ON THE SCENE: Tatum ready for ORDA board term
Joins other members Friday, hopes to help strengthen tourism diversity
Four of the five people recently added to the state Olympic Regional Development Authority board are women reflecting a dramatic increase in their presence as ORDA is in the midst of a significant state-funded upgrade to their facilities in preparation for the 2023 Winter World University Games.
One, Sen. Betty Little, is well known and held in high regard throughout the region as her 25-year career in state politics comes to a close at the end of the year.
Another, Elinor Tatum, graduated from St. Lawrence University in Canton in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in government studies. She also studied international relations and the Swedish model of government at Stockholm University in Sweden and holds a master’s degree in journalism in mass communications from New York University.
Born and raised in New York City, Tatum is the editor and publisher of the New York Amsterdam News, the oldest and most respected Black-owned newspaper in the country.
As a long-time advocate for increasing the diversity in outdoor recreation and winter sports, she is well-positioned to help change happen and ORDA reach out to new audiences.
Tatum’s appointment underscores Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to making the Adirondack region welcoming to all New Yorkers, a pledge highlighted a year ago when he included $250,000 through the state Department of Environmental Conservation to fund the Saranac Lake-based Adirondack Diversity Initiative now led by Nicole “Nicky” Hylton-Patterson.
“We’re thrilled,” said Pete Nelson, co-founder of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative. “The more that the Adirondack region not only in visitation, but in people who live here, work here, and hold regulatory or administrative positions, the more that reflects the diversity of New York the better. We are excited by everything that Elinor Tatum brings the position, the perspective and values she brings; it’s a wonderful move for the park.”
Tatum is not new to the North Country. First, for many years her family summered on a lake in Canada. There, from an early age, she fell in love with being out in nature. Thus, attending SLU was no emotional stretch from the standpoint of its location and environment. She felt at home right away in Canton.
“The wide-open county, the lakes, and mountains have always been a part of me,” Tatum said. “So being up in the North Country, being in Canton, was natural. People ask me why I ended up at St. Lawrence. I went there on Visit Day before I had even been accepted. At St. Lawrence, we talk about that ah-ha moment. I had my ah-ha moment the day I first walked on campus. I said, ‘This is where I belong.’ I’ve never had a day that I regretted going there.”
When asked what nature means to her, Tatum responded, “It’s something they are not going to make more of. We have to be stewards of our environment. We have to protect, nurture, and participate in nature responsibly. We have to teach others how to enjoy it responsibly and fund its protection.”
Fifteen years ago, Tatum accepted the offer to serve on the university’s board of directors, which brought her back to Canton regularly and to Saranac Lake for an annual spring retreat. As part of that, she has visited Lake Placid many times. Hiking and skiing at Whiteface Mountain, such as this past spring, has been part of her pleasures, joys that she would like to make more available and welcoming to people of color.
Tatum, who has a home in the Hudson Valley-Catskill region, has long skied at Hunter and Belleayre ski centers and served on the New York State Tourism Advisory Council, where she helped organize trips to bring urban youth to the Catskills to ski for the first time.
“That was their first experience skiing I think for all of the kids and their families, kids that wouldn’t have had that opportunity otherwise,” Tatum said. “If you help people do these things, if you open up the opportunities, then it will change the face of it.”
Tatum does not view encouraging urban dwellers to visit the Catskills and Adirondacks as a one-way street. She had voiced support for exchanges as she did at a November 2014 Tourism Advisory Council meeting when she said, “What kind of focus has there been on getting non-traditional communities, for instance, Black community to go skiing, and then also upstate communities, getting them to come down to New York City? What kind of local advertising and local efforts are being done?”
“As a member of governor’s Tourism Advisory Council, we’ve been very involved in promoting tourism across the state,” Tatum said. “We promoted the Adirondack Challenge and things like that. The North Country, in general, and the Adirondacks in particular, are an important part of that effort.”
Tatum is aware that winter sports are not known for reflecting a lot of diversity, except bobsledding of late, especially among the women’s teams. She also noted that adaptive sports, such as bobsledding and hockey, and, to a modest degree, figure skating have become more welcoming. As a first step, she would like to see the sporting agencies themselves reflect the diversity of the state’s citizenry and view her joining the ORDA board as a step in that direction.
“All across winter sports, diversity is an issue,” Tatum said. “It’s an issue all across the globe. It’s not just a New York issue, but it’s an issue that’s very important to me. I think having more people representing different ethnicities is very important. I think that any organization’s role is to show the strength of the diversity of a state. That’s why I am so excited to be a part of ORDA.”
Viewing many interviews with Tatum online, it’s clear that she is a very gracious and warm person, insightful, aware of the changes in society, and the need for collaboration and cooperation. As passionate as she is about nature and sports, Tatum is equally ardent about the arts exemplified by her service as a board member of the New York City Center, the oldest performing arts center in the city. Like getting out in nature, Tatum participated in the arts early on, specifically in more than a dozen theatrical productions while in middle-high school.
“Elinor knows her way around the North Country being a graduate of St. Lawrence,” Little said. “She knows how important the Lake Placid Olympic venues and the Olympic Training Center are to the North Country and the Olympic tradition. She’s an excellent choice.”
“I love the Lake Placid area,” said Tatum. “I am so thrilled to be a part of ORDA. I am looking forward to working with all the phenomenal people who have been part of sports and protecting the environment. I am also excited by the other new people joining the ORDA board and coming to know those who have given so much already.”
Tatum, Little and three others — Diane Munro, Thomas Keegan and Kelly Cummings — will join the following members of the ORDA board for their meeting on Friday, Aug. 7: Bill Beaney, Cliff Donaldson, Steve Hunt, Andy Lack, Art Lussi, Chris Pushkarsh and Jeff Stefanko.