2037 F: The Adirondack State Forest
External conditions have overwhelmed the Park from all sides. Climate change brought invasive species that killed large swaths of the forest and filled lakes with undesirable aquatics. The outdoor winter sports season is shortening. The maples are fewer and fall foliage is muted. Repeated storms and flooding leave infrastructure in tatters all over the Park. It may be a wild place, but it is far from what it was and pristine wilderness is not what it brings to mind. Meanwhile, healthcare costs have eaten up government budgets and buried businesses and families. Political stalemate prevented good solutions to this and other problems. The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened here and in America as a whole, hollowing out the middle class. Sure these are bigger problems, but we are not immune to them here.
The economy in the Park split. Some edge towns and the so-called gold-coast seasonal resort areas did OK. But the economy of the deep interior of the Park simply collapsed and people left. Poverty deepened in the Park and, with it, alcoholism, drug abuse and family and health problems. A downward spiral that couldn’t be stopped ensued, as no one wanted to invest in an area that was obviously imploding. The crashes in the 1890s and 1931 were what created the Park originally and most view the current plight of the interior as the 3rd great collapse that will define a new core Park for the next 100 years with almost no residents.
The demographics of NYS have skewed toward non-white and urban. Now Park residents feel like victims again, but instead of the city elites keeping them down, it is the ever-growing young, non-white, urban masses that just are not motivated by a 19th century ideal of uplifting wilderness. These voters look at the loosely organized “Park” to the north and wonder how it ever got so big and cost so much for the benefit of so few, and with residents who always seem to be wrapped up in some arcane feudal conflict of their own making.
The lower taxes demanded by voters reprioritized all government spending. Parks versus pensions/healthcare for aging boomers was a major battle. Campgrounds and other public facilities fell further into disrepair and visitors have noticed. The Park had come to disproportionately depend on State jobs, so when the axe fell, the Park got nailed. Towns and counties were consolidated. Prisons were simply shut. School systems were forced into consolidations that meant closure of lots of small town schools as populations shrank. The downward spiral was unrelenting. The theory was that, with lower taxes, the private sector would grow, but it didn’t materialize here. Something had to fill the gap for the towns and the State had to take action.
Management of State land in the Park was restructured, following the National Park versus National Forest model. The half of the original Article 14 Forest Preserve that had been already classified as wilderness was left unchanged. The other half become a managed State Forest under a multiple use regime (forestry, fish, wildlife, grazing, etc.). Local towns share income from activity on it, like user fees and logging, but receive no payments in lieu of taxes, which are still paid on the remaining Forest Preserve.
The new model was presented to voters as being more like the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont, but better, with something like a National Park in the middle of it. The dominant voting bloc: urban, non-white and unfamiliar with the Park, passed it despite a desperate campaign by aging environmentalists. There has been widespread loss of support for environmental issues nationally in the age of constant economic crises. Environmental regulations are weakened or just ignored. Not just the APA but the State Environmental Quality Review Act is much less followed. How can DEC enforce it when they have so few people?