Regional Development

Analysis: Blue Line population declining

By: By KIM SMITH DEDAM

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Adirondack school enrollment is still in decline, state-owned land holdings have increased, and the Adirondack Park population is shrinking.

An update to the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment shows those trends in three data sets that were captured in the initial report five years ago. 

STUDY REVISITED

The report’s primary research author, Brad Dake of Arietta, said they revisited specific areas of the 2008 study.

“We did an extensive analysis of economic factors and employment data in the first report. Those numbers were not changed. Land use did not change much. 

“The next area we looked at was population. In five years, with changing data, we believe we have identified a trend.” Adirondack Park population has decreased 1.3 percent, while the statewide population has growth slightly.

“Then we looked at schools,” Dake said. “I went to every school district last June and counted students inside the Adirondack Park. And clearly, the further you go into the park, the more kids you lose. We are losing more school enrollment inside the park than out.”

The new report, titled “Seeking Balance,” suggests that in the 12-county interior Adirondack region the “number of public-school students who live inside the park is declining at twice the rate of students who live outside the park.” 

Working directly from school data, the assessment says that over 10 years — from 2003 to 2013 — 422 fewer students attended Adirondack schools.

 LAND PROTECTION

The assessment reports this number against another statistically significant change: “More than 62 percent of the land in the park is under some form of state-authorized resource management.”

And while the data does not draw any formal conclusion, Dake, in fact, believes that the public-to-private land-holdings ratio won’t stabilize until there is 67 percent state land ownership inside the Blue Line.

“About 3 out 5 acres in the park are protected now, either in easement or in fee,” Dake told the Press-Republican on Tuesday.

“It is my expectation that it will settle at 2 out of 3 acres in the park being protected. That is a perfectly manageable and acceptable level of public protection.

“The next step would be: Is there a process by which public- and private-sector lands can be exchanged in order to enhance Hamlet areas and to allow the interconnection of Wilderness areas?”

MORE INFO NEEDED

Critics say the analysis doesn’t go far enough. 

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said in a news release that he thought the project was developed with public money.

But the Regional Assessment update was privately funded by Dake, who worked with a volunteer steering committee and paid environmental planners at the LA Group for assistance.

In all, the assessment cost about $150,000 to produce.

CONCLUSION DISPUTED

Nonetheless, Bauer claims it is missing some facts.

“Why did they not include employment data? Why did they not include development data? They only looked at state land purchase, emergency services and school population,” he told the Press-Republican.

“They’re making an inference these things are related, and they’re not.

“The loss in population in the park and drop in school-district enrollment is about young families leaving the park because of employment.”

JOBS DATA

Dake agrees there is a need for good, specific Adirondack Park jobs data to inform land-use policy there.

“If I had a way of finding this information, I would get it,” he said. “I would have to know, first of all, is the data there?”

It becomes especially difficult to calculate business growth and decline in towns that straddle the Adirondack Park boundary, where land use applies differently to one part of town than another, he said.

 FINDING BALANCE

Park assessment authors say decline in school enrollment does, however, bring into question Adirondack conservation goals.

Chestertown Town Supervisor Fred Monroe, who was on the Regional Assessment Steering Committee, said the numbers serve as a benchmark that can be monitored over time.

“I don’t think you can take any forested area and lock up half the land resource and not think you’re going to impact the economy.

“Back when the Adirondack Park Agency Act was created, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller talked about balance. Then, the park was 60 percent private land holdings and 40 percent state land. Now it’s just about reversed. If it was sensibly balanced then, what is it now?

“We are saying, let’s get some facts out there that are credible. We believe these are the facts. It’s better to have a debate about the facts rather than trying to debate what the facts are,” Monroe said.

SUSTAINABILITY

The balance sits in some form of sustainability, Bauer said.

“However you approach planning, balance is a different thing in Keene than it is in Lake George. The key is to maintain the natural resource base in the park that will keep it as a wild landscape, because we don’t have many wild landscapes in this country.

“We could have more year-round residents. We could have more buildings in the park. We could have more preserved land in the park,” Bauer said.

“But it is diversify the population or shrink. We need to diversify, or we’re going to shrink.”

Protect the Adirondacks intends to publish a report on Adirondack Park growth this fall.

 INVESTMENT FOR FUTURE

Monroe said millions of dollars in recent investments through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council may change the dynamic.

Priority projects look to improve critical tourism infrastructure, such as lodging and restaurants, and to improve technology and education resources.

“I don’t think we have seen the results of that yet,” Monroe said. “Hopefully if we do this assessment again in five years, it will show some improvement.”

Email Kim Smith Dedam:kdedam@pressrepublican.com

DATA RESOURCES

The Adirondack Park Regional Assessment is online at: apra2014.com.

The numbers have been crunched in several ways.

The Adirondack Park Agency has extensive Geographic Information System data mapping correlated to census figures. APA data shows a decrease in Adirondack Park population of 1.3 percent between 2000 and 2010, while New York's population increased 2.1 percent.

APA maps also compare the data in the park to U.S. population growth by county.

But there are no "jobs" data sets blended into APA numbers.

Some county industrial development agencies have raw numbers, though not separated into individual towns that would impact specific school districts.

Essex County IDA reports that, through 2011, the largest income-generating industry was materials processing, with 3,100 jobs generating $167.1 million in wages. Tourism, with 7,800 jobs, generated $163.4 million in total wages.

Sources: http://apa.ny.gov/gis/_assets/AdirondackParkPopulationTrends2010.pdf http://apa.ny.gov/gis/index.html http://www.essexcountyida.com/regional/documents/CopyofCopyofStateregionalcluster.pdf http://censtats.census.gov/cgi-bin/cbpnaic/cbpcomp.pl

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