Saturday, September 12, 2020

Commentary: Attracting young people to the region

By Connor Smith, 2020 ANCA Graduate Fellow
My introduction to the Adirondack Park was made through a summer camp in 2016 when a friend convinced me to work in Saranac Lake. As a resident of the West Coast, I was excited for an opportunity to explore the East as I knew nothing about the area. Somewhere along the way, I must have caught the Adirondack bug, because four years later I am back in the area.

I’ve been working this summer as a Graduate Fellow at ANCA, supporting the work of  the Center for Businesses of Transition. As I ponder what my future will look like upon the completion of my fellowship, moving to the North Country is an option I am considering. I do have reservations about transitioning to full time life inside the Blue Line. Here are some of the questions I ask myself:

Does the pace of life fit my own? 

I am currently a graduate student at Cornell University studying City and Regional Planning. In my work, I must create workable spaces for society, by using human habits as my guide to make efficient systems. Social patterns in non-rural communities often have a heightened emphasis on efficiency and instant gratification.

Despite growing up in a rural area, instant gratification has become part of my life. Gone are the days of my childhood waiting for dial-up internet to load a picture or short video;now I cringe when Netflix pauses to buffer. Even in a small city like Ithaca I can take out my phone and order a burrito any time of day and have it delivered.

Moving to the Adirondack Park has been a reminder that I, like many Americans, expect and live off of instant gratification. While I love the slow pace of quaint towns nestled in the mountains, I am coming to terms with what it would be like to live here long term. Do my habits fit into the rhythm of this place and space?

Will I be able to be in a community with a diverse group of individuals? 

One thing that took me off guard when I first entered the Adirondacks was its lack of diversity —  so much so that I wanted to dig deeper into some data.

The Adirondacks in fact is one of the least diverse places in America. Its homogenous population is vastly white and between the ages of 45-70. When compared to a place like Colorado, it is clear the lack of diversity may be a driver of population decline and a lack of interest from young professionals.

Colorado is the eighth fastest-growing state, and when demographically sorted, communities that identify as white are statistically similar to the Adirondacks. The fastest-growing group in Colorado is the Hispanic community, with 25% of the state identifying as Hispanic and projected to be 33% by 2040.

In contrast, the Adirondacks has a Hispanic population of less than 5%, with Jefferson County leading with 6.9% of individuals identifying as Hispanic. In comparison, Lewis County only has 1.7% of the population identifying as Hispanic.

Headwaters Economics, an independent research firm from Montana, found in a study of Western states that, “Ninety-nine percent of rural western counties have seen growth in minority populations during the past 35 years. In two out of every five rural western counties, population decrease was slowed or reversed because of growth in minority populations. Growing minority populations bring economic vitality, social and cultural diversity, and youth into many otherwise shrinking and aging rural communities.”

As a person looking to start a career and become a member of the community, it is difficult for me to reconcile moving into such a homogeneous place because I believe diverse communities are the foundation of resilient beautiful societies.

Where are all the young people?

The states that have succeeded in growing have done so by attracting diverse groups of young professionals. As a young person in the Adirondacks, it’s safe to say there are not a lot of us. As seen in the graphics from Regional Economic Analysis for the Adirondack North Country, which was published by ANCA and partners in 2019, the North Country age distribution does not reflect that of the rest of America.

The ANCA region has a disproportionately high number of individuals ages 45-70 and a below-average number of 25-40-year olds. By moving to the North Country, I would be sacrificing some of the opportunities to interact with people my age. Not having as many young people in the community may not seem like a big issue. When moving from the university environment where I am surrounded by people my age to a community with below-average numbers of young people, it is a significant shift.


The North Country and Adirondack region do not suffer from a lack of natural beauty or tourism-based economic opportunity. However, one reason for the region’s declining population is the pressure early career professionals feel to sustain a fast-paced lifestyle and stay relevant in a competitive economy.

The Adirondack region does not have to lose its character to urbanization and suburban sprawl to attract and sustain young people to the area, but it does need to address why the population is decreasing. Simply relying on the natural beauty or abundance of hiking trails is not enough to attract young people. While there is no perfect solution, being cognizant of the needs of early career professionals in the region is important.

When considering a move to the Adirondacks, young people should find a community willing to embrace them and work with them and not be met by a community only interested in homogeny and maintaining the status quo. Avoiding individuals who desire a lifestyle different than yourself does not make the community stronger. The character of Adirondacks is not inviting to young people whose fast-paced life is looked down upon and whose desires for convenience are demonized. While you don’t need to start your own YouTube channel or get a Twitter account to maintain an open-minded and a supportive attitude, you can contribute to making the Adirondacks a more welcoming place.

Embracing change is not an easy thing to do. However, the tight knit communities of the Adirondacks are perfect for incubating new ideas and demonstrating the benefits of living in a supportive, diverse and inclusive local community.

Connor Smith holds a bachelor’s degree in International Agricultural Development from Andrews University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. His research interests include agriculture and food systems as well as the social and economic make up of rural communities. While working this summer in the Adirondacks Connor has enjoyed spending time on the lake, hiking mountains, and learning more about the history of the region. 

