I gave a talk last night at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, one of the most popular destinations in Hamilton County.
The conversation circled around the question of what the “next” Adirondack Park will look like, in an era when the pipeline of dollars from Albany is contracting and the environmental debate is shifting.
The audience had a lot of great questions, and a lot of them focused on the basic question of survivability: Can a place like Hamilton County continue to exist in some recognizable form?
First a little context: Hamilton County is a massive, wild beautiful place, with more than 1,800 square miles of terrain.
Folded within those mountain and river valleys — as of the 2007 census estimate– were just over 5,000 year-round residents. The 2010 survey now underway may find that the population has dropped below that 5,000 threshold.
It’s astonishing really. A region as big as some European countries, with roughly the population of Saranac Lake.
Communities like Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake and Indian Lake have struggled, losing their year-round grocery stores and seeing an erosion of their year-round population.
Schools have closed.
Currently, the main cash economy in these communities is local government: local residents tax the state forest preserve, and second homeowners, and translate those dollars into public-sector jobs.
That formula never resulted in much growth. And as subsidies from Albany shrink, the future is even more cloudy.
Going forward, the challenges as I see them are three-fold:
1. These are among the most remote communities in the Northeast, meaning it’s difficult to attract permanent year-round businesses and residents.
2. The hamlets of Hamilton County are so small that they lack many of the amenities (a year-round nightlife, ready access to broadband internet access, shopping options, etc.) that many Americans want.
3. The impact of the forest preserve and shrinking stewardship dollars for public land clearly has an impact on the county’s economic future.
So what do you think? What can the Adirondack Park’s most remote “micro” communities do to reinvent themselves and survive?
And should the state and Federal governments contribute resources to trying to spark a renaissance there — or are those increasingly scarce development dollars better spent elsewhere?