Panel members discuss the economic future of the Adirondack Park Oct. 5 at the Northwoods Inn in Lake Placid. From left are: John Sheehan, of the Adirondack Council; Jim Herman, of Keene; Betsy Folwell, of Adirondack Life magazine; Brian Mann, of North Country Public Radio; Kate Fish, of the Adirondack North Country Association; and Jim LaValley, of Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy (ARISE) in Tupper Lake.
Members of the media, economic development community and environmental organizations sat in front of a lean-to at the Northwoods Inn Wednesday, Oct. 5 to talk about the future of the Adirondack Park.
The event was the second of a pair of “discussions” based on a recent Adirondack Life article written by North Country Public Radio reporter Brian Mann on the current state of the Adirondack Park and what he felt needed to be done to help it prosper.
Mann was joined at the Northwoods Inn by Jim LaValley of Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy (ARISE) in Tupper Lake; Kate Fish, executive director of the Adirondack North Country Association; Betsy Folwell, creative director for Adirondack Life magazine; Jim Herman of Keene, who helped bring broadband to the majority of the town; and John Sheehan, communications director for the Adirondack Council.
“There is a remarkable consensus that we need to get to a different place in the Adirondack Park,” Mann said. “There are a lot of controversial and argumentative points along the road. We have the resources and potential here to succeed, so the optimism that I have heard is well-placed.”
Mann said that with many jobs within the park are public jobs, which is the main concern for the future of the area.
“The version of the Adirondack Park that we live in today is ending,” Mann said. “The park was transformed into a public employment mecca. The communities never adapted to the creation of the park, and public employment went off the charts. The idea that we are going to re-build those jobs or re-hire those teachers who have been laid off, that is something that everyone that I have talked to is just not saying.”
Mann said that the piece he wrote was intended to start discussion and not to be “a prescription.”
“The article has generated so much conversation, blog postings, diner chat and bar talk,” said Folwell, whose magazine published the piece. “We thought that we should take this on the road.”
Fish started her remarks by asking the audience if there was any who felt that the Adirondack Park economy could not be transformed or improved, to which no one responded.
“I think that it is time for the gloom and doom attitudes that we find — just, let’s be done with that,” Fish said. “A negative attitude can really impede change. There are a lot of good things that are happening here, and we, as Adirondackers, do not let challenges get in our way.”
LaValley said that he felt that there needed to be a balance between the protection of the environmental assets and the human assets.
“If I were a teacher, I would give us an A-plus in the ways that we have protected and developed the natural ecosystem of the park,” said LaValley, who also operates LaValley Real Estate offices in Tupper Lake, Potsdam and Malone. “I would give a failing grade in the protection and development of the human ecosystem in the park. So many are looking for new development.”
A “new development” is something that Herman said he is looking into by doing a study of the region.
“One idea that we see is a closed-loop economy,” Herman said. “That way, more of the money that is spent here in the park stays here.”
Herman and Fish both pointed at thermal bio-mass industry as a way to promote closed-loop economics and growth within the park.
“If you want young people to stay here, you have to put out ideas that will appeal to them,” Herman said, adding that he felt another way to help the region would be the creation of an Adirondack County.
“I would like to see consolidation into a more concentrated government structure for the Adirondacks,” Herman said. “We would have a government that was more coordinated with local municipalities and have a more coordinated plan.”
Herman also said that, along with creating a regional “Adirondack identity” there may be a need to consolidate services between municipalities.
“We have to ask ourselves, honestly, if we are going to try and save all of the communities in the park,” Herman said.
“There is an opportunity to help every community succeed in a way that it is not right now,” Sheehan said. “There is less of an economic crisis in the Adirondack Park and more of a crisis of fear. We need to chart our course better. The more that we are getting together and talking about what the future can look like is better. We do not do that nearly enough.”
Sheehan added that there needs to be more done in terms of community development, including what he saw as a mistake to not have the entire park in a single Economic Development Council area.
“The Park is in three different economic councils,” Sheehan said. “That spreads things out and does not give the park one voice.”
Fish said that, as a member of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, they were taking it upon themselves to represent the park as a whole.
The panel took questions from members of the audience as well as presented insights and their thoughts about the future of the Adirondack Park.
Folwell said that she hoped for more discussion to come from the events, including a radio call-in show and discussion through other outlets.