Introduction

In setting forth their vision for the Adirondack Park in 1873, the members of the State Park Commission made clear that the “creation of an expensive and exclusive park for mere purposes of recreation” was not what they had in mind. Instead, the leading voices of the Commission -- Verplanck Colvin, Franklin B. Hough and William Almon Wheeler -- envisioned a Park made up of both public and private lands, where healthy forests, responsible forest management and economically sustainable communities would co-exist.

Nearly a century later, New York’s Legislature affirmed its support for environmental and economic sustainability. In adopting the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan in 1972 and the Adirondack Land Use and Development Plan in 1973, the Legislature was attempting to fulfill the stated purpose of the Adirondack Park Agency Act for “sensibly balanced apportionment of land to each.” At that time, the apportionment of land in the Park was approximately 60% privately owned and 40% owned by New York State.

Today, the capability of developing nearly one-third of those private lands has largely been removed. This raises questions about what constitutes a “sensibly balanced apportionment” of land.

The Adirondack Park Regional Assessment (APRA) 2014 provides trend analyses in four areas of research: Land Ownership, Demography, School Enrollment and Emergency Services. The Assessment updates data initially presented in the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project report of 2009. APRA 2014 focuses on data sets where significant change has occurred and/or where understanding of the data has improved. It moves beyond the “snapshot in time” approach taken in the 2009 report with a goal of identifying and understanding the trends that are emerging.

Among the key findings of APRA 2014:

  • At this time more than 58% of the Park is restricted from further development including lands owned “in-fee” by the State (45%) or subject to public conservation easement (13%). These are the greatest percentages of each since the Park’s creation.
  • More than 62% of the land in the Park is under some form of State-authorized resource management (forever-wild Forest Preserve, conservation easement or real property tax incentive for forest management).
  • The population of the Park continues to age rapidly and decline in number at an accelerating pace. In the decade beyond 2020, it is projected the Park will be losing more than 900 people per year.
  • In the 12-county 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. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of students living inside the Park declined by an average of 422 per year -- an amount greater than the average size school district located wholly within the Park.
  • As Adirondack communities age and have a greater need for emergency services, Adirondack volunteer fire departments and rescue squads have fewer, able-bodied volunteers available to handle the increasing numbers of emergency calls.

Each of these findings and many others are presented in greater detail in the sections that follow. The intent of APRA 2014 is to bring fact-based analyses into the 140-year discussion of environmental and economic sustainability in the Park.

Have we honored the vision of Colvin, Hough and Wheeler?