I was surprised by a comment by Colin Beier, an ecologist at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in “Future of open space.” Professor Beier thinks there’s no longer a development threat to the Adirondacks because, as he points out, the Adirondack Park is losing population.
It’s true that the year-round Adirondack population has diminished somewhat in recent years. But the threat from destructive development comes not from permanent residents of the Park but from those who live outside the region and want to own their own “piece of the wilderness” as a weekend and seasonal retreat. The dream of having a second home here has accounted for the steady growth in residential development, and the degradation of the Park’s lakeshores and water quality, during the four decades since the APA Act took effect.
The APA’s shoreline protections are especially weak. Great swaths of vegetation can be removed between house and lake, and malfunctioning septic systems are a serious problem. Storm-water runoff, a major threat to water quality, is not even mentioned in the APA Act. Conspicuous “trophy homes” are popping up on mountainsides and ridges, compromising the natural character of the Park.
Earlier this year, the APA approved the Adirondack Club & Resort development for Tupper Lake. This project covers more than six thousand acres and would carve out dozens of fifty-to-hundred-acre lots on open-space land that is supposed to be protected under the APA law.
There are now twice as many houses in the Adirondacks as there were in 1971, when the state legislature created the Adirondack Park Agency. The number of houses in the Park is steadily increasing. Some of this development is properly regulated, but much of it is not. The threat from overdevelopment needs to be addressed if we are to protect the integrity of the Adirondack Park for future generations.
Dick Beamish, Saranac Lake
Beamish, founder and former publisher of the Adirondack Explorer, was on the staff of the fledgling Adirondack Park Agency from 1972 to 1978.
Colin Beier says
Well said, Dick. I completely agree that second home development is an ongoing issue in the Adirondack Park, especially in terms of impacts on aquatic and riparian ecosystems.
It remains unclear whether the recent rate of development of this nature is increasing, stable or decreasing. Some data suggests it is decreasing since the collapse of real estate markets and the lingering recession that begin in 2007. Other data indicates growing ‘amenity migration’ trends and that the Adirondacks could be a major growth area in the next two decades.
In fact, I think the Big Tupper development could serve as the bellwether for future growth in the region.
Also, my comment in the ADK Explorer article was portrayed a bit out of context, perhaps.
I was asked if residential development at the current time posed an existential threat to Adirondack species and ecosystems. At present, while land use change remains a concern, it is not the greatest threat to the ecological integrity and biodiversity of the Adirondacks.
Instead, I would argue that many other types of change threaten the Adirondacks: climate change, mercury and acid pollution, invasive species, exotic forest pests and diseases, decades of diameter-limit logging (high-grading) and in a few areas, over-intensive recreation, among others.
There is a lot of good science to suggest that intact ecosystems, as opposed to fragmented and degraded ecosystems, will be more resilient to these changes. Land use change may be the tipping point that determines whether the Adirondack Park survives the many perils of 21st century change.