‘Welcome to New York’: New visitors center in the 1000 Islands showcases the best of NNY

PROVIDED BY NEW YORK STATE EMPIRE STATE DEVELOPMENT Renderings of the new North Country Welcome Center at Collins Landing.

BY: Matt McClusky
When it’s finished, the North Country Welcome Center in the town of Orleans will be part building and part history lesson. One of its key functions, of course, will be to provide a place for tourists or even locals to rest, relax and gather their bearings. On top of that, however, Thousand Islands Bridge Authority officials have high hopes that the new center on Collins Landing Road in northern Jefferson County will become an educational hotspot for everyone to learn about the history of the surrounding area. “I’ve worked here for many years,” Gary DeYoung, executive director of the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council, said. “And I’m always amazed at how many people ask, ‘What’s the deal with the river?’”

    The “deal” is widely known to full-time and seasonal residents, all of whom most likely have some sort of an understanding as to how important the St. Lawrence River and its surrounding waterways have been for centuries. The river and lake continue to be a driving force in the world of industry, with countless ships navigating the Seaway, carrying key cargo back and forth along the Canadian border. Not just for shipping, the waters are a noted tourist destination, too, responsible for helping keep countless local businesses afloat during the bustling summer season.

    Surprisingly, however, there are some tourists who don’t fully comprehend the impact of the waterway. So, cue the new center near the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River. Standing in the shadow of the Thousand Islands Bridge, DeYoung said the center, with its construction being overseen by the state Office of General Services, “will tell the entire story of the region.” It is a message set to be delivered through historical photos and native pieces scattered about the one-story building, as well as through interactive displays geared to hit the historical high points in a more engaging manner. The center is seen as a chance to promote and educate through various platforms all focused on the entire local area, not just the Thousand Islands region. “It’s the first chance to connect with visitors,” said DeYoung, especially the thousands of Canadians who make their way south on a daily basis.

    Catering to those visitors was one of many reasons why Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gave the word last November that the town of Orleans would house one of several new welcome centers to be constructed throughout New York.  Eleven total regional promotional bases have either opened or are planned to do so. In fact, you might have already stopped in at one of the recently christened sites downstate in Long Island or New York City. There will also be centers out in the western portion of New York and down in the Southern Tier.

     Much like those others, The North Country Welcome Center will also put a heavy emphasis on the bells and whistles designed to assist any and all travelers. You name it and the center will likely have it. DeYoung calls them “creature comforts,” certain higher-end features like upgraded eating options, including various vendors involved in the “Taste of NY” promotion.  This means someone fresh in from Canada, or elsewhere, could take a bite of a Lewis County delicacy for example. Further, to accommodate both parents and children alike, there will be a playground for the kids to burn off some excess energy. 

    The new structure will also have motorcycles covered, literally. Because when the weather turns and the rains fall—which has been known to happen from time to time along the river—officials installed a shed to allow bikers and bicyclists to take shelter under during the seasonal summer storms that blow through.

     Another offering that might end up being a favorite for both civilians and the staff of the Welcome Center could be the larger washrooms. DeYoung said the restrooms are designed to hold more people at one time. That’s important for anyone traveling with a group on a tour bus. And just the same, it’s important to anyone who works at the center when a tour bus makes a pit stop. Those “creature comforts” DeYoung spoke of will be in play for everyone, including staff.

                Everything will have to wait for now, because the entire project won’t be “substantially complete” until some point in October, according to DeYoung. Fittingly enough, though, the center is scheduled to be opening its doors in the calendar year 2018, the same time the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority will be celebrating its 80th year of operation. And if you weren’t aware of that historic birthday, the North Country Welcome Center will soon be ready to let you know all about it.