Making the most of our natural assets

As residents of the Harlem Valley, we’re lucky. We live in an area that is, simply, beautiful. And because of that natural beauty, the tourism trade has flourished.

But it’s something that’s always looking for improvement, for expansion. Efforts to market the region are being supported through different initiatives, including the geotourism trade. What does that mean? It’s a way to focus on how local communities can take advantage of the growing outdoor recreation economy. Those involved with such efforts have focused on “building the Harlem Valley’s synergy of outdoor recreation, farm and food, hospitality, arts and culture, history and conservation,” according to a release from the Harlem Valley Appalachian Trail (AT) Community.

The AT Community of Dover and Pawling and neighboring towns and villages in eastern Dutchess County are “piloting a geotourism stakeholder engagement process” to move the issue forward.

As defined by National Geographic 15 years ago, “Geotourism is tourism that sustains or enhances the distinctive geographical character of a place — its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture and the well-being of its residents.”

Last week, on Thursday, May 23, the Harlem Valley Chamber of Commerce organized a talk at Charlotte’s restaurant in Millbrook about geotourism. It was well attended. A part of that presentation focused on the AT and its work. That’s encouraging; residents and businesspeople of the valley are smart to embrace the concept of geotourism. 

Think about it: we have mountains and lakes, hiking trails and waterfalls, quaint villages and open farmland, unique shops and creative cafés. And it’s all within a short drive, or quick train ride, from New York City. We have so much to offer people visiting the area for the day or for longer. Why not take advantage of it all?

To help make that possible, the AT Conservancy is working with nearly 50 designated AT Communities to maximize the outdoor recreation economy “in ways that are consistent with, and supportive of, sustainable visitor use management and conservation.”

Doing so will make the AT more accessible to both experienced naturalists and casual outdoors-men. After all, 25 percent of Dutchess County visitors have hiked the AT, and half are interested in doing so, according to a 2019 Dutchess County Tourism Visitor Survey.

To encourage that, the AT will launch its AT Destination website, promoting the Harlem Valley and trying to attract more people to use the trail and visit the region.  It’s also looking into working with lodging, transportation and small businesses to help sustain and improve outdoor recreation economies.

To facilitate these efforts, state and local agencies are collaborating — after all, economic development benefits everyone. We have so many assets, it only makes sense to try to maximize them, promote them, and use them to attract the best and the brightest to the Harlem Valley to visit or to stay.