What do you give as a present to someone who already has everything? By every official measure from the Albany-Manhattan bubble, the Path through History is a rip-roaring success. This makes the choice of a 2nd Birthday gift difficult. Nonetheless, I would like to try to offer some suggestions.
which also take into account Bruce Dearstyne’s concerns, raised both by post in New York History and at State Legislator Engelbright’s New York History Roundtable, May 29, about the failure to observe the designated New York History month in November.
Let’s start with the Path through History Weekends at the beginning of June, the events which garner the most attention in the press releases and State of the State Address. The following comes from an email from Eric Scheffel of Empire State Development (firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-292-5274) and Melanie Klausner of Finn Partners (Melanie.email@example.com
646-307-6310) – apparently the two people most closely connected with the Path weekends. In an April 29th press release, they said: “More than 200 special events are planned for New York State’s Path Through History Weekends, June 7-8 and 14-15, at venues throughout the state.”
What comes to mind when you think of something “special”? Does it call to mind routine (daily, weekly, or seasonal) activities? How many of the special events would have occurred anyway even if the Path project didn’t exist? The answer is almost all of them. Do Eric and Melanie know this? Do they believe that they are actually spurring the creation of events that otherwise wouldn’t exist? I am sure they are decent hardworking people doing what they were told do and are not the source of the problem.
At the NYSHA conference in June at Marist College, in the session on Hudson Valley tourism, Will Tatum, Dutchess County Historian, made this precise point – that the history organizations are doing what they routinely would do anyway.
Mark Castiglione, the public face of the Path project without actually being in charge of it, or having any power, provided some historical background. As reported here last year, there used to be a Museum Weekend (singular) in May prior to the Path project. When the Governor said, “Simon says ‘Have your event in June,’” history organizations moved some events from May to June.
Mark revealed some of the decision-making that went into this shift. The May date wasn’t working as well as expected because many upstate sites were just opening or hadn’t yet opened after the winter. The event was shifted to June, not only because all sites would then be fully operational, but because it was still during the school year. In other words, neither the May nor June weekend events were ever intended to draw people from outside the local community.That makes sense since everyone knows that those weekends during the school year are not the optimal time for tourism.
So even though the ostensible goal of the Path project is to promote tourism and generate sales and lodging tax, the people organizing the weekends knew that it wouldn’t accomplish those goals. People in New York City, for example, weren’t going to dash up to the Mohawk Valley or Finger Lakes, for a hike, talk, tour, or afternoon event. Nor will people from other states. City people, however, will take the train to the Lower Hudson Valley for day trips which is why MetroNorth was at the tourist summit at Grand Central in May – it’s looking for the summer travelers not the Path weekend non-travelers as evidenced by its promo:
Everybody needs to getaway – even if it’s for a day or overnight. Featuring the hottest Summer Getaways in New York City, the Hudson Valley, Connecticut and beyond.
Find your next stop at Metro-North’s Getaway Day!
MODEST PROPOSAL #1
Since the Path weekends really are local events, let’s change the theme to Community Commemoration Days. The Governor would invite each village, town, city, and county to have events celebrating the heritage of the local community. Local businesses would be asked to sponsor school buses to take the 4th graders on a tour of their own community. Naturally there would be a commemoration and celebration at the conclusion of the tours.
As it turns out, there really are special events conducted by the New York State history community, but since they are not on the designated June weekends they don’t count as “special.” I kept track of some of them:
1. Fort Ticonderoga holds annual conferences in the spring and fall on the French and Indian War and the American Revolution
2. John Brown Day was held May 10 at Lake Placid and addressed the ongoing issue of slavery in the world as we were reminded of by the seizures in Nigeria and Iraq.
3. “Drums along the Mohawk” was performed in August and the Historical Society of Rockland County (HSRC) took a bus trip to see it which included overnight lodging. By contrast the HRSC events on the Path weekends were local and generated no lodging taxes.
4. Erie and Niagara Counties had a ‘History in Your Backyard’ Weekend in May which included seven locations and the distribution of commemorative passports which would be stamped at each location and with prizes.
5. The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and the New York State Canal Corporation teamed up to sponsor 28 events to showcase the Canalway Corridor’s nationally significant heritage and the tremendous recreational appeal of the waterway and trails today.
Careful readers will observe that all of these special events really are special, occur upstate in communities that benefit from tourism, and fit the parameters of the objectives of the Path project. But because they occur at the wrong time, they are not celebrated by the Path through History program.
MODEST PROPOSAL #2: Special Events
Special events in New York State should be recognized by the Governor and supported by ILoveNY just as it does for the Superbowl, the PGA Championship, and the US Open. The French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the Mohawk Valley, Erie Canal, and John Brown have national and even international recognition. What they don’t have is support from the Path through History Project. That should change.
MODEST PROPOSAL #3: NEW YORK PATH THROUGH HISTORY MONTH
The time when people travel most is the summer. Let’s make July New York Path through History Month. The Governor should invite each county executive/borough president to develop tourist programs in their county/borough which can be promoted through tour operators, Amtrak, and MetroNorth… and if they are offered in August, too, that’s fine. So far the Path through History project has not encouraged the counties and regions to develop programs which can be brought to a tour operator. That should change.
MODEST PROPOSAL #4: COUNTY HISTORY CONFERENCES
In April, the Lewis County Historical Society held its 3rd annual meeting of historians. All town and village historians, historical societies, museums, and libraries in Lewis County were invited along with the general public. Every county should have one every year to network, showcase, and plan.
In March, the Historical Society of Rockland County held its second High School Social Studies Local History conference. This effort connects the future voters to the history of the community in which they live. Every county should have one every year.
These proposals are intended to promote the history of the state in a variety of ways
1. To students and teachers
2. To residents
3. To tourists.
It proposes an ongoing sequence of local history-related events and activities which will keep people connected to their history on a ongoing basis
June: Community Commemoration Weekends
July: Path through New York State history tours
Fall/Spring: County history conferences
Spring: County local history social studies conferences.
Local communities and counties do not need the Governor’s permission or ILoveNY’s to do this, but it certainly would help on the 2nd Birthday of the Path through History project, if the Governor would take a leadership position in support of New York History.