LAKE PLACID - Adirondackers have a long history of bickering over big issues in the Park, which is why it's so odd that they seem to agree on what it should look like 25 years from now, at least according to one new study.
Data drawn from the ADK Futures project, an effort to get people thinking about the future of the Adirondacks, shows strong support among year-round and seasonal residents from diverse backgrounds for building a sustainable Park with both a healthy economy and a healthy environment.
The project's findings were presented publicly for the first time Wednesday at the High Peaks Resort as part of the 19th annual Conference on the Adirondacks.
ADK Futures is the brainchild of Dave Mason and Jim Herman of Keene, retired strategy consultants who've done this same kind of forward-thinking exercise - called a "scenario development" approach - for global corporations, mostly in the high-tech field.
Over the past year, Mason and Herman have held a series of workshops and meetings where they've asked a broad range of about 400 people with interests in the Adirondacks to rank six possible "endstates," or outcomes, for the Park in the year 2037 based on two factors: desirability and attainability.
The idea was first presented at last year's Adirondack Common Ground Alliance meeting, where the 120 people in attendance were given that task. To their surprise, Herman said a sustainable Park was deemed the most desirable and the most attainable by the participants.
Adirondack 'endstates' for 2037
Wild Park - Protection and preservation of the Park's natural resources and wild spaces is the priority. Its economic health is secondary, land-use regulation is tighter, and the communities of the Park suffer. The Park is a major research center for impacts of climate change, acid rain and invasive species.
Usable Park - The economy and the environment are tied together as part of an effort to boost recreational tourism and encourage retirees to settle in the Park's communities. Tourism and health care-related employment grow, while government employment drops by half.
The Sustainable Life - The Park is a model of sustainable, low-carbon footprint lifestyle. It has strong local energy and local food industries that provide local jobs, and widespread broadband and cell service that make it easier for people to live here and stay connected. Land-use regulation encourages clustered development in expanded hamlets where there's more walking, biking and local stores.
Adirondack County - The Park's Blue Line becomes a county line, and state agencies align their regions into it, enabling more efficient government. The people of the Park think of themselves as a group, and there's more cooperation. Government is downsized through privatization of ski resorts, nursing homes and road maintenance.
Post-"Big Government" Solutions - Local leaders figure out what's best for their town, and there's little "Park" identity. Some towns partner on specific projects, but there's also competition for employers, public school students and dwindling government resources. The gap widens between areas with better infrastructure, like broadband and health care, and those without.
The Adirondack State Forest - The Park is overwhelmed by external threats like climate change, invasive species, health care and pension costs. Government employment is cut drastically. Poverty has deepened, and tourism has declined. The state proposes that 50 percent of the Forest Preserve classified as wilderness remain protected while the other half becomes a multi-use state forest.
But that was still in the early stages of the project. More recently, Mason and Herman held a series of four, two-day workshops that included 135 mostly year-round Park residents from a variety of fields including business, tourism, health care, government, education and environment. They also ranked "The Sustainable Life" as the most desirable and attainable of the six potential endstates for the Park.
Herman said that's rare. The usual outcome is that what's desirable is difficult, and what's easy isn't desirable.
"We've been consistently amazed at the fact that what people want is what they think they can make happen in the Adirondacks," Herman said. "The message is, it's all up to us to make it happen."
The "Usable Park" endstate ranked second in both desirability and attainability in these workshops. The "Adirondack State Forest" scenario was rated least desirable, while "Adirondack County" was seen as least attainable.
Although Mason and Herman said they were hesitant, for now, to draw conclusions about their research, both men stressed that pursuing one of the endstates is not the answer.
"Some combination of these is the answer," Mason said.
The other aspect of the ADK Futures project involved asking participants in the workshops to pick the events that need to happen to reach each of the six outcomes. Mason and Herman created about 125 events. The most positive common events participants cited had to do with economic development initiatives, while the most negative common events dealt with poverty and environmental stresses.
Events that participants felt are most likely include the Adirondacks being recognized as a baseline for ecological research, the growth of more citizen-sponsored initiatives, and an improved local food network. Events that were seen as uncertain included a Park-wide recreation plan, user fees for hikers and increasing the number of beds for visitors.
Mason said most of the people who participated walked away with a more optimistic view of the future of the Park.
"The fact that we've done workshop after workshop after workshop, and they've pretty much all come up with the same conclusion - even very different groups of people - is compelling," Mason said. "It's not how we Adirondack residents think of ourselves. We think of ourselves as being forever in conflict. That's what we do. And the very idea that we're kind of on the same path is pretty shocking to people."
Mason and Herman will present their conclusions at the July 18 meeting of the Common Ground Alliance in Long Lake.