Nearly a year ago I posted an informal poll here at the Almanack in order to measure which issues facing the Adirondack Park were considered most important to readers. At the time my purpose was to prove my suspicion that human diversity, the issue I considered most critical to the future of the region, was not on the collective radar. The poll results supported my contention and started a conversation that has grown into multiple initiatives. I couldn’t be happier about that. But now I want to return to the poll for a different purpose.
The poll has remained active and a few more people have taken it, breaking a couple of ties. Here are the current results:
|Weighted Score /10
|Land Use Law, Policy and Practice
|State Agencies, Polices and Regulations
|The Regional Education System
|Scientific and Technological Advancement
|The Regional Health Care System
|Socioeconomic/Racial Population Diversity
As stark as the divide is between the other issues and diversity at the bottom of the rankings, the divide between the other issues and land use and policy at the top of the rankings is nearly as great – both are more than half a point. To anyone who knows the Adirondacks the fact that land use was number one by a wide margin is no surprise.
Why then aren’t we talking about it more?
We are in a time of great changes in land use and policy in the Adirondacks. The State is in the middle of the largest acquisition of land in more than a century. Just one part of that acquisition, the Essex Chain, has spurred a contentious dispute as old as the Forest Preserve itself: how to balance protection with recreational use. Now, motivated in part by planning for the Essex Chain, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) has elected to open the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP) to review for the first time in nearly two decades. The New York State Open Space Conservation Plan is under public review at the same time. Meanwhile major private developments, most notably the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake and the expansion of NYCO’s mining operations, have led to a deeper examination of the APA, how it functions and how to strengthen it. The NYCO development even led to a controversial amendment to Article XIV of the New York State Constitution, the legendary Forever Wild Article. If ever there was a time to pay attention to land use law, policy and practice – the very issue Almanack readers voted number one in importance – now is it.
Yet consider some other rankings. In the last two months the Almanack has published thirty articles directly related to land use policy in the park (and many more indirectly related). There have been nine articles specifically about the opening of the SLMP, which is a huge matter for the future of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. But a single post on the Adirondack railroad corridor (about which there have been four articles) had more reader comments than all of the SLMP articles combined. All told readers have been commenting on the railroad corridor at four times the rate that they have been commenting on the SLMP.
You may consider any measurement of Almanack reader comments to be poor evidence of a trend (and to an extent you’d be right). But the trend is common across the domain of public discourse. The same kind of interest or lack thereof is evident at all the major media sites in the region. Public hearings on the rail corridor have been packed. By contrast the recent public hearing on the Open Space Plan had five people in attendance.
I don’t mean to pick on the railroad dispute. I myself have devoted a lot of ink to it and I believe it is very important to the economy of the communities through which it passes. But quite frankly it does not have the importance of the SLMP or the APA’s Land Use and Development Plan, which have at their base the very form of the entire park. So where is the passion?
I have my own ideas about the lack of engagement and they trouble me. I fear for the staying power our culture has over issues that are deeper and more difficult, that are not as sexy or dramatic, that play out over the long haul more than the short haul.
The Forest Preserve and the wilderness it contains is the raison d’etre for all matters Adirondack and a long-haul issue if ever there was one. At this crucial time in the story of the Park’s land preservation we need to summon the will power to give it our fullest attention even if its direct impact, in a region this size, is not as visceral as some other issues. We need to be involved.