Adirondack Park Trends Update, Debated
An aging, declining population is undermining the fabric of life in the Adirondacks, a new report’s sponsor says.
However, critics say the study is intended to undermine environmental regulations by tying demographic trends to state forest preserve protection policies.
Findings are in the 34-page Adirondack Park Regional Assessment 2014, the follow-up to an original report done five years ago. Brad Dake, who personally funded the $125,000 update, compared the Adirondacks to a giant quilt comprised of hundreds of municipalities, school districts and agencies such as fire districts and rescue squads.
“Each time a little patch of the quilt falls out, the fabric of the quilt changes,” said Dake, former planning board chairman in Arietta, Hamilton County. “The solutions that really need to be put in place require a great deal of consideration and compromise, which is not very prevalent in the park.”
Dake is also a board member of Stewart Shops, started by his grandfather and great uncle, a firm whose 330 convenience stores do more than $1.5 billion in sales annually. Many pro-business people within the six-million-acre Adirondack Park believe economic development has been stifled by overly restrictive environmental policies.
Others say the region is a rare ecological jewel with features found nowhere else on the planet that deserve protecting, especially in the densely-populated Northeast, which already has more than its share of air and water quality problems.
The study, prepared by the Saratoga Springs-based LA Group, is entitled, “The Adirondack Park: Seeking Balance.”
But Peter Bauer, Protect the Adirondacks executive director, said, “The report’s underlying theme is that environmental protections are hurting the park, which is nonsense. They cherry-pick data to support that thesis. This report is meant to be ammunition for the ‘Blame the Park’ lobby.”
Trends in the Adirondacks are common throughout the U.S., he said. Many rural white areas are seeing population declines, while metropolitan centers keep growing. From 2005-10, births of minorities exceeded births of non-Hispanic whites for the first time ever, Bauer said.
He said the report doesn’t consider the Adirondacks in this larger context and he questioned why it primarily deals with demographics and forest preserve policies, when the original study included many other topics such as infrastructure within the six-million-acre Adirondack Park.
But Dake defended the document, saying it is strictly an encyclopedic-type presentation of facts, not meant to draw conclusions or sway policy decisions. “That’s not our intent,” he said. “Our intent is simply to do numbers.”
Population, school enrollment and land ownership were chosen, he said, because those three areas showed the most change since the first study was done five years ago. From 2002 to 2013, Lake George school enrollment went from 1,100 to 908, a drop of 192 students; while Bolton went from 287 to 183.
Dake declined comment about his personal interpretation of the findings, but said he plans to make his feelings public in the next several weeks. “I’m not sure we need 2.5 million acres of old-age forest,” he said. “The forest is old and the people in the park are old. That’s sort of the phenomenon of people not trying to fix it.”
The report also covers trends in emergency services, pointing out that volunteer fire departments and rescue squads throughout the country are having difficulty recruiting members because of time constraints and economic pressures. “In the Adirondack Park these problems are compounded by rapid aging and declining population,” the report says.
Dake said Thurman’s rescue squad recently ceased operations.
Fire departments and rescue squads are also faced with increased requirements. The report quotes Lake George Emergency Squad Chief Chris Hawley, who said, “When I began it was about dedicated volunteers with minimal training doing their best to make a bad situation better. Today we are performing on-scene procedures that my mentors never experienced, even in an emergency room.”