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Planning students find upstate NY missing chance to cash in on
heritage-based tourism

Contributing Editor

Heritage-based tourism is the fastest-growing segment of the world
tourism market, but researchers in the School of Architecture and
Planning report that as a result of fractionalism and lack of leadership,
upstate New York is missing out on the opportunity to reinvigorate
heritage tourism in the region.

The report is based on months of extensive research by UB graduate
students in urban and regional planning working under the direction of
Ernest Sternberg, professor of planning and a specialist in tourism
planning. It was produced in a response to the conditions of economic
distress throughout upstate New York and the regional fragmentation that
suggests the absence of a coherent plan to deal with them.

In a presentation to the Rockefeller Institute for Government in Albany
last month, the students explored heritage tourism as a specific approach
to economic distress, and discussed its feasibility as a basis upon which
upstate New York could build a sense of identity and capacity for joint
action. The team proposed a number of initiatives, including an Upstate
Heritage Foundation to promote upstate heritage-based tourism.

"The report was of a much higher quality than those received from
consultants and even from many state agencies," Sternberg says, "and it
was very well received.

"It remains to be seen, however, whether or not the material offered will
be used constructively by upstate agencies, municipalities and those
interested in developing the heritage tourism industry here," he says

In conducting the study, the students focused on 12 heritage themes that
tie upstate New York together: the Iroquois, military heritage,
agriculture, sports, urban places, architecture, religion, freedom,
literature, science and innovation, and visual arts. They also identified
the transportation heritage that interconnects upstate towns and cities:
canals and waterways, railways, trails, and historic trails and roadways.

Although there is a great deal of shared historic, cultural, industrial,
military and artistic material to work with, the students noted that this
legacy has never been considered the important asset it is to upstate New
York. As a result, says Sternberg, even state residents are relatively
uniformed about the wonderful opportunity the state's history represents.

"In the 19th century, for instance, upstate New York led the national
campaigns for abolition of slavery, civil rights, religious freedom and
women's suffrage," he points out.

"Across the state, however, this enormous freedom-fighting heritage tends
to focus on a few historic sites. An exciting, in-depth and cohesive
presentation, however, could ignite curiosity about this radical bastion
of social, religious and political revolutionaries who drastically
changed human-rights policies of the United States.

"In addition to that," he says, "despite a century of major upstate
innovations in the fields of automotive, aircraft and watercraft
development, and the establishment of more than 30 small transportation
museums, we still don't have world-class consolidated exhibits of this
important heritage."

According to the students, heritage tourism is neglected for a number of
reasons, not the least of which are New York's many financial problems
and the fact that it remains at the tail end of economic growth among
U.S. states.

They say that one major and unrecognized difficulty is that upstate is
conventionally divided into regions, from the Capital District to Western
New York. Problems of economic development, however, need to be tackled,
not regionally, but by upstate as a whole.

For this to happen, they maintain that those living in the section of New
York that stretches from Lake Erie east to the Vermont border and south
into the Hudson Valley need to be educated about the enormous historic
legacy that they share so that they can develop around it
economic-development programs that could draw tourists from across the
country and abroad.

This idea, says Sternberg, sent the students in search of many shared
heritages that could help upstaters find a common identity.

The religious-heritage team, for instance, looked at the Iroquois
longhouse religion and—among other things—the reasons underlying the
amazing array of individualistic, utopian, perfectionist and often
peculiar religions that were founded in upstate New York since the
mid-19th century.

In fact, the upstate region was known then as the "Burned Over District"
for the incredible intensity of belief—and belief systems—that swept over
the land not once but many times during the 19th century, like a fire
that burns a field and then erupts spontaneously time and time again.

This is where the "free-love" Oneida Community was established, along
with Seventh-Day Adventism, Mormonism and Spiritualism. Millerism thrived
and the Finney revivalists found willing listeners.

Zealotry flourished across upstate New York in the 19th century to the
extent that, as historian Carol Kammen writes, "every crackpot idea that
came in on the packet boat found someone to believe in it."

The students also examined the rich and extensive collection of materials
and sites related to the Iroquois Confederation. Many are familiar with
one or more aspects of Iroquois life, says Sternberg, but the distinctive
contribution to upstate history by this fascinating and distinguished
group of Indian nations would be very difficult for the average person to
glean from our undeveloped heritage tourism industry.

Upstate's unusual military heritage also is fairly unknown, the students
found. Many New Yorkers know that it was a major venue in King William's
War, the Revolutionary War, the French and Indian War (King George's War)
and the War of 1812.

Most never heard of the Schenectady Massacre of 1690, however, or know
that at the turn of the 19th century, the Finger Lakes region was known
as the "Military Tract" because the state allotted the land to veterans
of the Revolutionary War in payment for their service.

Because the land commissioners in Albany gave "high-fallutin'" names to
the tiny, desolate hamlets that sprang up in the Finger Lakes
region—names like Syracuse, Utica, Ulysses, Rome, Homer, Ithaca and
Cicero—the zone later was known, particularly among foreign visitors
traveling on the Erie Canal, as "the Land of Silly Names."

Students on the sports' heritage team collected data on the Baseball Hall
of Fame in Cooperstown, the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, the Soccer
Hall of Fame in Oneonta, the Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, the PGA golf
course in Otsego, the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Games at Lake Placid, and
Lake Placid's continuation as a major winter sports training venue.

Water sports have a long history in upstate New York, from the Great
Lakes and Finger Lakes to the high lakes of the Adirondacks. Upstaters
developed the famous Adirondack guideboats, the St. Lawrence river skiffs
and the vast assortment of superbly crafted canoes, kayaks and racing

Upstate also was the location of major automobile designers and
manufacturers. The luxurious Pierce Arrows and Packards were designed and
built in Buffalo, which since then has served as a major
automobile-manufacturing city.