Adirondack Common Ground Alliance Forum Looks At Welcoming Communities
The Adirondack Common Ground Alliance is a coalition of groups, municipalities and interests working to maintain the environmental and economic integrity of the Adirondack Park. The Alliance held its annual summer forum virtually on Wednesday.
The Common Ground Alliance was created in 2007 to create a unified voice on environmental and economic issues affecting the Adirondack Park. Every summer a forum is held to work on recommendations called the Blueprint for the Blue Line that is provided to state officials to guide management and policy strategy and decisions.
Adirondack Watershed Institute Deputy Director and forum co-host Zoe Smith explained the theme of this forum was “What Makes a Welcoming Community in the Adirondacks?”
“We hear a lot about vibrant communities so for the purposes of our planning we defined it as a community that sort of embodies a lot of the obvious stuff, tangible things," Smith said. "But we also want to recognize that vibrant communities also means a community that’s welcoming and inclusive of its residents, both existing and new residents.”
Adirondack Diversity Initiative Director Nicky Hylton-Patterson told the Alliance that diversity, equity and inclusion is a bridge to belonging.
“It’s centered around gaining acceptance and support for who you are and all of your differences," Hylton-Patterson said. "It’s celebrated. Data shows that where there is belonging there is sustainability. Where there is belonging people thrive. Where there is belonging people stay. And that’s what we want.”
The discussion kicked off with people offering their perspectives on how the region can create welcoming communities that attract new residents. Gore Mountain marketing manager Stephanie Backes had left the region but returned. She says communities and residents must be receptive to new ideas.
“Making sure that folks get involved and put their new ideas out there in order to just make us better and attract those new people because that’s so crucial to the future of the Adirondacks," Backes said. "You know along those lines I want to show how excited I am about the Adirondacks. I feel that that’s infectious. So share the love for the Adirondacks and having everyone be open to any and all new ideas.”
The new owner of Main Street Exchange in Saranac Lake Tori Vazquez pointed out that lack of amenities in the Park is a barrier to promoting welcoming communities.
“The housing situation is not allowing more people to come in and also the kinds of jobs that they wish that they could have are also not available at this time," Vazquez said. "So I think that working on those and also things to do in smaller towns. Like in Saranac Lake we have events. But in smaller towns they may not have these opportunities to keep younger people in the area which is very important.”
Local Initiatives Support Corporation Development Officer Dan McConvey said Adirondack communities need to look at who lives in area towns and villages and broaden their perspectives.
“Why is it that BIPOC, or Black Indigenous and People of Color, don’t feel as welcomed in this region?" McConvey asked. "Why isn’t there a huge queer contingent of people in the area? What makes it welcoming? How do we keep it welcoming? How do we make it welcoming for who and how are we intentional when we realize it isn’t welcoming for everyone?”
The Alliance will hold a follow up meeting on September 8 to summarize the findings of the July forum.