Editor’s note: This first appeared in ANCA’s “What’s Up North” blog:

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

53 Responses

  1. The only thing about folks young or old coming to the Adirondack Park is that they need to bring with them a RESPECT for the wild country NOTHING left behind. THe only requirement is that. WELCOME.

  2. ADKresident says:

    Yeah, most of us can relate to how you feel when we were your age. As I got older, I have chamged over the years as I have learned to value the laid back, slower paced atmosphere which is what.makes the Adiromdacks unique. After working for ao mamy years in the opposite environment, I have come to appreciate it now all the more. There is a reason many continue to “maintain the status quo”. It has nothing to do wiith lacking to embrace diversity or not being an “inclusive” community. Adirondack residents love their environment BECAUSE it is not fast-paced, and in doing so, that may turn off many, especially young people. I get that. Yet, many of us see the value and uniqueness of wanting to preserve the simplicity of our environment while being relatively plugged into innovative ideas without compromising the integrity of our unique shared love for the peaceful pace of the ADKs. I, for one hope to that way. One day, after decades of your “fast paced” lifestyle you too may come to recognize and cherish the few.places like the can just sit back, breathe and enjoy life without all the extra bells, whistles, tweets and alerts. Some things are.just worth preserving because once it’s gone, it’s gone. Just sayin.

  3. Pete says:

    Instant gratification = walk out your door or maybe drive a few minutes and you can hike, swim, paddle, bike, ski, snowmobile, hunt, fish, enjoy the view,…

    • David says:

      While I appreciate the comments and as a 50+ year old I probably agree with the comments, the article makes very good points that need to be reversed in our region. I don’t think he is saying he wants to get a burrito 24/7 inside the park, but he is saying that he would like to see more people his age and who look more like the rest of the country. This is advice we ignore at our peril as the region’s population shrinks – we won’t be able to strengthen our communities for the long run until more people like this writer choose to stay and live within the Park.

  4. Sharon Barr says:

    Thank you for the perspective of youth and also of someone who appreciates what the North Country has to offer. It should not be hard to have both diversity and maintain the natural beauty many of us move here for.

  5. Marisa Muratori says:

    ‘Instant gratification’ is not a phrase I would have chosen to make your point. Perhaps ‘modern-day convenience’ …but even there I would agree that if the Adirondack lifestyle is not your cup of tea as it is TODAY perhaps it’s an overreach to say it has to change BEFORE you can commit to building a life here. Also, there are plenty of opportunities inside the blue line that have ‘modern -day’ connectivity and would welcome some fresh energy and new ideas. Lake George for instance, my home, is in need of youth and sophistication. It is in need of a new generation who will cherish, understand and work to improve the character of the place and it’s natural landscape while helping to improve and diversify our business and commercial offerings. We don’t need any more opportunists…we need folks who are willing to devote their lifetimes to caring for our community and developing a meaningful small town culture…..and in turn will be rewarded by a great school system and unsurpassed landscape.
    If I sound like I’ve worked on a Comprehensive Plan or two …well ….yeah…

    • Vanessa says:

      Marisa, I don’t think Connor meant “instant gratification” as a personal personality trait that he possesses. The social media era has made instant gratification kind of forced social dynamic more than something people chose to participate in. Someone dropped a facebook post and if you don’t “like” it instantly, your friends think you’re mean, etc. ….this is why some of us, yes even young people, avoid social media like the plague.

      i’ll refer to my comment below in which i pretty much agree with your idea that you should commit to being the change in an area you want to see. still, it’s a big leap for a lot of young people. i was in the region this week, and the internet went down in the place we were staying. and with no cell signal either, that cuts you off pretty effectively.

      no problem for me, i have a book to read, but for some people that’s a jarring experience in 2020. no cell phone, no internet?

      it’s not that we’ve forgotten what this is like due to some personality flaw or whatever… we’ve forgotten what it is to live without these amenities because there are *very few places in the world where you can survive (esp long term) without them.

      • Pete says:

        OK. so some ‘change’ is needed, particularly in the realm of economic and educational opportunities., But the “idea that you should commit to being the change in an area you want to see” has limits. Too often we have the problem of people coming ‘here’ because they don’t like it ‘there’ and then trying to make ‘here’ more like ‘there.’ If it is about bringing more economic opportunity that is fine, and we certainly need to have reliable broadband Internet and things like that, “Diversity” is also fine as long as the diverse people who come are willing to accept the way things are here and not insist on changes to suit them. What we have to be careful is that too much change will destroy what is special about here. That includes a slower pace of life and a close-knit community where you know and trust your neighbors.

        • Vanessa says:

          Ahh the “diverse” people need to accept things the way they are, eh? Does that include violent symbolism of slavery, for example? I’m sure there are an acceptable number of confederate flags that will be just fine. If someone refuted my basic humanity like only twice a day rather than 3 or 4, I’d love to live near them! No changes needed.

