Ecotourism is a broad and often misused term. It is regularly used to imply a type of environmental superiority over other forms of travel, involving practices that are friendlier to people and the planet. But travel in itself can be environmentally toxic, particularly with the massive amounts of carbon emitted through air and automobile travel and electricity consumed by tourism-related infrastructure, like hotels and attractions.
That’s why I was curious to take a deeper dive into the elements of an ecotourism destination in Lake Placid, New York — a corner of the Adirondacks that is vying for the title of “America’s greenest destination.”
The sleepy town is best known as a hub for adventure travel. It hosted the Winter Olympics in both 1932 and 1980, and is a year-round training ground for sports from skiing to hockey to horse riding. It’s a beautiful place, surrounded by sparkling lakes and snow-dusted mountaintops. Indeed, it’s Lake Placid’s natural beauty that first inspired efforts to conserve it, said Jennifer Holdereid, owner and marketing director of the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort.
Holdereid has been at the forefront of efforts to “green” both her hotel and the entire region. The Golden Arrow doesn’t scream eco-friendliness at first, lacking the clean, minimalist design that we’ve come to associate with green properties. But its environmental friendliness runs deep, encompassing everything from solar-powered water heaters to recycled carpeting, low-flow toilets, and energy-efficient vacuum cleaners.
While committed to environmentalism, Holdereid admits if the customer wants it, she’ll provide it, which may be why guest rooms come equipped with not-quite-eco-friendly “extras” like Keurig coffee makers. When questioned about the Keurigs, Holdereid readily admitted that the decision to replace previous Maxwell House coffee makers with the pod variety came after a tremendous amount of research, which included conversations with K-cup supplier Green Mountain Coffee on their efforts to produce a more eco-friendly pod.
The Keurig question is just one of many dilemmas that Holdereid faces on a daily basis when running an eco-friendly property. But when thinking about ecotourism, it’s important to not only consider factors like carbon emissions and waste, but also the extent to which a destination’s tourism industry supports the local community. In Lake Placid, I saw countless examples of this idea in action. Furnishings are made from locally-sourced wood. CFL lightbulbs are bought from the local Boy Scouts troop. And Chef David Hunt’s first task as head of Golden Arrow’s Generations restaurant was to take a road trip to meet with local farmers and suppliers. Hunt is particularly passionate about maple syrup, which is purchased from colleagues at the nearby Cornell Sugar Maple Research Station and pops up in everything from salad dressing to salmon to artisanal cocktails.
Other regional highlights include a visit to the WILD Center at Tupper Lake, a LEED-certified science museum geared toward children; a stroll through Lake Placid’s charming Main Street shops; and treks through the region’s 46 peaks. Even those that aren’t environmentally-minded will be struck by the region’s natural beauty — and hopefully leave with a reminder to conserve it.
Special thanks to the Lake Placid Tourism Board, Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, Generations Restaurant, Lake Placid Convention Center, WILD Center at Tupper Lake, Heaven Hill Farm, Cornell Sugar Maple Research Station, and Inphorm Communications for a wonderful and informative stay.