Monday, September 6, 2010




The Adirondack State Park is unique in that the park is livable; unlike the majority of state parks and national parks, you can actually live here. When one thinks of a state or a national park, ideas of recreation, hiking, learning, swimming, camping, etc abound. But no one ever thinks, "Hey's let's move into Yosemite National Park!" And why not? Well, for this obvious reason: it is illegal. On most state or national park service property, and you cannot buy land and build a house within their boundaries. But in the Adirondack State Park, you can. This park model was experimental back in the day, and apparently other countries are trying to create parks with livable communities in them. The idea of having protected land with recreational opportunities in an established community seems like an amazing idea. Or does it?

Trouble is, these established communities were developed years ago for reasons very different than recreation. They were built on the foundation of logging, mining, fishing, and other natural resource stripping. Some time ago, people got upset, and exclaimed "You can't cut down all the trees! You can't mine all the metals! You can't bottle all the water! We're going to preserve this land!" But when that happened, almost all the jobs that citizens were dependent upon vanished. What does a coal mining town do when mining is prohibited? What does a logging company do when it can no longer log? Why, lay off hundreds and hundreds of its employees. And then what happens to those communities? Today, we are finding out.

It is really an ongoing experiment. Across the lake, Champlain that is, VT has long been establishing its brand new identity. When people think of Vermont, they think of skiing, cheese, education, teddy bears. VT was clever enough to re-brand itself, and people love VT and visit and spend millions every year. Tourism is huge there, and they are proud to support only VT products. Here, it's a bit different. There are huge vacation areas in the Adirondacks, like Lake Placid, but mostly, all the sleepy towns scattered throughout this park are in serious economic trouble. Seems like half the homes we drive past are for sale; seems like only old timers live here. Everyone leaves, because everyone knows there is no future in a dead region like upstate New York. The average family income in "The North Country" hovers around $30,000 per year. People struggle for work, especially in the winter when tourists don't visit.

Years ago, everyone only supported their local food economy, because there was no such thing as food from other states, let alone other countries. But now, with the advent of cheap food in supermarkets, cheap products at Wal-Mart, cheap gas, cheap everything, people find themselves living cheap, cheated lives up here. And so if everyone continues fleeing the impoverished rural areas all over the US and heads to the city for brighter pastures, who's going to tend those abandoned pastures, and feed all the billions of people in the city? Can city folk continue to expect 6-figure salaries and refuse to buy non-uniform shaped fruits and vegetables while 4-5% of America struggles to grow food for 95% earning barely 5-figure salaries?

1 comment: