Questions about large event tourism in Lake Placid

Visitors walk along Main Street in Lake Placid in July. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

This summer has certainly been unique. COVID-19 restrictions required cancellation of all the regularly scheduled large events as well as certain travel bans, which certainly resulted in a noticeable change in Lake Placid.

This change has been viewed by many to be positive.

Main Street has been as busy as ever seven days a week, not just event weekends. If you’ve noticed, the mix of people has been much more diverse than that of a normal summer. And it is almost entirely comprised of families; the number of kids in town has been amazing. A big reason for this is that we have had a tremendous increase in the number of metropolitan New York residents visit. I regularly engage with our visitors daily, and throughout the summer I have easily spoken with over 200 individuals and family groups. It is surprising how many people from New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, and even Albany, are here for their first time ever. At the end of almost every encounter, I ask if they think they’ll come back. Close to 100% emphatically say yes.

The demographic we have been exposed to this season is quite different than the “event crowds.” As said, it has been more ethnically and racially diverse, more urban, and they have come here for a typical family vacation. They have chosen to visit our region; they’re not here because an event mandates they come here. They show more interest in our history, recreation, culture, natural beauty and relaxed lifestyle. How many more vehicles have we seen this summer with canoes, kayaks and a family’s array of bikes attached? Based on my own encounters, as well as by what I’m told by many in the service industry here, these people are noticeably nice. They are glad to be here and are enjoyable guests.

We haven’t seen any reports or heard anecdotes of public urination, vandalism, excessive drinking or unruly behavior. Several friends who live near rental homes say the homes are still being rented, but there are no late-night parties, cars blocking driveways or beverage containers littering the streets. Because most rentals are being utilized by families. About 90% or more of visitors have donned face masks as we have requested. Look online. Few communities show such high compliance. Would we would get this same level of cooperation from some of our event participants?

Many Main Street retail businesses and restaurants (several operating with reduced hours or seating due to lack of employees and/or spacing issues) have had a great summer, several doing even better than they have during the event weeks. And remember, this is without our Canadian neighbors and with travel restrictions on many Americans. Boat, bike and personal water craft rentals are high every day. Have you ever seen so many people enjoying Mirror Lake? The golf courses are busier than ever. Outfitters, guides and tackle shops have seen increased activity.

Yes, this summer certainly has been an anomaly, and many people opted to drive rather than fly to their chosen vacation. But it has reminded us that millions of visitors CAN drive here with their families for a long vacation or even a weekend. Those who have done so for the first time certainly have a reason to return and perhaps create new family traditions of Lake Placid summers. We all know people who have had that tradition in their own family 25, 30 or more years ago when they were young and they still return today. Those returnees exhibit appreciation and respect for this area and those who live in it. Conversely, many of us have seen or even interacted with big event attendees who show little regard for our community and justify bad behavior by saying, “Hey, I spend a lot of money here.” I don’t think they spend as much money here as we do.

So the questions are: Although the big events guarantee increased short-term income for some businesses, would ALL businesses be better off with fewer major gatherings and more of what we’ve seen this summer? Is it worthwhile to be paying outside private companies hundreds of thousands of dollars to come here? Could that money be better used to directly benefit our community by improving parking, signage, parks, bus shelters, the golf course and municipal facilities? Is it worth the overtime, materials, equipment use and hundreds of labor hours used just to prepare for these events ? Is it worth the disruption to our daily lives when the preparation and running of certain events dominates our town for weeks? Then more overtime — paid by our taxes, not by the event corporations — for village, town and state workers during these events? Would shifting our focus back to the family vacation benefit our quality of life and be more in line with our own community values while still supporting all businesses?

I am not advocating the elimination of all of the big events. However, some certainly carry enough downside that maybe we should reconsider renewing or extending our relationship with them.

(Sean Donovan lives in Lake Placid.)