          I am also pretty appalled that there is an implication in this comment that “diverse” people coming in will destroy the tight-knit communities. Like you are default expecting not to trust new people because they are culturally or socially different than you. Awesome look. ?

          • ADKresident says:

            Do you need help getting off that high horse? Because we have a hard time hearing you lecture us, being the low-life, ignorant, racist Adirondack residents that we are. Please, come down and enlighten us.

            • Vanessa says:

              I don’t think a phalanx of horses charging down I-87 could convince folks with different value systems to see eye-to-eye.

              If someone’s got a defense for the profusion of confederate flags in the ADK, they should argue that on what they perceive as its merit. If you want to claim that as a part of your “culture,” go ahead and do so. But if you don’t want to claim it, you should explain why so many of your neighbors do, and why they are magically excluded from the “culture” you are describing.

              I see a social media post related to confederate flags in the ADK like once a week. It’s amazing how often it comes up. Maybe you disagree with these folks, but I don’t think anyone can reasonably deny that they’re around.

              Calling me immature and childish when I’m nice, and calling me ignorant when I’m a bit sarcastic – neither of these approaches is an argument.

              • ADKresident says:

                You bark at the wrong trees, assuming much in your preconceived judgements regarding those who reside in Adirondacks. You may have more ears that will actially listen to you if you dropped some that self -righteous attitude you reflect towards those you have no knowledge of how they think or who they really are as people. Making blanket statements regarding those who reside in the ADKs based off of few, reveals your childish thinking. If you broadened your focus and looked at more of what is good, kind and lovely in the ADKS, you may actually see there are many, many beautiful people that live here which far outweighs the bad. (which btw, is everywhere)
                Like the saying goes- “what you focus on, magnifies and multiples”…and before you know it, that’s all you see.
                It may benefit you to adjust and bring some balance to your focus.

  6. Joan Grabe says:

    Very interesting article by Connor Smith who came here for a job which is, of course, is the answer to attracting young people to the Adirondacks. Good jobs with prospects for advancement. I don’t quite see it happening here yet and that is why young people leave. And I would be surprised if Connor stayed in Ithaca at the end of his academic life at Cornell – the bigger world beckons. Breaking down populations by ethnicities is not helpful. We need people with critical skills to move here, people of all ethnicities ! Vibrant communities attract. My daughter graduated from St. Lawrence in 1999 – she, and it looked
    like half the graduating class, were living in San Francisco by July. They reminisce about Canton but they don’t live there. I don’t have an answer but it would be helpful for young people to be able to consistently use their cell phones while they were up here.

    • Matthew Mosher says:

      Exactly. First and foremost, the obstacle is a lack of 21st century jobs. This is the biggest problem facing the region.

  7. Vanessa says:

    Hard co-sign to so much of this, Connor! Thanks for taking the time to write this piece. I have mentioned elsewhere that I am trying to move to the region and agree that the homogeneity and lack of diversity is an issue.

    It isn’t completely uniform, however. Certain parts of the region are changing, and I have been able to connect with people (like ANCA, you guys are great!) who are helping me learn more so that I can create a situation where my family will have a social scene if & when we pull the trigger. It helps that I personally never partied hard and do not find nightlife appealing. I think you’d lose stuff like that most immediately.

    There are trade-offs in every major life decision. Right now I live 10 minutes away from the Boston T system, and can experience a huge variety of culture. I can dive deep into my political organizing, and most people in my neighborhood think the way I do.

    But living in an urban environment is mind-numbingly expensive. I don’t want to be in debt in my 50s, and that’s what it would take to stay here long-term. The suburbs are often worse for homogeneity and lack of diversity than rural America, and I can confidently say that having grown up & languished there way too long.

    Plus, there’s a real satisfaction in a challenge, especially a financially stable one. What if we all just showed up and became the change we wanted to see in the region? ANCA and others are absolutely correct that the region needs new faces and new energy, especially economically speaking. Retirees and near-retirees don’t exactly hold up a resilient economy (truly, no offense meant), and the region will lose its prisons in coming years no matter how loudly people shout “MAGA” into the void.

    And to pre-empt some potential grousing about this idea, that younger energy is needed: believe it or not, many young people value a “slower paced” lifestyle too! Our energy isn’t going to turn your small towns into a 24/7 rave. Rather, it’s going to bring innovation and new ways of seeing the world.

    For a brief example to close: one of the biggest reasons I want to move to the ADK is because the climate crisis will define the lives of everyone my age and younger. Already it’s starting, and we’re entering a time when all decisions will be affected by our changing climate. The ADK has an outsized, vital role in fighting climate change, in a lot of different ways. Imo it’s the responsibility of folks who understand the scale of the crisis to figure out ways to contribute as directly as possible to making necessary changes for all of our futures.

    There won’t be a be a park to protect unless we act. I find it most effective to be directly in the mix of being in a region that you want to protect. Boston will be OK without me, but I flatter myself in thinking perhaps I have a role in protecting the ADK. Kind of presumptuous of me, eh, but the alternative is cynicism and being resigned to see the world burn (literally ??).

