Cuomo’s rafting competition talk creates excitement

The possibility that the Adirondack Park may host a state-sponsored rafting and paddling competition later this year has local officials buzzing with excitement.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State address Wednesday, said the state will put on the Adirondack Challenge, an event he said will garner international attention. The governor said regional anchor events across upstate New York would help revitalize tourism and boost the state’s economy.

“Our challenge is to reintroduce people to the beauty and the assets of upstate New York,” he said. “I believe if they see upstate New York, they will come back, but we need to make that introduction.”

Cuomo said New York, and the Adirondacks in particular, has “some of the best whitewater rafting in the nation.”

He’s also including a category for politicians and other government employees, which he used as an opportunity to add some goofy, animated graphics to his speech – something he’s done the last two years as well.

“I look forward to recruiting a team of colleagues to compete in the Adirondack whitewater rafting challenge,” state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said in a prepared statement.

“Saranac Lake will definitely have a team,” Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau told the Enterprise.

There was also a barrage of immediate mentions of the proposal on Twitter.

The governor didn’t provide many details about the Adirondack Challenge – even where in the Park it would be – leaving many questions to be answered in upcoming days and months.

Cuomo used humor in his PowerPoint presentation as he discussed some “special challenges” for the rafting event. One of the slides showed Democrat Jeffrey Klein and Republican Dean Skelos – the two men who will lead the state Senate as part of a new political alliance that will keep Republicans in the majority – paddling in opposite directions.

“Guys, you have to paddle the same way,” Cuomo said as the image played across the screen.

The animated graphics also showed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg paddling his own raft while sporting a yachting cap, and Cuomo depicted himself wearing the same red and black plaid flannel shirt he wore in a surprise visit to the Enterprise office on Dec. 28 in Saranac Lake. Also, his raft was equipped with a motor.

“The state police insist that because I respond to so many emergencies on such a frequent basis now, my raft needs an engine,” he said.

While Cuomo’s presentation drew a lot of laughs, regional officials said the goal behind it is important.

Rabideau noted that when Cuomo made his surprise visit to the Enterprise, he talked about the need for Saranac Lake to create an anchor event to draw tourists to the area. Cuomo said parts of upstate New York haven’t done a great job of marketing themselves. Part of his 2013 agenda is a new initiative that would require different regions of the state to present marketing plans and compete for a share of $5 million in advertising funds.

“I wasn’t sure about it, when it was published in the Enterprise, what the goal was specifically, but now I get it,” Rabideau said. “I came to his speech, I heard him talk, and now I get it: We want to reintroduce people to the Adirondacks. Let’s (have) Saranac Lake lead the way.”

Rabideau said he plans to bring together several of Saranac Lake’s business and tourism-related organizations – the Women’s Civic Chamber and the chamber of commerce, for example – to brainstorm ideas for an anchor event in the summer. He noted Saranac Lake already has a wintertime anchor event: the 116-year-old Winter Carnival.

Little said in a phone interview that she’d like to pull together a North Country team for the event and she has some people in mind. She said the competition would “call a lot of attention to the Adirondacks.”

Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said he may turn to Essex County lawmakers when he puts together his team. He said town supervisors like Sue Montgomery-Corey of Minerva, Margaret Bartley of Elizabethtown, Bill Ferebee of Keene and Randy Douglas of Jay have good paddling credentials. All four attended Cuomo’s speech on Wednesday.

“Sue, I guess, is an accomplished whitewater rafter herself,” Stec said. “She’s guided boats on the Hudson.”

Stec said the event would be a great way to bring visitors to the Park, and he hopes the governor will follow through.

Little and Stec will have some convincing to do if they hope to recruit Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, for a team. Asked if she plans to don a lifejacket and a helmet, Duprey said, “Probably not.

“I’ve been whitewater rafting, but I’m not going to go out there at this point,” Duprey said.

Cuomo did outline the rules for the competition’s “political division,” which he said will be carefully reviewed by legal counsel:

Teams must have at least six people in the raft.

Teams must be co-ed.

Rafters must be “bone fide government employees” with at least six months on the job.

All rafters must paddle. (“No freeloaders – this is not government,” Cuomo quipped.)

Identical rafts and equipment must be used by all teams, except for those competitors who require special equipment.