Monday, March 30, 2009

Adirondackers Getting Old Fast

A certain Almanack editor turned 43 over the weekend, reaching the average age of an Adirondacker. But in this respect, the Adirondacks is anything but average.

Elsewhere in New York State and most other parts of the country the average age is more like 31 or 35, says Brad Dake, coordinator of a new comprehensive statistical study of the Adirondack Park. It’s no surprise to people living here that young people often leave to find work. But what surprised Dake is the number of older people who have moved to the park.

“This inmigration is causing a rapid aging of the population. We could almost find ourselves at the level of western Florida in two decades,” Dake says. Almost every Adirondack community has a handful of new-ish residents in their 40s, 50s and 60s who have made their money elsewhere and decided to move here for a lifestyle change, he says. Collectively they form a demographic wave. Three decades ago the average age in the Adirondacks was 31. “The Adirondack age is growing at a pace of four years per decade, which is astounding. That is cause for at least curiosity, if not alarm,” Dake says.

This nugget of information is one of many to come from the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project, a two-year study of infrastructure, education, land use, geography, demographics and government services in every town in the Adirondack Park.

The study originated with the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages (AATV), which will publish a final report of about 70 findings on its Web site around April 15. Other participants include the Adirondack North Country Association and the LA Group, a Saratoga-based consulting firm. Dake, who is chairman of the Arietta planning board, took an interest in the project and helped obtain a $93,000 grant from the Department of State. AATV provided $20,000. The partners previewed their findings at a meeting of local government officials in Lake Placid last week.

Some other numbers:

— 40 percent of private land parcels are owned by people or companies in zip codes outside the park
— 76 percent of land inside the Blue Line is protected from development
— After subtracting steep slopes, wetlands and unsuitable soils, 15 percent of the park remains for building (much of it already built)
— There has been a 31 percent drop in school enrollment over 30 years
— There has been a 40 percent increase in the number of teachers
— 44 percent of Franklin County workers are employed by government
— One out of 26 park residents lives in a correctional facility (5,125 out of 132,000)

Dake says the partners have tried to avoid interpreting the data or making recommendations so that people don’t think the numbers are twisted to suit an agenda. “If we’re going to be talking about what the park already is, we’ve got to start talking in terms that everybody understands,” he says.

Map from Adirondack Park Agency cart room.

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Mary Thill

Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.




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