Healthy, productive land and water resources, wildlife habitat, parks and open space, culturally and historically significant landscapes, and available and accessible recreation lands are fundamental to the American way of life and our future prosperity," notes a recent report by the private, bipartisan Outdoor Resources Review Group.
"At stake now and for future generations is the health of our people, our economy, our communities, and the lands and waters on which we depend, in short, our quality of life."
This wide-ranging review, sponsored by the Outdoor Resources Review Group, looked at how Americans engage with and value the nation's land and water resources and its outdoor recreation assets.
A summary of the report calls for a comprehensive overhaul of programs and policies to safeguard these resources for future generations and to meet the needs of a growing population.
"The American environmental movement has focused so much on preserving nature that it has neglected to do enough to preserve a constituency for nature. It's important not only to save forests, but also to promote camping, hiking, bouldering and whitewater rafting so that people care about saving those forests," wrote Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times.
The protection of wilderness lands presents a unique paradox. Wilderness lands, which are defined as "untrammeled by man" will only be preserved if people use them. In the eyes of many, if the land isn't utilized, it holds no value and thus, there is no need to protect it.
"Will baby boomers constitute the last generation of Americans to share an intimate, familial attachment to the land and water?" Richard Louv asked in his book Last Child in the Woods.
This growing detachment of youth from the natural world is part of a national trend. This detachment is evident in the Adirondacks as well. If our youth do not use and enjoy the local woods and waters, they will see no need to protect them. What will happen when the next generation takes over?
In the park, "environmental advocacy" can be considered an industry due to the wide range of preservation/protection groups and organizations based in the park.
The Adirondack Nature Conservancy in Keene Valley and The Adirondack Council in Elizabethtown are both considered major employers in their respective communities.
The Saranac Lake based, Adirondack Wildlife Conservation Society employs six full-time and 10 part-time staffers.
The Adirondack Mountain Cub has a multi-million dollar economic impact in the park, with a substantial payroll in Lake George where it is headquartered and at Adirondac Loj on Heart Lake near Lake Placid.
The national trend of a growing detachment of youth from the outdoors is further exasperated in the Adirondacks due to an out-migration of area youth that was detailed in the recently released, Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Report.
The report, which examined the "state of community," profiling the 103 municipalities that comprise the Adirondack Park. The report detailed a significant decline in the number of young people living in the park.
The park will be a special place for our children only of they have the opportunity to enjoy it. If youth of the region do not possess the skills and resources to utilize the park's natural resources, they are strangers in their own land.
Rural areas across the country suffer from the same situation which has been labeled as a 'brain drain' or 'bright flight.' It's a situation that occurs when many of the best and the brightest students leave town for college and never look back.
As the 'wired generation' continues to tighten their bonds to the virtual world, our children will likely spend less time in the local world of forests and streams. If they don't use the land for pleasure and recreation, they may not develop the strong bonds to the land that their parents or grandparents possessed. As a result, the land will not have a hold on them and it will be easier for them to leave.
Welcome to Old Fogeyville
According to statistics, the Adirondack population is aging at a pace that is three times the national average. The town of Newcomb has the highest median age (51.4 years) in the park. The report estimated that by 2020, only the west coast of Florida will exceed the Adirondacks as the oldest region in America.
In the park-residents are on average five years older than residents of the state and communities inside the BlueLine have experienced an increase in median age of nearly nine years between 1980 and 2000. The median age of residents has risen by only three years in the rest of the state.
The report detailed a notable decline in residents under the age of 10 and a growing exodus of residents between the ages of 20 and 35. Students in grades K-12 represent only 13.5 percent of the park's population, as compared to 18 percent nationally.
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.
During this timeframe, the park has also seen a significant in-migration of residents between the ages of 35 and 65. In the 10 year period, the report projects that there has been a loss of more than 7,000 residents between the ages of 0 and 34 and an increase of more than 13,500 residents who are 35 and older.
These factors, coupled with the aging babyboomer population, indicate a continued aging trend. School districts are experiencing a decrease in new students due to this out migration of young families. A steady in-migration of semiretired and retired persons will not be enough to offset these loses.
Although some Adirondack counties have experienced population growth in recent years, the majority of the growth in the region is occurring on the periphery of the park and beyond.
Other disturbing statistics reveal that household incomes in the park are lower than those in most of New York State. Approximately 40 percent of the homes are owned by people whose primary residence is outside of the Blue Line.
The Adirondack Park has also experienced a major job losses in the traditional forest products industry, while other extraction industries such as mining have all but disappeared.
The corrections industry has made up for some of the population and industrial losses. Today, one out of every 26 people that are considered year round, park residents living in the Adirondacks resides in a correctional facility. Correctional facilities now account for over 5,100 park "residents." Public sector employment, on the federal, state, county or municipal level is responsible for one out of every three jobs in the park.
These employment and diminishing population trends will likely continue unless a clean industry can settle into the park an offer viable employment. Until that time, seasonally dependent positions in the service industry will have to fill the void, but they are unlikely to reverse the ongoing brain drain.
Next week, I will explore some creative options for retaining our youth and stemming the ongoing 'bright flight.'
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at email@example.com