  8. Boreas says:

    I am not sure why it is felt the Adirondack Park must appeal to everyone. If I moved to a city and didn’t like the lifestyle, I would either adapt or move. Should I try to change the city to appeal to my values or way of life? There can be NO location that will appeal to everyone. That is why the world is so interesting – unique places! The old adage, “Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” serves a purpose. Would America be better if it was homogeneous with no distinct regions or cultures?? I don’t think so. Would there be any tourism simply for scenery alone? The term “Adirondack” relates to more than a location. It also indicates unique weather, unique terrain, unique bugs, unique mud, unique lifestyle and a unique culture.

    That being said, I do not feel we should be fighting cultural change either. But let it occur naturally. You can’t FORCE cultural change, but you should definitely allow it.

    • ADKresident says:

      Well said, Boreas.
      Diversity in its truest sense is a celebration of differences that makes both people and places unique to itself. There will always be an imbalance of ethnic groups wherever you go on the planet. You are free to choose what is best for your lifestyle. Expecting people to conform to your personal ideals is simply not reality and frankly a tinge self-centerrd. Generally speaking, maturity usually fixes that blindspot. JMO.

      • Vanessa says:

        My dear ADKresident – besides for Connor and myself, almost everyone i’ve read or heard speak on this subject is likely a lot closer to your age than mine. as the article notes, there simply aren’t enough young people interested in the region to comment. (Take for example this 2020 conference:

        are you implying that all of these presumably older folks who agree with Connor, ANCA and the like, are immature or self-centered? perhaps not, but if not, not quite sure what else you’re trying to imply…

        • ADKresident says:

          I am simply referring to ‘idealism’ in itself as being immature and self-centered; nothing more, nothing less. If I did not relay that in my wording correctly, my apologies.

    • Vanessa says:

      Boreas, I hear you and understand this comment. What I believe the article is trying to address is a big, “natural” trend that has been written about here and elsewhere before: the population of the ADK region is shrinking. Young and middle aged people are moving away. This is already changing the region’s economy, tax base and etc a lot.

      It’s not so much that groups concerned re this are trying to attract “anyone,” (though perhaps you and i part ways on the value of a place being attractive to lots of different types of people) – it’s more that the hard social and economic dynamics of the situation don’t look so good long term if the region doesn’t have a tax base in 20-30 years.

      Most people don’t get to choose where they live when they’re younger, due to the career constraints that Connor is talking about. So it’s an even taller order than just attracting people, if the goal is to grow back your economic base – you have to attract them, and make it economically viable for them to be there. This latter bit is what’s stopping me.

  9. Vanessa says:

    One more item to think about, per this article from earlier this week:

    And in particular, this quote: “And for those who are now doing most or all of their work remotely, they have flexibility on where they live. Every real estate agent I spoke with for this story had buyers looking in the North Country because their work was now online.”

    It’s a little early to tell, but COVID-19 may change dynamics related to this issue profoundly, as white-collar jobs go all-online. My 500+ person company just announced that we will remain completely online through June of 2021, at least. (They don’t expect to see a vaccine before then, they told us quite bluntly…)

    I am positive about this trend, because it works for me and will work for other techie-oriented younger people. takes pressure off of other players to provide conditions for your economic stability.

    but even so, it’s such a sudden change that it’s hard to predict what the overall effect will be.

    • ADKresident says:

      As someone who works from my home office in the ADKs since I am not yet retired, I totally agree with the conveniences and advantages that modern technology offers and see great opportunity ahead in that respect as you have stated here. However, I must’ve misread the intent of this article. It sounded to me way more of a criticism of the ADKs from his perspective and a desire to change it in order to conform to the author’s ideals rather than adding practical solutions while preserving the ADK lifestyle and experience.

      • Boreas says:


        That was the way I read it as well. There is a difference between attracting/recruiting diverse people to the area than keeping young residents here to spend their future. If your intent is to attract different cultures and demographics to the area, then it seems you are trying to change the culture from what it is to what it isn’t.

        • Vanessa says:

          Disagree, the two goals you state above are far from mutually exclusive. The following has been written about to death for years and I think Connor is cognizant of it:

          Demographically speaking, future generations of the country will be far more diverse than it is now. I bet NY will beat the nation-wide trend by a lot too.

          The “natural” change of population decline in the North Country is closely connected to both the economic and social appeal of the region. For example, people are moving to places like Saratoga County, which has a lot of the same cultural dynamics as the North Country.

          I certainly acknowledge that no one controls culture, but that also means that everyone contributes to culture. The North Country literally can’t keep depending on the people who live in the region to perpetuate what you’re both referring to as “culture,” because as time passes inevitably basic infrastructure will cease to be available if a population isn’t there to sustain communities.

          In an unrelated subject, I would heavily argue that there is some problematic dynamics in trying to “protect” culture that’s already privileged in an area, buuut that’s a controversial one and I’m not interested in rehashing it again on this site.

          • Boreas says:

            So you are not interested in rehashing the crux of the problem? It sounds to me like you want to remove one culture and replace it with another – your preferred culture.

