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Clarkson University Study Finds Wilderness Enhances Adirondack Economy

Adirondacks Elk Lake Dix Mountain
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Adirondacks Elk Lake Dix Mountain

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo finalized the largest Adirondack land acquisition by the state in 100 years.  The Boreas Ponds property must now be classified by the Adirondack Park Agency.  As the governor signed the documents,  a coalition of environmental groups released a report that finds lands designated wilderness are an economic driver for the Park.  But critics say the report is too limited and does not assess the variety of factors that affect the region’s economy. 
The report: “Towards the Measurement of the Value of Public Land Designations in the Adirondack Park”was prepared by Clarkson University economists for the Adirondack Council.  It assessed the economic impact of the classification of newly acquired lands as measured through property values.

Among the conclusions: proximity of private properties to wilderness land enhances property values while wild forest classification does not because motorized vehicles that produce noise and pollution are allowed.
Adirondack Council Spokesman John Sheehan says for years the economic impact of classifying land as wilderness has been a puzzle and the report provides some intriguing answers.   “There are a couple lessons that we learned from this. One is that people from out of state will pay 100 percent more for a house inside the Adirondack Park than they will for the same house outside the Adirondack Park. And that answers the question: does the Adirondack Park hurt the economy of the central portion of upstate New York? Absolutely not. The forest preserve and public land really enhance the park's economic attraction. This is encouraging and I think it's going to show that overall wilderness protection is a good idea.”

Critics say this study is problematic, having been commissioned by a group that wants the lands designated wilderness.  And they point out that it only assessed one factor affecting the Adirondack economy.

Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chair Bill Farber says there are more important economic indicators for the Adirondacks.   “When you think about economic health we're talking about jobs, income, I think we're talking about the kinds of businesses that could be attracted to the area that allow visitors to come and actually contribute to the economy.  I'm not sure that home values are the most important economic indicator within the Adirondacks.”

Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe cites previous studies showing the Park’s population in decline to counter the conclusions in the latest analysis.   “Having the property values escalate near wilderness is not good for the average Adirondacker.  They’re priced out of the market. We've already seen that. A 2014 study indicated that we're losing an average of 525 people a year from 2000 to 2010 and it’s expected to increase the rate of decline to 940 a year in the next decade.  To jump to the conclusion that non-residents will pay 25 percent more for wilderness that that translates to an improved Adirondack economy is just false.”

Sheehan counters that the purpose of the study was to determine how much people are willing to spend to be near wilderness, using property ownership as the determinate.  “This was a very good way to judge what people's attitudes were toward wilderness areas and whether those attitudes actually translated into some kind of a financial commitment.”

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