For a generation, Adirondackers have felt uneasy about an evolution that was occurring around them. Evidence of the trend was hard to pin down because it crept up on everyone here so gradually.
But looking back over the last few decades, it's clear that life in the Adirondacks, particularly in the more remote areas, has changed drastically.
Where commerce and industry once thrived, the local communities don't offer much in the way of employment. There's not much work available except at wages that are not sufficient to meet basic needs. We've seen our communities shrink, primarily due to limited employment opportunities.
We heard a decade ago that the Internet would make jobs practical in the Adirondacks, through "virtual commuting."
Regardless of this national trend, it just hasn't developed here as predicted.
Across the Adirondacks, school enrollment has shrunk more than 30 percent over the past few decades as families have moved out in a quest to provide a more promising future for their children.
This exodus has effected our lives in many ways.
Many churches that 25 years ago had full congregations for worship services, have scores of near-empty pews every Sunday. In towns across the Adirondacks, clubs, teams and organizations that once flourished are gone or are barely surviving.
On the other hand, properties now change hands at prices local working families can't really afford - prices driven up by people who merely want a summer retreat. Many of these homes are dark and empty for most of the year.
On top of this, Adirondackers' household budgets are hurting because of the spiraling cost of necessities.
These trends were confirmed last year by the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project report.
This study concluded that communities in the Adirondacks are acutely threatened, and this has alarmed local officials and researchers alike.
This unraveling of the Adirondack cultural fabric was predicted a quarter-century ago by Anthony D'Elia, a developer and property rights activist from Franklin County in his book,"The Adirondack Rebellion."
He saw the Adirondack Park Agency's slow expansion of regulatory power as threatening the culture of the Adirondacks and the viability of its local economies.
This view is held by many Adirondackers who have watched the APA expand its jurisdiction, choking out traditional business and manufacturing enterprises. The Agency, they observe, has reserved more and more land for wilderness or restricted it so severely that most development options are prohibited.
We at Denton Publications believe this distressing decline in Adirondack rural culture can be at least partially attributed to overzealous state regulation.
While preserving the environment and wild character of the Adirondacks is a laudable objective, it can go too far - particularly when the regulations spur development of expensive personal retreats for the wealthy, while hampering the very survival of year-round working-class residents.
These trends have been boosted, perhaps unwittingly, by environmentalists who have served on the APA Board of Commissioners.
Now, three of the eight APA commissioners are former heads of environmental advocacy groups that have been aligned with anti-development objectives.
Many believe that three is already too many environmental advocates for a reasonable balance.
Now Peter Hornbeck, a director of an environmental advocacy group, has been nominated for the seat on the APA Board of Commissioners to replace Art Lussi. The nomination is under review by the state Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.
Hornbeck currently sits on the board of directors for Protect the Adirondacks and is a former chairman of the Residents Committee for the Protection of the Adirondacks.
The nomination has prompted objections from local officials, citing an increased imbalance between APA board members favoring environmental objectives over development and economic growth.
State Sen. Betty Little of Queensbury has observed that Hornbeck has declared he is against development in the Adirondacks, and she noted he has opposed the Adirondack Club and Resort project in Tupper Lake, which has for years been swamped in negotiations and litigation.
Others have objected that Hornbeck serves on the board of an organization currently suing the APA - for not adopting regulations strict enough to please the preservationists. They say this situation not only represents a potential imbalance on the agency, but it represents a conflict of interest.
Adirondack Park Local Review Board Chairman Fred Monroe is one of those who is alarmed.
He observes that those who authored the original APA act were concerned with balance, calling for representation on the board by both Democrats and Republicans. If the APA's founding fathers were so concerned with political parity, he says, balance between development advocates and environmental preservationists would also be a core goal.
He and Little have both advocated that the state create a policy that bans any leader of an advocacy organization from being appointed to the APA Board of Commissioners. They have both supported legislation that candidates who are nominated for APA Board seats should be chosen from a list prepared by local government officials.
In our view at Denton Publications, such guidelines make sense, particularly the policy of maintaining balance at the APA.
The Adirondack Park Agency is a powerful regulatory body, and its decision-making should have input from citizens with differing viewpoints.
As long as the APA has its broad powers, the agency must maintain a balance between those who advocate sensible development and others who opt for environmental protection.
It's not just a matter of honest, independent representation of the interests of local residents - It goes further.
If our Adirondack culture is to thrive, or even survive, it may just be a necessity.
Thom Randall is editor of the Adirondack Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.