, expose ourselves to new thoughts, invite new intellect and create new partnerships.
If culturally and racially diverse populations of the state aren’t introduced to the Adirondacks — and therefore don’t become interested in its benefits, challenges and solutions — the park may become neglected or forgotten by the future generations of citizens and political leaders who will be needed to bring attention and money to the region.
And if that happens, we all lose.
In recent years, an effort has slowly been growing among Adirondackers to encourage more diversity.
Among those individuals leading the call for diversity is Pete Nelson of Saranac Lake, who writes frequently and eloquently on the topic and who is one of the founders of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council.
The council is heavily involved in promoting diversity in the park through initiatives, forums and training seminars that include topics such as education, transportation, youth pipelines, arts and culture. For each of the past two summers, the council has hosted a diversity symposium in Newcomb, bringing together a wide variety of voices to help promote the discussion of diversity in the Adirondacks.
The late Yusuf Burgess, a Vietnam veteran and ex-con who lived in Albany, was a tireless advocate of promoting the tranquility and healing power of the wilderness. Once employed at Green Tech High Charter School and the Albany Boys and Girls Club, he regularly brought minority children from the city to the Adirondacks before his death in December 2014.
Social activist Kelly Metzgar helped bring transgender health care services to the North Country, serving a population that had been ignored in the Adirondacks.
And several local groups, including Adirondack Futures, the Common Ground Alliance and the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism have expressed support for the diversification of the Adirondacks.
But it’s not only local individuals and groups that recognize the importance of diversifying the Adirondacks.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which manages public lands in the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park and provides forest rangers and resource professionals for the region, also recognizes the need for diversity.
It has demonstrated that through programs to expose more minorities to the outdoors, particularly children. For instance, for the past decade, the agency has sponsored a Campership Diversity Program to help prepare urban youth for rural activities. The agency’s theory is that kids who are exposed to nature grow up to be adults who seek out and enjoy nature. These individuals not only will visit the Adirondacks for recreation, but through their exposure to its amenities will fill jobs, establish businesses, and become actively involved in preserving the Adirondacks.
Bringing diversity to the Adirondacks isn’t a simple or easy task. And it can’t take place in a vacuum. It needs to come about in concert with current efforts to protect the environment and to build the Adirondack economy.
But it needs to happen. If the Adirondacks are to have a future, diversity must move more urgently from the discussion phase to the action phase.