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Adirondack Mysticism as an Economic Driver?

August 19, 2013 - Ernest Hohmeyer
The way we fight amongst ourselves is legendary – a centuries old regional Hatfield and McCoy battlefield, this place we call a Park. But is there a spirit here amongst all this divisiveness and diversity that we can market to the world?

Perhaps it is my own parochialism, but is there is something special about this place that we don’t seem to talk about – or take advantage of?

Not the Same

Yes, we hear about the uniqueness of our mountains, the potpourri of our water experiences and the incredible, breathtaking 4-seasons of outdoor adventures. There are world class sporting venues, a unique architecture and some would say our own style of “locals.”

And we have changed a lot. The early Indians, frontiersmen and pioneers made way for the wealthy and the tourists. Our economy evolved from hunting and trapping to natural resource industries and now residential and tourism development.

Even the perception of what is an “Adirondacker” is under transition. From families who have lived here for generations to “transplants” with sometimes different perspectives,we have become our own micro-melting pot.

Ties that Bind?

But as Bruce Springsteen would ring out, there seems to be some type of ties that bind all of us to this place. When push comes to shove, there is this ethereal energy that we seem to feel. Is it because of us, our history, the love and blood we have spilled over these mountains?

Or is it the mountains themselves that animates an indomitable energy or spirit?

Certainly there has been an abundance of books, art, poetry and song that have alluded to Adirondack “mysticism.”

From the beginning, the Adirondacks seem to lure a complex diversity of people.


Yes, just like out west, there were the original frontiersmen and pioneers. But the west often became a symbol for gold, the promise of land, freedom and wild, almost lawless experiences. The intimidating mountains that stretched to the heavens perhaps viewed more as an obstacle than shelter. There were open plains that did not seem to end. The west seemed all about the journey more than just one place.

A Calling?

But the Adirondacks seem to lure people in. While our mountains are foreboding and can be dangerous, they seem to welcome you. And while in the early days travel here were arduous and perilous, the excitement was about getting here.

It was because of the Adirondack destination that people traveled.

And while they may not have been familiar with specific Adirondack places, they had a sense of what it was about. They came because of our sense of place.

They came because of our mountains not in spite of them/ Our mountains were not some “great divide” to other destinations.

It was our place that led to industry and a way of life. My economic development colleagues would call it “place-based economics.”

So can we take more advantage of this?

From the Beginning

William James Stillman and Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote and painted about the “great primeval forest” and how the Adirondack “spiritism” created a closer connection to oneself and nature.

The Adirondacks seem to draw people that wanted to get to the essence of things – to take a new look at themselves, their life and our world. For these people, the Adirondacks seem to strip away all pretenses of everyday life where everyone regardless of stature or background was an equal before the “primeval forest.”

Emerson in his “Adirondac” poem even called the guides the “doctors of the wilderness.” The wilderness further brought men down to equals where “Truth tries pretension here.”

Bare Woods

In the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1856-1863 published by Houghton Mifflin Company in 1913, the editor notes: “Mr. Emerson’s poetic chronicle in the Poems of this happy experience in the primeval forest, so different from anything he had ever known before in its physical and social features. Yet the enormous Norway Pines, cedars and maples spoke to him the same language as their kin by Walden.”

In Stillman’s multiple forays into the Adirondacks, he sought to pursue the metaphysical in nature. In his autobiography he states, “I hoped here to find new subjects for art, spiritual freedom and a closer contact with the spirit world.”

We call tourists to our special place. We use it as a calling card for jobs because of our quality of life. What about reviving the Adirondacks as a place to inspire people like it always has? Costa Rica is known for its sustainable tourism, Paris for food and wine and Rome for its history.

How about the Adirondacks as a world class destination - to think?

An Opportunity?

Imagine the Adirondacks as the center for inspiration.

It was a small mountainous place in Europe based on an idea of a few people that thought about bringing some of the top economic minds together to think about our global economy. This small idea eventually grew into the world economic summit.

Can we do the same here? Can we use the draw of the Adirondacks to create a name for generating ideas or new thinking? If we could begin to get out this idea that this is a place that inspires and eventually bring in highly recognized names, think of what this would do to give exposure to the Adirondacks? What a way to continue its legacy and place it on the world stage.

Easily Done?

We try so hard to create infrastructure to bring in jobs. Broadcasting and targeting the Adirondacks as a place to be inspired is one that it has always done naturally. It requires little investment of infrastructure and it can use existing facilities and amenities. Both large and small Adirondack communities can become involved. Whether it is the future of the family doctoral practice, the revolutionary impact of technology on our creative arts or the changing nature of communication and its impact on behavior and philosophies of our time, imagine a contemplative environment where our sense of place inspires creative thinking toward an energized tomorrow.

It is what placed-based economic development is all about and one that could be a natural for the Adirondacks.


Article Comments

Aug-26-13 10:21 PM

World-class and promotable is conceptually the driver for economic growth. What I consistently find interesting is the very fact that those who wish to benefit the most from the 'Adirondacker' and the 'mysticism' are far from local. Rather wealthy implants whom take advantage of the local history and try to invoke change that ruins the very culture of why we are...what we are. And when I say we, I don't mean you! Promotion of a concept is one thing. Salvaging tradition is another thing. A proper branding combining economic growth while preserving heritage is essential.


Aug-23-13 11:49 AM

I'm disappointed but not surprised that you have received no comments as the ideas you are talking about are complicated, hard to quantify and hard define a marketing strategy around.

Yet at the same time what you describe is immediately understandable by people who have fallen in love with these mountains. I have written about the same "mysticism" myself, including this week's column in my regular contribution to the Adirondack Almanack.

You have your finger on something important here and I hope that others take upon the idea that the intrinsic qualities of this park are world-class and promotable.


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