            We have an existing culture that is located here primarily because many see themselves as rugged individualists and prefer the solitude and ruggedness the area provides. Many were born into it and are here because there are not many places like it. But many came here or retired here by choice to avoid the frenetic pace and technology that others want to bring in.

            Again, think of the Park in natural terms with another analogy. Some species only do well in a harsh, wilderness environment and thrive in small, isolated numbers. We developed a Park specifically to provide a refuge for these species because wilderness is threatened around the world because of overpopulation. Do we really want the human population of the Park to double or triple? Are the humans here any less important than the animals?

            This is ultimately a discussion that needs to involve the APA, and is a situation they are unlikely able to manage because of politics. An influx of people will necessitate development, and vice versa. The APA is tasked with deciding where development may take place and how it fits in with the natural character of the Park. Places like Tupper Lake would be ideal for a managed influx of technology and new blood. But is that going to be an attractive area for those individuals and that development? Not everyone can live in Cranberry Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. The APA needs to be looking 50-100 years down the road in its development plans. Many small hamlets and villages could be targets of intense tech development, but how will population dynamics effect the Park by turning hamlets into large villages or small cities? Will that development ultimately require more or much larger roads? The APA will need to guide this type of development to maintain the character of the Park. Perhaps the APA will primarily consider the already developed “regions” on the periphery of the Park like Glens Falls, Lake George, Keeseville, Ti, etc. and leave the isolated areas isolated. We often forget these villages and cities exist and are ripe for tech development, but are usually ignored in order to push development into the hamlets and villages in the center of the Park. I feel this is misguided. So just like anything else, a proper vision and proper planning needs to take place to allow conflicting yet important cultures to continue to exist. We shouldn’t forget the mistakes of Imminent Domain.

            • Boreas says:

              Excuse me – substitute “Manifest Destiny” for “Imminent Domain”. Although somewhat related, I meant Manifest Destiny.

              • Vanessa says:

                There’s a lot that I could respond to here, but let’s summarize it this way. I actually really do understand, but deeply disagree with, the idea you’re getting at about the identity of the ADK. I don’t think you can say the same of my perspective, and this is meant without a value statement attached. (As in, ultimately i don’t really care if you understand where I’m coming from or not.)

                The only reason I got into the mix so heavily on this article is because I think certain folks – let’s say, folks of a certain shared cultural inclination – were right out of the gate unwilling to give this article a chance because it was written by a young person with ideas different than theirs. Being defensive, even in a polite way, seems like the default reaction.

                You all keep saying you don’t want “us” to change “your” culture. It gets really exhausting to be accused all the time of starting an “us vs them” mentality as a young person, when everyone else is so defensive of an identity that excludes nearly everyone on the planet except the “rugged individualists” you value so much.

                As I said above, culture is neither stagnant nor controlled. Everyone seems to agree that the region is changing. Disagreement on how to respond is inevitable. As I pointed out someplace else here, there are plenty of perspectives from people of your (probable) age and demographic that are closer to Connor’s and mine than some people here would like to acknowledge.

                Ultimately, we all have a roll in defining culture. In my opinion it’s a social, not really a “natural” process. In the year of our lord 2020, that process will have conflict. I don’t know how to solve the conflict, but I’m not going to pretend it isn’t there. I’m not going to devalue my perspective just because you do.

  10. Randall says:

    Maybe stop writing racist attacks on bridges

    • Zephyr says:

      Like Boreas I feel that everyplace doesn’t and shouldn’t appeal to everyone, and for myself I think trying to change the nature of a place to suit you is rather narcissistic. In the other hand, things like racism and prejudice belong nowhere. Unfortunately, they are part of the nature of rural areas in our country. It is not something that can be changed by laws and governments, but by more young people and diverse people being the pioneers and moving in. Be the change you want!

      • Boreas says:

        I agree! Excuse the analogy but this idea can almost be likened to introducing new or extirpated species back to the wild vs. allowing them to come back on their own. It is almost always more successful long-term if the change occurs organically as opposed to forced or manipulated. Too much forced change too quickly can have unforeseen negative effects. Just let it happen if it will.

  11. Judith Genaway says:

    ANCA means???

  12. Adirondack reality check says:

    Well first we need more jobs. Maybe we don’t need a social scene until after we have actual business. Many people come here to get AWAY from the busy lifestyle. Also please no more tree hugging based on ignorant emotions and instead on facts. .wait then tree hugging would stop. Everyone comes here because here is not like your home. If you don’t like it here then stay home.

  13. nina lerner says:

    The Magnificent Adirondacks , I have loved them since I was a little girl. I do hope
    to move to the Adirondacks. Always, nina

  14. B. Edison says:

    Why don’t you head back to the west coast. Diversity is a Leftist buzzword and leads to division and intolerance.

  15. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says: “I am not sure why it is felt the Adirondack Park must appeal to everyone. If I moved to a city and didn’t like the lifestyle, I would either adapt or move. Should I try to change the city to appeal to my values or way of life?”

