Beamish admits erroneous numbers
Several months ago, I purchased a copy of Dick Beamish’s book, “Getting The Word Out in the Fight to Save The Earth.” Here are several quotes from pages 12-13, under the heading, “Appeal to the Emotions”:
-“You must always be as factual and accurate as you can possibly be.”
-“Emotional appeals often involve confrontation – between the people and a government agency that betrays the public trust.”
-“Don’t hesitate to shine the spotlight on the bad actors.”
-“Greed, ignorance and corruption are never in short supply.”
-“Portray these forces dramatically and honestly, and you will inspire the anger, sympathy, admiration and generosity that build support for your cause.”
Beamish should have stayed focused on the attributes of his own advice. Instead, between January 2013 and June 13, 2014, he wrote Op-Ed commentary three times in two newspapers dramatically skewing examples of the most important data metric used to determine the economic impact of a recreational trail to a region, as part of a campaign to persuade Adirondack residents and government officials to tear up the Remsen-Lake Placid Rail Corridor.
In commentary appearing June 13 in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, about a recent visit to the Virginia Creeper Trail, Mr. Beamish stated “more than 100,000 overnight visitors,” describing trail users who spend money in that region. Following a challenge requesting the source of this statement, Beamish admitted to editor Peter Crowley his quoted value was erroneous. Beamish exaggerated the true published value of the impact statement more than 1,700 percent. The 2004 VCT study projects only 5,725 yearly non-local, primary-purpose overnight visitors.
(See Chart A)
Text included for the chart above notes, “Nonlocal overnight users make up 9 percent of all trips, while primary purpose overnight visitors account for only 4 percent of person trips; the latter being a pivotal group in determining the economic impact the VCT has on the area economy.” Beamish compares the Virginia Creeper Trail to the proposed Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy considers the VCT comparable for estimating the economic impact of the same proposed trail.
Looking further back, in a January 2013 Beamish commentary appearing in the ADE, Dick also misquoted the 2006 published economic impact of the Pine Creek Trail in Pennsylvania. Here, Beamish used a modest figure of “150,000 overnight visitors.” The actual report authored by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy notes an estimated 125,000 total yearly visitors and projects overnight visitors at 26.1 percent (32,625); Beamish exaggerated a mere 459 percent. Critical data omitted: Only 1,049 completed user surveys were received in this self-survey of the Pine Creek Trail by the RTC – less than 1 percent. Published values were “extrapolated.”
These two Beamish-referenced trails also appeared in op-ed pieces in the Times Union newspaper with the same erroneous values.
Why would a respected, knowledgeable, communications professor risk his reputation and integrity, and damage the credibility of the organization he co-founded with such glaring misinformation? Why dishonor the petition signers and betray the trust of businesses who professed their faith in the economic scheme he frequently wrote about in editorial columns?
The answer might be found by applying the proper methodology and true impact numbers for the Beamish-RTC-favored Virginia Creeper Trail, as described by distinguished professor John L. Crompton, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences, Texas A&M University: “Only those visitors who reside outside the jurisdiction and whose primary motivation for visiting is to attend a tourism attraction or who stay longer and spend more time there because of it should be included in an economic impact study.” (“Economic Impact Studies: Instruments for Political Shenanigans?”). Therefore, the pivotal true non-local, primary-purpose overnight user value of 5,725 x $66.20 (soft goods + overnight) = $378,995 actual yearly new-dollar contribution. Compare this to the lowest conservative estimate of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad yearly overnight ridership (Stone Consulting, 2012) using the same methodology and expenditures: 7,000 x $66.20 = $463,400. Does the true numbers and proper methodology create an uncomfortable position for ARTA?
Considering Professor Beamish’s horribly misleading statements, attention must be given to other documents and components of the ARTA submittals used to sell the rail-trail plan to the Adirondack community and the New York State Department of Transportation. Keep in mind, no other ARTA director stepped forward to offer a public correction, clarification or reprimand to Beamish’s overnight visitor claims, residing in the public forum for 18 months. All the economic numbers need to be compared against the real published values and context of referenced trails in the unit management plan Submittal Trail Plan. As an example, an earlier Guest Commentary by Phil Gallos brought to light questions about inconsistent math projecting trail averages used to generate impact numbers.
(See Chart B)
In the chart above from page 15 of the ARTA Submittal, using the correct Crompton methodology, all the figures in the far right-hand column would be substantially lower; those appearing are corrupted with local user values. In fact, on the RTC website the same reference to the Pine Creek Trail lists new spending at the appropriate level, almost half of that shown on the ARTA document. However, they provide the reader with the “big impact” and emotional appeal desired by Beamish and ARTA. Obviously, the correct “% overnight” value for the VCT should be 4 percent, not 33.5 percent.
Other questions remain: How is it basic fact-checking was never performed by the editors of two regional newspapers, multiple times, for the same Beamish op-ed piece? Following the rejection of the Camion study, the Rail Trail Conservancy was paid to generate the ARTA rail trail economic impact study; were they influenced by financial donations from the Keet Family Foundation? Is supporting the best economic development tool for the Adirondack community really the goal of ARTA founders Dick Beamish and Lee Keet? Or is supporting a plan that will likely result in mostly silence for the Remsen-Lake Placid rail corridor really the primary goal?
James E. Falcsik lives in Irwin, Pennsylvania.
Dick Beamish: “Getting the Word Out in the Fight to Save the Earth,” The Johns Hopkins University Press (Feb. 1, 1995), Page 12 and 13