There’s a reason why historian and part-time Long Lake resident Phil Terrie called his history of the Adirondacks “Contested Terrain.”
For a couple of centuries now, people have seen the Adirondacks through very different lenses: as a storehouse of rich natural resources, as a free land far from the hassles of civilization and government, and as a glorious nature preserve.
That divide persists, despite good faith efforts by groups like the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance to seek out areas of unity and collaboration.
At this week’s Alliance meeting in Long Lake, there was general agreement that the Park faces some dire threats.
The recession is hurting retail businesses, causing government job lay-offs, and hindering New York state’s ability to manage public lands effectively.
But different factions see the underlying dangers behind these trends very differently.
In his comments, Tupper Lake businessman Jim LaValley — whose non-profit ARISE group helped reopen Big Tupper Ski Area last winter — laid a big chunk of the blame on government over-regulation and bureaucracy.
He referenced last year’s widely-discussed APRAP report, which suggested that communities in the Park face a dire future. Summing up the mood of local business owners, LaValley said, “They’re scared.”
But others, including ANCA’s Kate Fish, pointed to evidence that the Park itself — with its open space and regulated development — is an asset that can help attract visitors, second home-owners, and businesses.
After listening to all the conversation and debate, I came away from the Common Ground meeting with three basic questions swirling around in my head.
First, it seems long overdue to come up with a shared vision for what the Park of the future should look like — not a vision generated in Albany, but one created by in-Park groups like the Alliance.
Ideally, what should our year-round population be? We’re currently at around 130,000. Should the goal be to hold steady, to grow a little — what?
Meanwhile, should we expect all the tiny far-flung hamlets to continue to survive and thrive, or should we begin moving toward a hub-system where grocery stores, school districts, and government services are concentrated in core towns?
Also key to this vision, obviously, is how much public land should be part of the mix. Do we have enough now? Too much?
And what role will Albany play in the future — and how much of the Park’s operations will need to be taken over by non-profits, businesses and local governments?
These are big, thorny questions, but perhaps it’s time to begin addressing them head-on and creating a sketch of what future success might look like.
Second, and a bit more concretely, I think it’s time to reassess what the second-home boom means (and should mean in the future) to the Adirondack economy.
Over the last couple of decades we’ve seen a remarkable capitalization of our towns and hamlets, with outside investment pouring in at the rate of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
In pure business terms, that’s a remarkable success. Because of the beauty of our Park and its communities, outsiders have decided to invest billions of dollars here.
But in many areas of the Adirondacks, we have failed to translate that investment into more steady jobs and a more robust retail economy.
In Long Lake, where the Alliance meeting was held, new mansions go up every year, but school enrollment is dwindling fast and the grocery store no longer stays open year-round.
That disconnect is something we need to understand and — if possible — begin to remedy.
Finally, the Common Ground gathering in Long Lake was long on non-profit groups and government leaders and short on businesses.
We have some strong community banks in the Park and some thriving entrepreneurs. We need a heck of a lot more if we hope to survive into the future.
I wonder why we can’t bring more of those voices and thinkers to the table at sessions like this one?
Tags: common ground