    Thank you Boreas! It’s almost as if we’re going the route New York State went just a few full moons ago when they advertised left and right all over the state, “Come to the Adirondacks, spend your money here!” They came, and keep coming, and look at what it is becoming!

  16. Charlie S says:

    Vanessa says: “social and economic dynamics of the situation don’t look so good long term if the region doesn’t have a tax base in 20-30 years.”

    As we speak the tax base isn’t looking good everywhere Vanessa. ‘We are one’ since Covid-19 came along….the Adirondacks are no different.

    • Vanessa says:

      Wellllll – that has to do with a different dynamic, imo. The economy crashing into smithereens does affect everyone, but not everyone equally. I am much more worried for the ADK and other rural regions than I would be for my city, for example.

      My city is *cough* quite wealthy, and trust that in forums besides this one that is a topic worth discussing! – but because it’s wealthy, it independently raised something north of several million dollars for small businesses to stay afloat.

      The ADK regional economy isn’t quite so independent, imo, and therefore needs different types of support and intervention, even without COVID. Plus, the tension between economic development and environmentalism seems to define the region, and is unique to it. There isn’t any environment left in my city to protect at the moment, which is a problem.

  17. Charlie S says:

    “Diversity is a Leftist buzzword and leads to division and intolerance”

    The above line sounds much like division and intolerance.

  18. Pete says:

    Some people think the Confederate Flag as purely a symbol of racism. But I don’t think that is the case. I think a lot of people who display it to indicate they won’t be told what to do by the government. Of course this is hated by liberals who think that the government knows best and should tell the citizens what they can and can not do. People in the Adirondacks, especially those of us who have lived here a long time, tend to be independent-thinking. When we go out in the woods hiking, camping, paddling, hunting, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, etc. we expect we have to be independent and self-sufficient. By in large, we don’t live communities with homeowner associations that restrict every detail of what we can do down to the color we can paint our house (and we resent the micro-managing of the APA). We take our own garbage to the transfer station. We have wells and septic systems instead of municipal water and sewer. We heat with wood that we may cut and split ourselves. We expect an occasional power outage. Etc. So if you can’t live without all the conveniences and services of urban/suburban areas then this might not be the place for you. We’re fine with ‘diversity’ of people moving in to the area so long as they move here and fit in to the local culture rather than demand that the culture changes for them.

  19. Michelle R. says:

    Hi Connor:

    I feel pretty much the same way, having moved to a similar, nearby environment to work for an economic development non-profit.

    Here’re my experience and thoughts, most of which have been surprising or unexpected:

    First, I’m a 30-something female with a post-college degree and a “growth mindset” approach to life.

    1) The area’s economy has been in a downward trend for decades since extractive industries played out and globalization took over. It has truly been “circling the drain.” Recreation became a key economic driver, but times have changed and that is less helpful. The pandemic has obviously collapsed that and now the place is truly in dire straights.

    2) A very large percentage of the people here are older, white and into their own “lifestyle” and don’t want that to change. That lifestyle is basically no-growth, low-energy. Unfortunately, growth requires the opposite. A large number of people are retirees/refugees from cities who are just managing their savings to the end.

    3) Racism in the area has surprised me. For every accepting person, it seems that there are two who either casually make telling comments or are overt about it. I can’t imagine a minority ever feeling welcome, despite how many BLM signs are in front of white-owned houses. As a Jewish woman, I feel it every day. This is so obvious that it shouldn’t even be a question about it. And until this changes, no way diversity will improve.

    4) The cost of housing, education, and medical – across the country – plays a huge factor in the economy. It is very hard to make it financially in a small town with loans and medical maintenance expenses that really don’t have a sliding scale where one chooses to live. Those cost basically force young people to go to higher-paying cities.

    5) My experience has driven home just how hard it is to change people’s self-interest. When a poster above says, “We need people willing to commit to working “for us.”) they are missing the point that most people don’t move someplace to work for others’ benefit. The last four years has seen a huge increase in “what’s in it for me-itis” which I can’t see that changing. A huge impediment, honestly, is that many government and non-profit “leaders” (not all, of course) are simply overwhelmed by the problems and so overwhelmed by the problems that they naturally focus on their most immediate problem, which is working to keep their own salary flowing. So they default to self-serving marketing about “progress” where there is none. But clearly, if these problems have been continuing for so long, leadership needs to change before progress can be made. I like to say, “What would Bill Belichick do? Not keep the same team on the field!” Until the government and non-profit leadership gets upgraded and accountable, things won’t change. But of course, that would mean having more competent players as replacements.

    Lack of diversity kills every ecosystem, and communities are no different. The biggest hurdle is that these communities are in a self-reinforcing negative feedback loop of decline. I don’t have an answer. Maybe if we took all the tax break money that fossil fuel companies get and invest them in real green energy development (not fake ones, see “Planet of the Humans” documentary) that brought smart, diverse people to our regions, and then figured out how to change the cost of healthcare, housing, and education from predatory industries to community-builders, small towns and regions would have a chance.

