Press-Republican

March 20, 2013

Tourism funds contested

DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

MALONE — A committee is recommending Franklin County invest $25,000 and use rural-life experiences to attract city dwellers to the North Country.

The County Legislature is expected to vote on the funding Thursday.

But Republican Legislator Paul Maroun of Tupper Lake says he may hold up this vote and others unless his community is considered for $18,000 in tourism-promotion funds.

TOURISM BUDGET

The adopted 2013 budget allocated $75,000 in tourism-related funds, and legislators awarded the first $25,000 to the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) in December to promote Saranac Lake.

When the budget passed, it designated $25,000 to agri-tourism, but the county manager put that money and another unspent $25,000 back into the county’s general fund when oversight of the County Tourism Office went from the Industrial Development Agency to legislators last month.

EXTENSION GETS FUNDS

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County made a pitch for its promised funding on Feb. 7, and the issue was raised again on March 14, ending with a recommendation for funding from the Economic Development and Planning Committee.

But Maroun said Tupper Lake recently hired an events coordinator and should get some money to draw visitors if Cooperative Extension is going to get funded.

“I feel the people I represent deserve something, too,” he said, adding that the south end of the county doesn’t get as much investment as it should.

“I won’t hold up the $25,000 as long as I get consideration on my request,” Maroun said. “If not, I’ll start holding up a lot of projects around here. I will vote for this, but I want consideration.”

Board Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) said, “I give my personal word Tupper Lake will get full consideration.”

NEW FOCUS

Cooperative Extension wants to use the funding, as it changes the focus of ag-education specialist Bernadette Logozar from economic development to agri-tourism with a plan to promote place-based experiences.

Those activities might include seeing how maple syrup is made, shearing sheep or working on a dairy farm and learning about farm animals, for example.

“Agriculture and tourism are major economic drivers, and it’s good to invest interest in our working farms and in the habitats of wildlife,” Logozar said, adding that “birding is a trend.”

She said bird enthusiasts “have money to spend, and they stay a long time” pursuing their passion.

“We’re not creating a huge number of jobs, but we may upgrade a part-time farmer to a full time so they no longer need stay at their other job, which opens it to someone else,” she said.

“We are a tourism destination. It seems like folks are passing through, but we can stop them for awhile,” Logozar said. “There is wonderful culture and rich history, and we’re the food basket of the region.”

PIECES

Grant funding is shrinking, and competition for what is left is fierce, which could mean Logozar may be out of a job if the county does not approve the $25,000 in funding.

Under the agri-tourism initiative, Cooperative Extension would engage farmers and attract visitors.

“There is a whole element of risk for the farmer, but if the visitors enjoy it, then it’s a success for the farmer, too, so they enjoy it,” she said.

She said the idea is to promote activities and day trips within a one-hour radius of other destinations like Lake Placid, the Wild Center in Tupper Lake and outdoor Adirondack experiences like hiking, canoeing and bicycling.

“All of the pieces of the quilt are on the table, and we’re just sewing it together,” Logozar said.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com