Adirondack population aging, declining

The population of the Adirondack State Park is aging and falling, according to a recent study by the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project, and few young families are sticking around.

The study, an assessment on land ownership, demography, school enrollment and emergency services, said the park will lose more than 900 people per year after 2020.

The study also said school enrollment is dropping at schools within the park.

The study said the park has a median age nearly nine years older than the rest of the nation and eight years older than the rest of New York state.

In 2010, the median age in Hamilton and Essex counties was 46. The median age of the rest of the country was 37 and the median age in New York was 38, according to the study.

The population in the park in 2000 was around 133,000. In 2015, the number is expected to drop to 128,000. By 2030, it is expected to fall to 115,000, according to the study.

Mark Kilmer, president of the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the declining population could be caused by a lack of professional jobs inside the park.

“There are so many restrictions on economic development [in the park],” Kilmer said.

“Probably until there is a means for business or job opportunities, [the trend] is going to stay,” he said.

Northville Mayor John Spaeth said the population also is aging in Northville, which is in Fulton County in the southern part of the Adirondack Park.

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“We are starting to become a retirement community,” Spaeth said.

He said many professionals living in the park had to commute outside the park for their jobs.

Northville’s location, Spaeth said, would let many people commute to Capital District jobs easier than communities deeper in the park. Northville is working on a comprehensive plan with this in mind.

“It is about what we can do,” Spaeth said.

In the 12-county Adirondack region, the number of public school students who live inside the park is dropping at twice the rate of students who live outside the park. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of students living inside the park declined by an average of 422 per year.

Northville Central School and Wells Central School are two local districts indicative of this change. Northville went from 526 students in 2003 to 458 students in 2013, while Wells went from 171 to 154.

Wells Central School Superintendent Thomas Sincavage said the situation has gotten worse this year, with enrollment down to 138.

Wells is the biggest district in Hamilton County, which is inside the Adirondack Park.

Northville Central School Interim Superintendent Debra Lynker said she’s not sure why student enrollment is down in the district, but it could be due to a lack of job opportunities in the area.

“Generally, people move to where they are working,” Lynker said.

Spaeth said declining school enrollment was part of the reason for a merger attempt between the Northville and Mayfield school districts. Voters rejected that merger attempt earlier this year.

The study said more than 58 percent of the park is restricted from further development.

Also, more than 62 percent of the land in the park is under some form of state-authorized resource management, such as the Forest Preserve, conservation easement or property tax incentive for forest management, the study said.

Northampton Mayor James Groff said restrictions in the park are killing job growth and are difficult to fight politically.

“The problem is we are such a minority population, the state of New York does not care,” Groff said.

“You aren’t going to attract economic development to the point it is booming like it used to be,” he said.

The study was sponsored by the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, the Adirondack North Country Association and the towns of Chester and Arietta.