Adirondack Challenge debrief meeting closes with the awarding of the events “Finish” banner to the Town of Indian Lake and Town Supervisor Brian Wells; (left to right) Brian McDonnell, Neil McGovern, Jeff Byrne, Bill Farber, Christine Pouch, Ross Levi, Jim McKenna, Brian Wells, Vonnie Liddle.
A coalition of Adirondack Challenge organizers from the state, region, county and town levels critiqued the first-ever event Aug. 6 at the Indian Lake Ski Hut.
They had put the word out to the community that a debrief of sorts was to be held to investigate how the community at large felt about the Challenge and to hear what worked and what needed to be improved. Also on the agenda was the objective of hearing from community members as to whether they wanted to host future events. The 2013 event was held July 21-22 in Indian Lake.
The coalition of organizers included:
•Bill Farber, Chairman, Hamilton County Board of Supervisor
•Ross Levi, Vice President of Marketing Initiatives for Empire State Development
•Ron Ofner, Director of the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council (ARTC)
•Jim McKenna President and CEO of the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB)/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST)
•Jeff Byrne, Senior Vice President, Olympic Regional Development Authority
•Brian Wells, Indian Lake Town Supervisor
•Neil McGovern, Supervisor, Town of Lake Pleasant
•Christine Pouch, President of Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce
•Vonnie Liddle, Town of Indian Lake Events/Activities Coordinator
•Bob Rafferty, owner of Adirondack Rafting Co., Indian Lake, and president of the Hudson River Professional Outfitters Association
•Brian McDonnell of the Adirondack Watershed Alliance
Farber served as moderator for the organizer group and resident attendees. He opened the meeting with a personal “thank you” to the town of Indian Lake and offered the same from the whitewater rafting community, the Adirondack region and Hamilton County.
From his personal perspective, the level of advertising and promotion that came out of the event exceeded any expectations, Farber said. The event was immediately followed by media coverage at the local and national level and provided fodder for the current I Love NY campaign focusing on whitewater rafting. He explained that the Adirondack Challenge generated a high level of excitement for hosting events throughout the region.
The goal of the Aug. 6 meeting was to:
•assess how the organizers and residents felt about the event;
•see what worked and what didn’t work; and
•find out whether or Indian Lake town officials and residents would be willing to host another such Challenge-type event.
Ron Ofner of the ARTC said he felt the event was a success for the region.
“Our website visitation for six days post the event doubled what it was for the same time during the previous year,” Ofner said.
Jeff Byrne of ORDA commented on what he thought was a great logistical effort in having a host system to greet guests.
Indian Lake Councilman John Valentine responded that the hosts numbered around 30 individuals who were all volunteers and they were made up of Indian Lake residents and others from all over the Adirondack Park.
”Everyone had a great time, and a lot of that stemmed from the greeting they got and from the ongoing efforts of the volunteers throughout the event,” Farber said.
Terri De Armas, an Indian Lake resident, was a hostess during the event.
“My husband was also a host,” De Armas said. “Everyone had a wonderful time and they loved Indian Lake.”
Lenny Baglieri, proprietor of the Blue Mountain Rest commended the organizers.
“What you pulled off in seven weeks was commendable,” Baglieri said.
Jim McKenna of ROOST said everyone came together, learned about Indian Lake and made contacts, which would improve communication and cooperation in the future through the region.
“The rafters are seeing a very positive increase in interest since the event,” Bob Rafferty said. “In fact, people who were involved in the event are already returning with friends and family to raft again.”
Concerning the flatwater portion of the event, co-organizer Brian McDonnell reported that the venue of Indian Lake “was terrific and perfect for the focus of the event, the four-person canoe.” There were just under 100 participants.
The flatwater event started and finished at the launch of the Indian Lake Islands Campground. McDonnell said the staff was terrific at both the Indian Lake Islands and the Lewey Lake campground, where more than one-half of the paddlers stayed.
“The pro races did exactly what we wanted,” McDonnell said. “Paddlers came from as far away as Florida, Michigan and Canada, with many of them going on to races in the country of Poland, and the state of Michigan and to compete in the Ausable River Marathon, and they will spread the word of the success of this event.”
From the positive side, it seemed organizers, town officials and residents alike agreed the event was a success with regard to the publicity that was garnered. That being said, plenty of feedback was given about what could and should have been.
The Chamber’s Christine Pouch said the event was met with mixed reaction. Her assessment was supported by a number of issues voiced from Indian Lake residents and officials during the Aug. 6 meeting. There was a general sense of disappointment, which seemed to stem from uncontrolled and unfulfilled expectations. There was apparently room for improved communications about what would be happening, what the bottom-line nature and objectives of the event truly were and what interaction among the residents, local officials and Gov. Andrew Cuomo would occur, as well as, when and where.
Residents voiced expectations that Cuomo would be seen more in the town of Indian Lake. The governor was also expected to say something specific and positive about the town to the media. There was a feeling that the governor should have shown more acknowledgement of Indian Lake officials and generally should have provided a more personal touch with the residents and volunteers in the town. The biggest disappointment and economic impact seemed to come from the expectation that the governor would appear at Byron Park and conduct the award ceremony there. It was instead moved to the Gore Mountain ski center in North Creek.
Farber seemed to understand that expectations lacked some control from levels above the town.
“(For the future) we are trying to make sure we know what the expectations are,” Farber said.
However, in answer to the objections raised, Farber pointed out that the governor visited the school and met with Superintendent Mark Brand and Principal David Snide and communicated thanks for the school facilities being provided as the welcoming point for participants and the headquarters for the media.
Farber also pointed out that he was with Cuomo at the Indian Lake firehouse, where they joined those enjoying burgers there.
“I had a chance to talk with him about the downtown area (of the hamlet of Indian Lake) and its needs while we were there,” Farber said.
Cuomo also visited some Indian Lake businesses and toured the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake with Director David Kahn.
As to the expectation and disappointment over Cuomo not visiting Byron Park, this objection did not seem to be satisfactorily addressed during the meeting.
Councilman Valentine expressed a special concern over the disappointment that existed in the community, that is, its effect on future volunteerism. He also communicated the feeling that I Love NY did a great job of promoting the Sunday event, but the attendance at the events in and around the town on Saturday was poor.
One of the event hosts attending the meeting said that she heard a lot of disappointment over the fact that the events lacked availability for spectatorship. Though this was the case with the whitewater Challenge, most understood the safety and security constraints on this particular event. However, this was especially true of the flatwater event.
McDonnell addressed this comment.
”There is a need to design a course that is more spectator friendly for the next event (on Indian Lake),” McDonnell said.”
McDonnell offered ideas of using pontoon boats and arranging for access to campsites that line the lakeside of Route 30.
Beyond issues raised for better signage, mapping and flow, there was the issue of the event’s timing. Early June or late September may have been a better time for such an event since “mid-July usually finds all our rooms already booked,” Baglieri said.
“This event was put together as a marketing tool,” Farber responded. “Therefore that is what drove the date.”
Farber later said the weather expectation had some influence on the dates chosen and that future events would need to take into account when tourism needs a boost.
Indian Lake resident Brenda Valentine set the tone of the meeting to move forward by boldly asking, “Where do we go from here?”
Bill Farber announced that another invitational event is being considered. He alluded to the possibility that it could take place in June and that there would be more lead time to facilitate planning and communication across all levels. He also specified that Hamilton County must establish an event budget. Given this, Farber wanted to know how the Indian Lake community would feel about hosting such an event again.
Given the issues discussed and understandings reached about communication improvement, the need to clearly define event objectives and to set shared expectations, the majority of those in attendance were positive toward hosting such an event again.