Monday, June 15, 2009

Adirondack Park Regional Assesment Conclusions

A long awaited report sponsored by the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages (AATV) that profiles all the 103 municipalities that comprise the Adirondack Park was released on June 3rd. My copy was provided by Fred Monroe (Town of Chester Supervisor, Chair of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, Executive Director for the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, and an Executive Board Member of the Adirondack Association of Towns & Villages).

It’s quite a tome, about 125 pages, that compliments in many ways the 2004 Adirondack Atlas and the 1990 The Adirondack Park in The 21st Centuryreports. Suffice it to say the region has been studied over the last 20 years – probably more carefully than any other in the nation.
According to the the press release which accompanied the report’s release:

The report—the result of a two-year research effort by and for the communities of the park—is intended to provide a data-rich, factual baseline for discussion and planning of park issues at both the local and regional levels. The assessment employs a modular format detailing community life, government operations, land use, infrastructure, emergency services, education and park-wide demographics. A computer disc containing individual community profiles is included. Soon, an “Access” formatted CD will be available offering substantial information on both a community and park-wide basis.

Here are the report’s primary findings. Since the biases are somewhat self-evident, I’ve taken them verbatim from the Executive Summary and added my own commentary in [brackets]:

The Adirondack Park has doubled in size since its creation in 1892, to more than nine thousand square miles. Private lands were first included in the definition of the park in 1912.[About 55 percent of that land is privately owned. The Adirondack Park is the largest National Historic Landmark].

The Adirondack Park represents one-fifth of New York’s land area, and includes less than one percent of the state’s total population. [The vast majority of Adirondack land is uninhabitable. Population density is about 15 per square mile; in contrast, Manhattan has 66,940 people per square mile in about 305 square miles.]

Two-thirds of all state-owned lands in New York State are in the Adirondack Park. [The state has paid full taxes on land the state owns in the park since the 1880s.]

Ninety percent of the Adirondack Forest Preserve is located in just 40 percent of the towns in the Adirondack Park. [About 26 percent of parcels in towns and villages in the park are vacant land, almost twice the figure for the rest of the state].

The Office of Real Property Services lists 76 percent of the Adirondacks as “Wild, Forested, Conservation Lands and Public Parks.” [Public services occupy just .6 percent of Adirondack land use; between 1990 and 2000 about 830 permits were issued a year for new residences on undeveloped land].

Responses from community leaders to the APRAP Community Survey show that while they generally respect DEC & APA staff, they often disagree with the policies guiding these agencies. [A look at the tables on pages 98 and 99 show this to be very misleading. The majority of respondents – a self selected group concerned with APA regulation – were not aware of APA regulations adversely affecting their communities. Only 16 of 57 for instance said that an increase in local involvement in the UMP process was necessary. Also, 32 municipalities reported having an “Adirondack Agency approved local land use program” – only 18 actually have one].

From 1980 to 2006, real property tax as a portion of total revenue has decreased in the average Adirondack Park community. [Yes, but just 3 percent. Also, large land owners like Champion, International Paper, Domtar, and Finch Pruyn have enjoyed 480a tax breaks that reduced their assessments by 80% (that includes state, county and school taxes).]

Individuals with mailing addresses outside the park own about 40 percent of the parcels listed as residential which constitute half of the total residential property value. [According to the Adirondack Atlas, “almost every private lakeshore is now continuously developed”].

Government sector jobs account for more than 30 percent of all employment in Hamilton, Essex, Lewis and Washington counties. In 2007, an estimated 44 percent of employees worked in the public sector in Franklin County. These jobs do not include employment in public education. [Total earnings for government jobs between 1969 and 1994 have nearly doubled, even after adjusting for inflation – these jobs have replaced poorer paying and more difficult and dangerous jobs in industries like mining and logging.]

One of every 26 people counted as living in the Adirondack Park resides in a correctional facility. [In 1975 there were two prisons with under 6,000 inmates in Northern New York. Between 1975 and 2000 New York built 21 new prisons – about one every 14 months – not for increased crime, but to house the convicted longer (second offender laws and the Rockefeller drug laws primarily).]

There are more than 5,000 miles of public roads in the park, half of which are maintained by the towns and villages. State and county highways make up the remainder in roughly equal amounts. Nine New York State Scenic Byways traverse the park. [Tourists using those roads spent over $1.5 billion in 2003 with a local economic impact of almost $150 million (in local government revenues). An estimated 35,000 jobs are supported by both direct and indirect tourist dollars across northern New York, with a resultant $662 million in wages and income earned by business owners in 2003.]

Only 7 park communities have complete cell phone coverage, while the remainder have limited or no service at all. [The cell phone coverage map included in the report shows that major areas of settlement and major thoroughfares are all well covered by cell phone service. According to the APA’s 2008 Annual Report “To date the Agency has approved nearly 90 individual permits and permit amendments within the Adirondack Park for cellular facilities, without issuing a single denial.”]

Park residents average just under 43 years of age, older than any state for median age. By 2020, only the west coast of Florida will exceed the Adirondacks as the oldest region in America. [This reflects lower birth rates and longer lives of baby boomers nationally (those born 1945 to 1964), but more importantly better educational opportunities for Adirondackers. The Census Bureau reports that from 1990 to 2000 the 65-and-over population actually increased at a slower rate than the overall population for the first time in the history of the census. Also, students seeking higher educations must leave the region as there is only one four-year school in the park, and that one is specialized in hotel and natural resource management.]

In the park, K-12 students represent 13.5 percent of the population, as compared to 18 percent nationally. [This is a reflection of nothing more than overall population rates].

School enrollments in the park have decreased by 329 students annually throughout the current decade, which is equivalent to the loss of one average size Adirondack school district every 19 months. [This is misleading. Obviously, the “average size Adirondack school district” is quite small. The student teacher ratio fell from 20:1 in 1970 to 10:1 in 2007. About 70 percent of students go to two or four year colleges, a number that is pretty high considering the higher rates of poverty in rural areas generally.]

The Saranac Lake School District (1,536 students) covers an area nearly the size of Suffolk County (69 districts and 254,629 students). [A bit of a fluke – many districts could be consolidated – North Warren, Minerva, Warrensburg, and North Creek come to mind.]

From 1970 to 2007, the number of teachers in Adirondack school districts increased by 34 percent, while the student population dropped by 31 percent. [According to the School Enrollment History table on page 107 the 1970 to 2007 change was -22.2 percent, not 34 percent. The greatest change occurred between 1970 and 1990 as the children of baby boomers left school (-29 percent). Between 1990 and 2000 enrollment increased by 11 percent. According to the report’s methodology, the enrollment decreased just 4 percent from 2000 to 2007 – probably a result of tougher economic times and decreasing birthrates overall.]

Printed copies of the complete report and computer disc of all individual municipal profiles have been distributed to Adirondack town, village and legislative leaders. The report’s Executive Summary is accessible on-line at the AATV website at www.aatvny.org, where additional report copies and related CD materials also can be requested.

 

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John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




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