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Save Adirondack Communities or Create Regional Centers?

August 2, 2012 - Ernest Hohmeyer
Is it time to start saying: “Some of our Adirondack communities are not dying, they are dead”?

Some of us hate history because well, that happened THEN, and this is NOW, and how am I am going to explain that in my in-the-moment tweet?

A Divided Land?

When you think of some of the world’s troubles, how much of it stems from imperial powers conquering and dividing up their lands? They often drew boundaries with little regard for historical societies and religions.

Do we really know why the Blue Line was placed where it is – and why it was moved? Does it still make sense today?

If so why are we still a “conquered land” divided among several tourism, economic, transportation, and environmental conservation regions?

Is it because we are seen as a regulatory region but not really viewed as a special sense of “place”?

A great deal of credit should be given to the Common Ground Alliance and the efforts of Dave Mason and Jim Herman to develop an economic consensus for the Park even if the planning scenario of “Sustainable Life” was a bit pre-ordained.

After all, who would pick the other scenarios where in the “Wild Park” for example, “humans are visitors, at best infrequent…” Or, advocating an “Adirondack brand” that promotes a “newer, larger Disneyesque theme park”? Even those of us in the tourism industry would not have picked those.

Efforts such as these have been tried in the past with equal fanfare. It is at the point where the verbiage stops and the actual projects start where consensus usually starts to fall apart.

But before we talk about “sustainable living” and “smart growth” should we talk about perhaps more fundamental issues?

Do We Have a Park?

Can we truly create a “sustainable environment” when there is no real Park? Should we develop an economic development policy that tries to save the village and town boundaries or take a new look at “community clusters” that is more appropriate to today’s economy?

Do we need, and can we save, all of the 100 plus towns in the Park, or do we need to focus our scarce resources?

Many of our Adirondack communities are lacking basic services such as grocery stores. The North Country Economic Council bemoans the fact that our communities are in dire need of lodging facilities. Our schools are shrinking and closing. I was struck in my travels through the Adirondacks several weeks ago by not one but multiple billboards asking for volunteers for emergency services.

Can we truly attract companies looking for a workforce when the town’s population is less than 500 and old?

We need more than trees and water to attract folks whether they are home-based or employers. Everyone wants to be safe today and they want basic services from a local hospital to a movie theater. Much of that does not exist in many of our individual communities anymore.

Will all the smart growth, loan monies and consensus on “sustainable life” be able to reverse this Park-wide cancer?

What is “Community”?

We can’t even agree that this place is special enough to be managed and operate as a normal “Park.” We are not asking for anything unique here – just to be a true “Park” that is recognized and managed as a special human and natural habitat. Besides our lakes, we have a special history, architecture and way of life that also needs to be protected and promoted as a single habitat.

Are we so busy achieving “consensus” we dare not ask some of these fundamental questions?

In business and in our communities we are recognizing we cannot be everything. We have to pick niches and may need to advocate what we are not.

An Adirondack Doctrine

Is it possible to start with some basic, fundamental declarations “the Adirondack Doctrine”?

1. We the people recognize there is no “Park.” 2. To create a “Park” there needs to be dedicated tourism, economic, transportation, environmental conservation effort for the Park and by the Park. 3. That all of these organizations to manage the Park are created equal.

Further, does more of a regional approach make more sense than from an individual community perspective?

As we look to revive the “Park” with scarce resources, should we try to revive all our communities or to emphasize the creation of regional economic centers?

It pains me to say my own neck of the woods, Lake Clear, Onchiota, Gabriel’s which were once thriving economic centers, many with their own downtown's, may never re-capture that economic glory. Would we be better off working together to make Saranac, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake a regional economic center? The spin-off of additional people locating here would help our little “bedroom communities.”

A Tri-Lakes Economic Center?

Does it make sense to create for example, a Tri-lakes economic development effort? Could we use the marketing name of Lake Placid which has little room for industrial growth to help spur economic development on Saranac Lake and Tupper?

For example, in this regional approach:

1. Should the corridor between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid or least to Ray Brook, become more of a commercial zone?

2. Could we look at more regional approaches to planning where we could trade building rights among our villages and towns to spur economic development in more appropriate places?

A Regional Community

From an Adirondack Park perspective, we may need to focus more on regions than on communities. In our effort to save everyone we may save no one.

And the environmental community needs to recognize this too. As our basic amenities go away, the strain of over usage in certain areas like the High Peaks will continue to worsen while other natural areas of the Park become abandoned.

Before talking about “smart growth” and “sustainable life” we may need to agree on first creating a true Park and that our efforts focus on regional economic centers.

This may take changing historical local and APA boundaries. For example, is it possible to trade building rights or density not from the same property owner but between different private and public lands to make appropriate development happen to create these regional economic centers?

More importantly it may require a change of perspective of what is a “sustainable community” in the future to one of a more regional definition.

Perhaps that will be a real test if indeed we have achieved consensus which may need to begin with the creation of a true "sense of place" we call a Park.


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