December 3, 2012

Back to the ADK future


KEENE — Two volunteer consultants have some controversial ideas on how to strengthen the economy of the Adirondack Park.

The Adirondack Futures Project, created by Keene residents David Mason and James Herman, is promoting one of the six possible scenarios they devised for what the Adirondacks could be like in 25 years.

“All of this is an attempt to attract young people and new retirees to our villages and to our communities,” Herman said.

The pair owned a strategy consulting firm in Boston and retired to Keene in 2004. The Futures Project started in 2010.

“We ran a business using this methodology that we have brought to the Adirondacks,” Mason said. “It is a pro bono project.”


The pair have been making the rounds with their report, visiting meetings of the Adirondack Park Agency, the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages and, most recently, the Essex County Board of Supervisors.

Backed by the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance, they have held 13 workshops with more than 500 people attending and conducted 150 interviews.

Mason said they settled on something they call “The Sustainable Life” as the most desirable and attainable of their six initial proposals. He said that scenario is actually a throwback to 100 years ago, when people grew their own food and heated with wood.

“It ... is really about the localization of energy, moving away from fuel oil more towards wood bio-mass. It is moving away from bringing so much food into the region, growing more of our own, and it is about (Internet) broadband-based jobs, which bring money into the region but don’t require people to bring a job to the region. The job is elsewhere.”


The big question in the Adirondacks is the balance between protecting the environment and building an economy, Herman said.

“The economy and the environment here are interdependent with each other. Our environment will not be healthy and will not be maintained if the economy collapses in the park.”

The future scenario has park residents living off the land to sustain themselves.

“So we want to take advantage of these unique situation that we have here — a mix of public and private land together — that we can use the public lands for recreation, we can use the private lands for sustainable harvesting of trees, for growing our own food and raising animals,” Herman said.


But Moriah Town Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava said he does not agree with the back-to-nature scenario Herman and Mason are advocating.

“How do we retain the people that have been here for generations? I mean, farming and growing your own food, chopping your own wood? They want us to live like we are back in 1880.”

Herman said they’re just trying to come up with what would be successful in the Adirondack Park.

Another part of the effort would be to improve the tourism infrastructure, he said.

“There has not been a lot of investment. Most of the properties are kind of tattered, and in many places in the park there are not good places to eat, there are not good places to stay, there are not the amenities that visitors today want.”


The area needs to attract a more diverse set of visitors, he said.

“We also want to add more things that visitors can spend money on. The traditional image of a tourist in the Adirondack Park is a backpacker. He doesn’t stay in a hotel room. He hardly buys anything except maybe a pizza or a sandwich.

“We would like to attract those people still, but we would like to attract a new kind of visitor, someone who wants to stay in a nice place and go out for a nice meal, go and do some shopping and go to a couple of museums.”


Finally, they should try to attract more retirees to settle in the park, Herman said.

“Retirees are a great opportunity for our communities. They don’t require a job. They come with an income stream. They generate service jobs in the local economy.”

To get to that level in 25 years, they need to strengthen the communities in the park, Herman said.

“We want our communities to be more dynamic, to be vibrant. We want them to be welcoming of newcomers, people with new skills. People come to start a farm or people come to start a network-based business on the Internet.”


A lot has to happen first, he said.

“All of this is going to require upgraded infrastructure; improvements to health care, especially services for the aging; broadband; cell-phone service; water treatment.”

Newcomb Town Supervisor George Canon said the work done by Herman and Mason should be supported.

“Nobody would disagree that we would like to reverse those trends as well. Good report. I mean these guys do great work.”

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