By SARA RUBERG
Like many Adirondack Park employers, Kathryn Reiss struggled to find young people to hire this summer at her business, the High Falls Gorge nature park and cafe.
She recruited 15 people—five short of what she needs to host big events like weddings, she said this week during an Adirondack Explorer forum on the economics of park towns. Reiss said it’s because young people, like her son, struggle to pay high rents while working at low wages in the Adirondacks, and decide to move elsewhere. Because she lacks employees, she has to turn down hosting larger events requiring a lot of labor, ultimately hurting her business.
“You’re turning over staff so quickly,” Reiss said. “They’re trying to make more money per hour or they’re shifting for a different place to live or there are transportation issues. All those things come together to degrade the employees that support the businesses.”
Her comments put a human face on the data and ideas panelists had just discussed at Wednesday’s forum in Lake Placid.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, has studied the numbers behind Reiss’s struggles. He presented a report he released in April comparing Adirondack communities to other rural communities in the United States. His report came from years of evaluating census data from 1970 to 2010, focusing on economic and population trends.
It showed that the park wasn’t clearly worse off for protecting its forests and wilderness, which some point to as the reason for slower development. The Adirondack Park’s economy and demographics are similar to many rural areas when it comes to these issues—experiencing higher income growth than most over the decades, but with the same difficulties in retaining young workers and students, according to the Protect report.
“We just wanted to see whether or not the experience of Adirondack communities over the last 40 years somehow stood out from other rural areas in other parts of the country,” Bauer said. “We long felt there has been a misdiagnosis of challenges in the park.”
Adam Federman, an investigative journalist and author, also spoke at the event and fielded questions from Explorer editor Brandon Loomis. Federman described housing and transportation shortages as hindrances, but also discussed the need for worker training and addiction treatment—problems familiar to much of rural America.
Federman has been researching the economic and social struggles of residents throughout the park on behalf of the Adirondack Foundation. The Foundation plans to release its report this summer.
The reports are helping Adirondack communities identify systemic problems, like Reiss’s, that need to be fixed. Federman said it’s important people start solving these issues now.
“People in the region are thinking critically about these issues and it’s time to start addressing them in a real way,” he said.
The forum was the first in an occasional series of discussions about park issues that the Explorer intends to host.