Let’s be clear — we are grateful to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for establishing the Adirondack Challenge Festival. Local towns and counties couldn’t afford to buy that much publicity for our tourism-dependent region. For a weekend, the Adirondack Park was in New York’s limelight, and it felt great.
It felt even better for the governor, who was able to award himself the Adirondack Challenge’s top prize for winning the whitewater rafting races on Sunday, July 21 on the Indian River. The Senate came in second. The Assembly third.
Did they let him win? Did he have a head start? Were State Police scuba divers holding back the other rafts? We know he had a strong team and a top-notch rafting guide in Bone Bayse of Beaver Brook Outfitters. But still ... the governor wins his own challenge?
Sounds fishy. We’ll never know the whole truth (the governor’s office isn’t always forthcoming with such information). On face value, it looked like the Adirondack Challenge was one big dog-and-pony show for Cuomo’s ego.
But we’re OK with that.
Maybe Cuomo deserved the win, maybe he didn’t. It doesn’t matter. For the amount of positive national exposure Cuomo gave the Adirondack Park, he can have a dozen first-place paddles. And if he ever makes it to the White House, he’ll remember the good times he had in the Adirondack Park. Maybe he’ll set up a summer White House here like Calvin Coolidge did in 1926 at White Pine Camp in Paul Smiths. That would be great exposure, too.
New York governors have come and gone, and most have just ignored the Adirondack Park. Gov. George Pataki was a strong advocate; heck, he even bought property here in Essex. And, like Pataki, Cuomo genuinely likes spending time in the Adirondacks. He vacations here with his family, sneaking away from Albany many times without the expectation of a headline or a photo opportunity. That, in itself, is the best testimonial.
Yet Cuomo, with deep roots in New York City politics, brings something else to the table that other Adirondack-loving governors have not — the understanding of how to draw attention to this region — get people involved, especially from the downstate movers and shakers in business and politics.
Throw them in a whitewater raft knowing they’ll enjoy the natural beauty, camaraderie of a paddling team, the spirit of competitiveness and fun, and give them a cold Adirondack beer at the end of the day. Show them a good time, and make some memories. That’s what people will remember the most when it comes time to make decisions about this special place in northern New York. And it’s those memories that will generate positive word-of-mouth advertising and lead to an increase in tourism.
We only hoped the governor would let New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg win the second Adirondack Challenge whitewater rafting race down the Indian River on Monday, July 22. This way, Bloomberg would have bragged about it for years, adding even more word-of-mouth value to the experience. Instead, the governor’s competitiveness overpowered his political savvy. Everyone has their weakness. Cuomo just had to win the second race, too.
The rumblings of criticism about the thousands of people who didn’t show up to the Adirondack Challenge Festival in Indian Lake this past weekend are unfair, especially since there was a good crowd of locals and tourists in town. Expectations may have been too high.
We think some people lost sight of the real purpose of the Adirondack Challenge. It wasn’t to attract tourists for one weekend; it was to attract tourists for many weekends in the future.
Thanks to the free publicity and the I Love NY advertising campaign for the Adirondack Region, we hope to see thousands more tourists from New York City, Long Island and Westchester County visit these mountains in the months and years ahead, instead of heading to Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine for their vacations.
All in all, the governor’s publicity stunt was well worth the time and money, and we thank him for all the attention.
We must also thank the dozens of volunteers and organizers who hosted the townwide festival in Indian Lake for their time, hard work and hospitality. They were somewhat overshadowed by the governor, but they played one of the most important roles over the weekend. They showed the visitors a good time, as they always do, with a smile and a “Come back again soon.”