  20. Crayton Buck says:

    I have read all of the comments and everyone has valid points. One of the concepts in Social Studies education is,” Change is an ever present condition of mankind. It cannot be stopped but can be slowed or modified. What you all describe is like the children’s story, “The Blind Men and the Elephant.” In the end they all describe the elephant but none actually do. I retired thirty years ago to the Thousand Islands. There was no diversity then. However there is more and more evidence of diversity. I have no problem with diversity. I just ask them to obey the laws and the rules as I do.

    The Confederate Flag is not, uin my opinion a racial symbol. It is a symbol for a flawed society and the individuals who became traitors for taking up arms against our government. I feel the same way about the militia groups etc.

  21. Hope says:

    42 years ago I moved her as a 20 something single woman. I came for the adventure and opportunity to be here and experience the 1980 Olympics. I had a several part time jobs to make ends meet. It’s been great. I love the people, the lifestyle and my family both in and out of the Park. I came from an urban background, recent college graduate and I knew no one here when I moved here. I didn’t come for a job, a career, a person or to change anything. But 42 years later I’m still here, working in the businesses that I started, with my husband, on a shoestring budget all those years ago. I participate in community action groups and I have family, friends and clients from diverse backgrounds. If you want to move here then take the chance and make it work for you. Bring value to the community. We need skilled trade entrepreneurs desperately. Make your own career. Find a need and fill it. It will be hard work and frustrating but it can be very rewarding. Only those people who decide to become part of the community will be able to initiate change. Look around at the successful business people in your communities., they are the entrepreneurs, the self employed, and business owners. Stop expecting someone to provide you with a job and create your own.

  22. Joan Grabe says:

    The comments were, actually, more interesting than the article ! And I see a divide that in this hyper politicized year is more pronounced. This population is shrinking – there is no growth. In these 3 counties, Essex, Clinton and Franklin, we are older, poorer, whiter and sicker. But what I see are many non profits and private foundations mobilizing to provide back up for the services that the state and federal governments no longer provide. That is a positive “culture”. I also see an anti government, anti APA, distrust and a misguided use of Confederate symbols that I consider “ negative “ culture. The current emphasis on “ diversity” is a chimera in my opinion. We need people, people of any color, who are able to work here, who appreciate this very special environment and who will find welcoming communities and neighbors. Let’s stress the positives – there are so many !

  23. Pete says:

    You can add Hamilton to the population shrinking and/or getting older, Adirondackers are anti-government and anti-APA because we don’t like being told what we can and can not do by people who don’t live here and have no real stake in what happens. We are tired of having at most a very limited say in the rules, regulations, and laws that govern us. People in NYC or Albany or any other city by in large have no clue what it is like to live here and and are not impacted by the regulations placed on Adirondack residents. The APA and other regulations have significantly impacted the local economies which is one reason why the population is shrinking and aging and there is no growth. I am sure there are some racists here and there but I am also sure that my community would encourage and welcome anyone who comes here to work and be part of the community without trying to change it to suit their liking.

  24. Brian Joseph says:

    LOL… trails are too crowded but we need more X people here….

  25. Michelle says:

    This comment thread is about the same in hundreds of other rural regions and shows just how intractable the problem is:

    #1 – Communities are dying out, but no one wants to change anything.

    #2 – “The Confederate Flag is not racist. While outsiders see it as a blatantly hostile gesture of aggression that says “F#ck You” it is really just some of our neighbors demonstrating their “uniquely independent” thinking. Anyone who doesn’t see it that way doesn’t understand us. Really, we welcome everyone!”

    #3 – Citizens don’t want government and down-state to tell them what to do. But they do want to maintain the net-positive dollar and services inflow, keep getting more money in from down-state than they pay out in taxes. People are very quick to ignore that math. Non-profits are good because they provide services that taxes don’t pay for, but don’t let them tell people what to do.

    #4 – “We welcome everyone and, in fact, are desperate for population growth so our communities won’t die. But they have ‘respect’ our values and conform to the way we want them to live.”

    #5 – #4 is not a “competitive advantage” when trying to attract newcomers who have a thousand other choices. (believe me, everyone markets recreation and craft breweries.) Without a fresh influx of new people and new ideas, communities are simply left to keep trying the same thing and hoping things will change, which they haven’t for decades now.

    #6 – Given the pervasiveness of the problem and it’s duration, where every person under 40 has seen nothing but decline, the average citizen has a version of “Stockholm Syndrome” where they accept the fate of the region and even identify with it. (see #2… if all else fails, claim strength through “character”) This “tragedy of reduced expectations” is pervasive in my contact with people. Educating them on possible options for improvement is itself a difficult full-time job that adds to the problem.

    I often feel like screaming in frustration, “Snap out of it! The house is on fire and you have to do something NOW to put it out!”

