Friday, July 8, 2011

The Price of God's Country

I was enjoying the company of two good friends last night, overlooking Schroon Lake, swatting at the black flies and feeling the warm breeze on my face, watching the mountains on the east side of the lake illuminate with the setting sun.  One friend is a former Schroon resident, now living in Florida but spending most summers up here working.  He made a comment about how the people up here are different in that they have a toughness and resiliency to them, more so than people in other places (he was referring specifically to Florida), where social services and welfare is looked on as income by a large part of the population, and that we as a demographic tend to “take care of business” and not look for handouts quite so much.

The people of this area (specifically the towns within the Adirondack Park) are a resilient bunch, to be sure.  Even between the short distance of, say, Schroon and Glens Falls or Saratoga, the vibe around here is different.  Unless you are well-off and/or a second homeowner, you do what you can to make it work.  We watch our neighbors/friends/business people work hard all year long, trying their best to capitalize on whichever season primes the pump best for their particular business.  For most of downtown, it is summer with the hard-driving tourist season from 4th of July through Labor Day.  (I used to say Memorial Day, but once I started paying attention, I realized people aren’t really up here until school is done at the end of June.)  Doug King of Flanagans comments how they are a business in the summer and go into hobby mode the rest of the year.  Winter can bring a certain amount of skiers and snowmobilers, but that is contingent on the cooperation of snowfall.  I’ve seen the annual snowmobile races cancelled due to a lack of snow and/or the lake not freezing sufficiently.  Places like Witherbees Restaurant, which is right on the snowmobile trail, need a decent early snowpack to enable the riders to get there. 

Which leads me to my point.  People around here make it work, many working more than one job.  Lots of folks scrape and scrabble doing this job or that.  The Park is full of communities of multi-taskers, out of a sense of survival.  That is due, in large part, to the severely depressed economies of these small communities.  Yes, I’m going to point fingers here – New York State and particularly the Adirondack Park Agency make it extremely difficult for our towns to have any sort of sustainable industry.  I don’t know why they don’t get it – it is nearly impossible to float a town solely as a tourist destination.  It sounds nice, but it is no longer the 1940’s when places like Scaroon Manor flourished.  Times have changed, tastes have changed, society and culture and what constitutes a summer vacation have changed.  As to our residents, our school districts have consistently declining enrollment and young adults don’t stick around.  Oh, they’ll come back to climb a high peak and go out to dinner, but that’s hardly going to help our tax base.

To be fair, we do have some political folks who are trying to get things moving within the blue line, but it’s an uphill battle.  And before you start throwing eggs at my truck, of course I realize that this area is a geographic gem and you don’t want wildly uncontrolled development turning the area into Clifton Park.  But we need to strike a happy medium.  I don’t have a cell phone so I could care less about cell service, but I have to say Verizon has done a great job of blending towers in with the landscape.  The environmental idiots who freak out over them should just get over themselves.  I think the towers as designed are an excellent compromise. And making broadband available to all areas of the park – that seems like a no-brainer.  You have to enable businesses to keep up with the rest of the world.  Have you worked on dial-up lately?  If the environs had their way, there would be NO people in the Adirondack Park to spoil their view.  Oh, nirvana! they’d say.  When there are no gas stations or stores or drivable roads anywhere in the park, let me know how that’s working out for you.  News flash:  you need communities to provide services, but you can’t expect them to live year round on 60 days worth of moderate income.

So while we wait for the wheels of progress to slowly turn, people get things done.  They manage to pay their bills and buy food and put gas in the car.  We watch new businesses come in and watch some go.  We try to be good neighbors and help each other out.  It doesn’t mean that everyone works that way, but I think it’s true of the vast majority.  It is part of what makes living in a small town like this bearable in a state that is not.


  1. It would be a lot easier to make a living *from home* in the Adirondacks if we had decent cell service and more importantly - broadband coverage - to allow internet access & teleconferencing from your house. We'll never see big factories, but we should be screaming for cable. (I do, any time I get face time with any politicos)

  2. Right, and I'm not saying I want to see big factories, either, but there are "green" industries out there that would provide economic support to the area with minimum detraction from its inherent beauty. There are balances that can be struck, but things like the APA and some of these ridiculous environmental groups remind me of two year olds with their arms folded, eyes shut, shaking their heads back and forth and saying "NONONONONO!" Let's at least talk!!

  3. Well said! And if we had a motel that was attractive people might even stay for the weekend and spend more money here in the summer - too much day use where everybody brings everything with them, using the lake and not spending money. But your point is broader, year round. Good thing we have good neighbors to get us through and feel the pain with us. :)