RAY BROOK - A report highlighting demographic trends in the Adirondacks has prompted one of the Adirondack Park Agency's top officials to speak about the importance of developing more economic opportunity in the region.
APA Executive Director Terry Martino released a three-page document March 10, offering her perspective on the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project, a report released last year that details an aging and relatively poor population living in an area with not much land available for developing business and industry.
"The APRAP assessment provides an important foundation for us to be proactive in improving the park's communities," said Martino. "With creative focus, we can determine how to weather economic downturns and build the economy based on the park's special character."
Prior to taking her current position in July 2008, Martino, was Executive Director of the Adirondack North Country Association, one of the major co-sponsors for the APRAP.
"From the outset, we believed the assessment would provide facts we could agree upon as the basis for future planning discussions by park stakeholders," she said.
The report quantified what many Adirondack residents had suspected. The median age of 43 within the park is well above state and national averages and rising rapidly. Meanwhile, school enrollment is declining at alarming rates, down 31 percent since 1970.
With over 40 percent of the park owned by the state, 20 percent under conservation easement, and another 15 percent already in use, only 25 percent of land in the Adirondacks is available for development, the assessment stated. Less than one half of one percent of the 6 million-acre park is used for commercial or industrial purposes.
"While some trends in the report raise concerns, there was purposely no interpretation of the data to draw conclusions about causes," Martino stated, arguing that to attribute the issues solely to the impact of state land ownership and private land regulations is going too far.
She pointed to similar trends in other geographically similar areas, such as the Tug Hill Plateau and the Northern Forest portions of New England.
Ultimately, said Martino, the APRAP highlights the need to merge economic growth with environmental protection and find creative ways to do business in a heavily protected setting.
"For our region to truly benefit from the APRAP research, we need more focused effort on how to build and sustain park communities," said Martino.
Some of the major issues to tackle are how to adapt business and development strategies to the park's aging population while also making the area more attractive for youth and young families, Martino said, and reducing local tax burdens
Potential approaches Martino mentioned included expansion of entrepreneurship, gearing educational programs more toward regional economic opportunities, investing more in the maintenance of open space, encouraging more local food production, and improving infrastructure such as roads, broadband internet, and municipal water and sewer.
"These are opportunities which, I am pleased to say, the Adirondack Park Agency endorses," she said.