WARRENSBURG - Adirondack residents on the average are relatively poor, aging and undereducated and the area is hemorrhaging local youth, according to the findings of the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project, released this week by the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages.
These trends, plus low prevailing wages, limited job opportunities and expensive housing, are threatening the way of life here, local officials said this week.
"School enrollments in the park have decreased 329 students annually throughout the current decade," The Assessment Project report states. "This is the equivalent of the loss of one Adirondack school district every 19 months."
Local officials are calling the release of the 120-page report as a milestone event in Adirondack history which will define debate and likely influence policy decisions in the Park for generations to come.
"It's the basis for future Adirondack policy," Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe said June 9. "We tried to just focus on the facts and to draw as few conclusions as possible."
Low wages, high housing costs burden residents
According to the Assessment report, the average median household income in the Adirondack Park is approximately $43,000 annually - about $8,000 below the national average. Meanwhile, housing prices are skyrocketing in many tourist-oriented communities, resulting in large portions of populations in the Park's center who are unable to own homes through no fault of their own.
Roughly 40 percent of private Adirondack parcels are owned by people with addresses outside of the Park, with housing prices in most Adirondack communities being dictated by second homeowners. For instance, nearly 70 percent of home sales in Hamilton County are to second-home buyers from outside the area.
The largest employers in the Adirondacks are correctional facilities, with public schools and municipal highway departments running close behind. Over 44 percent of Adirondack residents are employed in the public sector.
The median age of an Adirondack resident is 43 years of age, while New York State as a whole has an average population age of 35.5 years.
The report states that the Adirondack population mirrors the retirement communities of Western Florida, and ranks among the oldest in the nation.
School enrollment plunging in Park's core
In the past two decades Newcomb Central School District has lost over 84 percent of its student body. During this time, the median age of the town has spiked to 51.4 years of age, making it one of the oldest communities in the nation.
Throughout the Adirondacks, student populations have declined 31 percent on average since 1970, while the number of teachers has increased about 34 percent.
After high school graduation, only 36.5 percent of Adirondack Park residents attend four-year colleges compared to 53.6 percent statewide. Nearly 13 percent of local high school graduates immediately enter the workforce, 7 percent above statewide totals.
"This data is essential in understanding the communities in the Adirondacks," said Monroe, who is supervisor of the town of Chester and serves as chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors.
The study states that 76 percent of land in the Park is rendered unable to be developed after state holdings, easements and defined wetlands are accounted for. New York State has direct ownership of 45 percent of the 5.8 million acres which comprise the Park.
The bound, illustrated Assessment report includes a CD-ROM which provides data from each of the 103 towns and villages sampled.
Other topics of considerable discussion in the report include the lack of availability of technological infrastructure, the types of jobs available, and unemployment rates, which tend to spike off-season.
The population of the communities on the perimeter of the Adirondack Park has doubled since 1950, but the core Park hamlets and villages have seen only modest growth on the average. But during that time, adjusted income levels have declined considerably.
The Assessment report included data provided by a 90-question survey, U.S. and state Census data and Adirondack Park Agency data. It was conducted by the LA Group of Saratoga Springs on behalf of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages and the Adirondack North Country Association at a cost of $93,000.