Can bike tourism help reinvigorate Adirondack communities? That is the question I asked myself as I represented the Center at a top-notch cycling tour through the Adirondacks sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The ride represented so much of what we care about. It showcased community spirit, the outstanding landscape, and conservation science, all while exposing cyclists from across the country to a resilient, beautiful part of the Northern Forest.
I was floored by the many ways Cycle Adirondacks engaged communities along the route. In Fort Ticonderoga, the local revolutionary war reenactment marching band piped and drummed during dinner, Adirondack Architecture Heritage (AARCH) showcased its work at the evening hangout in a historic nail factory, accompanied by the local band, and the Saranac Lake High School prom planning committee raised money for their special night by running a laundry service.
Working with community volunteers that so generously gave their time confirmed the opportunity Cycle Adirondacks provides in introducing new people to your town. You know volunteers like these; great people in your own community—the volunteer firefighter, who is also town councilman, who is also a member of the local church, and has four grandchildren. They understand that by showing hospitality to the people on the ride, they put their best foot forward on behalf of their community. Perhaps, those cyclists might return as a vacationer or resident.
Building on that foundation, the Northern Forest Center is thrilled to help Cycle Adirondacks in their effort to do even better next year. Cycle Adirondacks’ effort to deliver lasting impact to a community even beyond when riders roll through dovetails with our interest in deepening community engagement and growing the ride’s impact.
We have heard from community leaders that an obstacle to revitalization is mindset. I see how that is justified—community members have seen their schools under threat of closure, have worked to retain young people from moving away for career opportunities, and are worried about the well-being of current residences struggling to keep up with the costs of living, while wages lag. How do you instill a sense of optimism in the face of these legitimate concerns?
We don’t have all the answers, but leveraging how FUN Cycle Adirondacks can be for communities could be a start. Does a community need roadmaps to successful Cycle Adirondacks events? Should we introduce some friendly competition? As someone who is deadline driven, I appreciate how applications get my creative juices flowing. Perhaps communities would welcome a grant deadline to get started?
In conclusion, Cycle Adirondacks is a great event with high energy and much opportunity to catalyze community revitalization. My heart is full from a week working with wonderful volunteers, the committed organizers of the event, and a curious, thoughtful group of riders that could return as vacationers or residents to this remarkable forest landscape. With this year’s ride just behind us, we’re already at work supporting the Wildlife Conservation Society in planning next year’s ride.