In the many discussions concerning the present and future of the Adirondacks, one of the foundational assumptions is that the region is being held back by the controversial Adirondack Park Agency (APA). An analysis of population data shows something quite different: the Park’s population is growing at a significantly faster rate than the rest of New York since the creation of the APA.
At the suggestion of The Post-Star‘s Will Doolittle, a harsh critic of the APA, I analyzed population data from the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages (AATV)*, whose most recent numbers are from 2006. Mr. Doolittle also criticized previous analyses that he considered distorted by relatively populous towns like Queensbury and Plattsburgh that had land both inside and outside the Park, so I looked at numbers of municipalities that were entirely inside the Blue Line. I compared those figures to 1970 numbers, the last census before the establishment of the APA.
*-see below for links and raw numbers
From 1970-2006, the population of towns and villages entirely inside the Blue Line increased by 14.37 percent.
From 1970-2010, the population of New York state as a whole increased by only 5.19 percent.
Of the 65 distinct municipalities** entirely inside the Park, 52 of them increased in population from 1970-2006 (and of the 13 that declined, 4 did so by 20 people or fewer).
(** villages that are situated inside towns are not included in any of this analysis)
Issues facing the Adirondacks are too often discussed in a vacuum, devoid of any broader context. Most of rural America is struggling; just take a look at the University of Kentucky’s excellent Rural Blog. Rural New York is no different. Population wise, the North Country is doing better than much of the rest of rural upstate New York.
According to Census data published in the Glens Falls Chronicle, 17 New York counties that lost population from 2000 to 2010. All were upstate. Most were rural. 16 of them were in western, central and southern New York, where there is no APA to blame.
Every single county with a significant amount of land inside the Blue Line gained population in the last decade, except Hamilton. One of those ‘gainers’ was Essex County, with a growth rate similar to that of suburban Westchester and Nassau Counties. Essex is located entirely inside the Park.
If the APA is the main culprit behind the Park’s woes, as is often claimed, why are communities inside the Park adding population when other parts of rural New York without the APA are shrinking? If the APA is shackling the region with a disadvantage that other areas don’t have, why are even towns entirely inside the Park growing at a rate almost three times faster than the state as a whole?
In truth, the Adirondacks are facing the same challenges as rural areas in the rest of New York. And rural New York is facing the same difficulties as the rest of rural America, such as lack of infrastructure, educational opportunities and broadband.
If anything, the data bolsters the claim that conservation efforts help the economic and population growth of the region. The Adirondacks have one big advantage over those other, more struggling regions of rural New York, where population is declining: a prominent outdoor tourism industry.
All this suggests that conservation and economic growth are symbiotic, not oppositional. It also suggests that while not perfect, officials have struck a pretty reasonable balance overall that has given the Park a benefit that the rest of rural New Yorkers does not have.
People are rendering their definitive verdict on the viability of the unique Adirondacks’ model not with their pen or keyboards, not with ideology or ‘gut feelings’. They are doing with their mortgage and rent checks.
Population of municipalities entirely inside the Blue Line
Source: AATV – “Secondary Data Files – Population” (Note: AATV confirmed that data for towns included population of villages contained therein.)
Population of NYS
1970: 18,421,266 (Source: US Census via Wikipedia)
2010: 19,378,102 (Source: US Census Bureau)