    My suggestion is:

    1) I believe that the solution can only come from the bottom-up. While I work for a non-profit, I must say that the statistics overwhelmingly show that government and non-profits, at best, only slow the decline. Somehow the community has to get a spark that makes it thrive. No one can plan it and they don’t come from tech startups or co-working spaces or tax breaks. They come from individuals BECAUSE they don’t follow someone else’s program. Somehow one small sparks starts a fire. And those sparks almost always happen without gov’t or non-profit help. It’s just some mix of people doing it on their own.

    2) To increase the chances of #1 you need more people, which means we need to increase the ability of people to come to a new region by making lower-income areas like the ADK’s “economically survivable” for young people by getting their healthcare, education, and housing expenses in-line with what they will make. At least for a few years so they can try it out, and put down roots. Somehow there needs to be school debt forgiveness, truly affordable (essentially free) healthcare, and some sort of rebalancing of the housing costs that favor owners (via tax deduction) over renters. Right now, the average young person is penalized for coming here.

    (note, there are hundreds of communities that will pay 5-10k for moving expenses, but that is not enough for a person to make a potentially life-changing decision when that is the cost of a year’s healthcare.)

    3) The majority of the “market” for new people do not look like locals. So somehow communities have to get to the point where it is a social crime to be a racist. Right now, I don’t think you could pay 3/4th of the country to relocate to a place where people display confederate flags “proudly” (read proud to say “F-U!” to your face.) Until people recognize that their “independent-thinking” neighbor is hurting the economy by being a racist, and therefore an enemy of the community’s survival, the community is being rotted from within.

    So, there’s a big structural problem, which means all the no-gov’t folks are hindering because right now gov’t is the only one who can break the back of the healthcare, education, and housing imbalance. And there is a quite understandable mental issue of both realizing the urgency of the problem and the need to shift one’s own thinking. Neither are at all easy, but it’s pretty urgent so perhaps change will happen.

    • Michelle says:

      And BTW, all those issues are pre-Covid. The situation is now much worse as the pandemic has decimated businesses and aid budgets. How we respond in the next 12 months will determine our survival. The house is not just on fire, but about to be engulfed….

  26. Lauren says:

    At 22 years old(born and raised in Saranac Lake), making a living can be challenging in the tri-lakes region, but if you love where you live you make it work. Upon graduating with my AAS degree in Environmental and Natural Rescourses Conservation, I thought I would have lots of job opportunities being in the Adirondacks, but most opportunities are seasonal or unrelated to conservation. Hotels, grocery stores, and gas stations, are always hiring; this is the main job pool for many young people; and there are often more opportunities in the summer than winter for these young people.

    Many friends have left, because there are very few job opportunities here and I totally agree. I left the Adirondacks once upon graduating from college, I didn’t go far. I went to Lowville, NY for a forest restoration job and came home on the weekends. I just couldn’t stay away from the Adirondacks. So now I am back trying to make it. Housing is expensive, I’m lucky to have great parents to continue to live with. I am also grateful I didn’t continue onto more college education because the debt of that scared me. I’d rather be working hard to make a living, than paying off student loans for the rest of my life. At any given time, I usually have more than 1 job and my own tourism business. Best decision I ever made was to work for myself! Someday I hope to only have to work for myself to make a living, but in the meantime I will do whatever job I need to do.

  27. ADKresident says:

    Word of advice to the younger generation:

    If you want to bring change to a people or place that you do not presently live, learn to love the people and place FIRST. Otherwise, you will see more resistance than acceptance. Look for the good and build up before you point out all the bad, find fault and tear down. No one wants to listen to a know-it-all outsider with prejudices that have already been concluded. And no one wants to be told what to do from those who have an agenda apart from those who actually reside in the area, oftentimes for many generations without “coming together”.

    You want respect? Give it. You want ears? Listen first. You will have more success. It’s not that new ideas for change are wrong or bad- it’s the delivery and condescending attitudes behind the delivery. A little honey can go a long way but if you approach the bees with a bunch of backhanded swats, all you be met with are stings.

  28. Zephyr says:

    One thing I think we could all get behind is better broadband access to all corners of the populated parts of the region, and it has some hope of gaining political traction because potentially the broadband companies will pay for it. Broadband benefits everyone, old, young, and new to the region, and would open up many business opportunities. Possibly, services like Starlink ( satellite broadband will be a game changer for rural areas everywhere, and will not require environmentally degrading towers and wires all over the place. Still, many people will not feel welcome in the region until we get rid of racist flags and symbols and attitudes that are so prevalent. I live in what is considered a progressive town outside the park and some friends of color moved away because they did not feel welcome.

  29. Joan Grabe says:

    The comments get more and more interesting ! From 1961 on my husband was employed by a large multinational corporation that transferred people frequently. We picked up the kids, the furniture, the dogs and the cats and moved cross country many times. I hated leaving every place we lived and learned to love every place we were moved all in sometimes less than 2 years. Everyplace we lived was unique – it was a great and broadening experience. I think some of the people who have commented would have benefitted from a “broadening” experience. People are attracted to areas with thriving communities, good schools and a way forward. They are forward thinking. No one wants to ruin the mountains, the rugged way of life but viable businesses, decent housing would be great. And ditch the Confederate flags while you are working on these other things !

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