Academic journal article Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore

An Open Invitation to My Downstate Friends

Academic journal article Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore

An Open Invitation to My Downstate Friends

Article excerpt

"Get Outta Town!" the ads around Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan have screamed. To New Yorkers of the five boroughs (and maybe a little beyond), the recent message has been clear. For a couple of years now, a big focus for tourism in New York State--at the behest of our current Governor Cuomo--has been to get people of The City and close environs to vacation Upstate. Posters in city buses try to catch riders' attention with photos of exciting things to see or do north of Yankee Stadium. TV and radio spots with voiceovers by well-known New Yorkers urge city dwellers and suburbanites to think of the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes, or the Adirondacks when they're looking for a weekend--or a week-long--getaway. For a short time, even some cars on the 42nd Street crosstown shuttle were wrapped with dramatic images of hikers or snowboarders and a call to take advantage of Upstate assets for recreation and relaxation.

Actually, this is hardly a new idea. While lecturing to city folks in Boston and Connecticut in the 1860s about the health-enhancing, spirit-reviving values of travel to the Great North Woods, Rev W H. H. Murray became a household name--"Adirondack Murray"--to urban dwellers. His book, Adventures in the Wilderness, or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks went through eight printings in 1869, its first year. Realizing its value as a tourist's guide, Murray's later editions included maps of the region and train schedules from various Eastern cities to places like Lake George, Old Forge, and Saranac Lake. An amazing flurry of activity in these isolated areas occurred; railroad and steamboat access deep into the wilderness was created to accommodate the sudden demand; scores of rustic Great Camps and upscale resorts were constructed in the wilds to appeal to people who were not quite used to living like Adirondackers; and a regional industry of hunting and fishing guides, camp caretakers and cooks, guideboat and canoe builders, tourist cabin and small hotel owners was born.

In the same era, vacationers from The City--especially the more prosperous kind--found their way to various parts of Upstate to vacation. Seasonal homes were built in the Hudson Valley, a short train ride from Grand Central Station. Ethnic resorts and hotels, catering to the Irish, Germans, Czechs, and Italians, prospered as did, of course, the much-celebrated Jewish destinations to "the Borscht Belt" in the Catskills. Niagara Falls for honeymoons, wineries and TB-cure resorts in the Finger Lakes, religious retreats like the Chautauqua Institution and Lily Dale--all these and more have had their days as popular destinations away from city life. Some are still doing well; some are long gone.

Promoting travel to "the provinces" is not a new idea, either. Who doesn't recognize the iconic "I Love New York" logo--complete with the red heart symbol--that was created by graphic artist Milton Glaser for a state-funded ad campaign in 1977, to promote tourism to New York City? Soon after, came the song "I Love New York," and within a couple of years Governor Hugh Carey declared it New York State's anthem. By that time the program and funds to support it were increased to attract tourists to all parts of the state.

In the years since--including the current TV ad series that run frequently--the usual emphasis has been recreation in the Great Outdoors. Exciting video of happy people in inflated rafts crashing through white water in the upper Hudson near North Creek, seniors and teenagers racing down the slopes of Whiteface Mountain on skis or snowboards, anglers standing hip deep in Catskill streams and casting for trout, or families cycling around breathtaking waterfalls in Letchworth State Park--all provide the clarion call for tourists to jump in their Volvos or minivans and head upstate. It's Adirondack Murray all over again, 21st-century style. There's no question that Upstate has some of the most varied, beautiful, and compelling landscapes in all of America, (including the largest public park and the largest state-protected area in the contiguous United States, with a longstanding commitment to remain "forever wild"). …

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