The Adirondack Common Ground Alliance is a diverse group representing advocates, educators, government and residents of the park. It meets once a year to craft strategies to communicate key priorities for the Adirondacks in one voice. This year’s forum was held virtually due to the pandemic and focused on the demographics of the Park.
More than 200 people virtually attended the two-day Adirondack Common Ground Alliance meeting in mid-July. This year’s theme was “Attracting a New Generation of Residents to the Adirondacks,” chosen because the region faces an aging population and demographic challenges. Adirondack Foundation President and CEO Cali Brooks says focusing on a single theme was unique for the Alliance. “We feel like it’s already producing several key steps necessary to ensure growing and vital Adirondack communities. We truly believe that there are several areas where intellectual and financial capital can be deployed to make a dramatic impact.”
The strategy to attract new younger and diverse residents will be led by the Northern Forest Center. Saranac Lake based Project Manager Leslie Karasin polled registrants and reported that 84 percent find the demographics of the Adirondacks pose a problem for communities and that 98 percent agree attracting new younger residents is necessary. “Certainly the notion of a welcoming and safe community is one that we heard in a new lens this year. We definitely heard that quality housing is a core component that we just can’t miss in order to attract new residents. And then jobs and careers are critical. This was something that we heard repeatedly from especially the younger people in our breakout groups.”
Northern Forest Center President Rob Riley cautioned that restoring the demographic balance of the Adirondacks will take time. “It is 30 years in the making to have a decline of a community based upon the loss of industry. It’s going to take that long to bring communities back. So there’s no one path here. It is very complex of course but there’s a lot of smaller pieces that help to move towards that larger goal of setting the conditions in a community that do attract and retain younger people. These are already happening and I think that they can be taken up a notch, accelerated and amplified.”
The forum creates a Blueprint for the Blue Line that outlines potential legislative and policy solutions to issues that have been discussed during the forum. Adirondack Council Executive Director Willy Janeway says this year’s theme is different because they are looking at more localized solutions. “So in the past we’ve had blueprints that went and really told Albany here are things you can do to help us. And we could end up with a blueprint this year much more along the lines of what can we and state leaders do together rather than saying what can you do for us?”
Town of Morehouse Supervisor and Chair of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Bill Farber says there are several issues that both the state and local communities must focus on to successfully bring new and diverse residents to the region. “We are hearing and seeing the challenges around housing affordability. We still have broadband gaps. The cellular gaps are still profound. All of these things are becoming a profound issue for people to come here and work here and live here. I want to just talk a little bit about how welcoming we are. We obviously need to raise our cultural consciousness within the communities. Whether its issues of poverty, race or bullying our communities can do better and we will do better.”
Forum participants came from 56 different communities and five states.