The Adirondacks, the nation's first constitutionally protected wilderness, straddle the watersheds of both the Hudson and St. Lawrence Rivers, are home to the Hudson's headwaters, and embrace all the economic disparities of a region populated by full-time residents and vacation property owners. Clarkson University's Adirondack Semester was designed to give students a deep dive into the complex policy, science, political and social challenges of this region rich in lore, literature and history. Students "live a semester as a resident explorer, entrepreneur, environmental scientist, poet and policy advocate of the Adirondack Park, one of the largest protected landscapes in North America."
The Spring 2016 Adirondack Semester, under the supervision of Professor Stephen Bird, developed a "Main Streets Program," a unique rural application of a planning concept usually reserved for urban areas. The study explains:
Town main streets can be the pillar that support the immediate economy of a community as well as the areas that surround it. They act as hubs of entrepreneurial development and serve as places where people are able to generate ideas to improve the surrounding community. With a thriving main street, a town’s residents have sources of income and places to spend leisure time; this helps improve people’s overall quality of life.
In rural economies, main streets are increasingly important, with small entrepreneurial companies responsible for creating over two-thirds of new jobs and innovation for the past twenty years
On April 20, a summary of the report's findings was presented by Semester students Rosemary Bloodnick, Meghan Devine, Cort Honey, Grace Hopkins, David Josephs, Kyle Patterson and Ben Thompson. Jacob Vennie-Vollrath served as Adirondack North Country Association Advisor for the Spring 2016 program.
The excerpt below, taken from the Executive Summary, is followed by a link to the full study.
The Adirondack Park, like much of rural America, has high amounts of poverty, dilapidated buildings, and reduced economic activity. A potential solution to these issues would be to design a main streets program. Most main streets programs however are not designed for rural areas like the Adirondack Park. The Adirondack Park also has additional difficulties with the extensive zoning laws that the Adirondack Park Agency has set forth. With these considerations in mind, outlined in this document is a blueprint of what an Adirondack Main Streets Program might look like.
The Adirondack Park was an area of high industry during the logging period in the 1800s. Since then, with regulations limiting development and use of the Park's resources, the towns within the Park struggled economically. In terms of rural economic development, the towns and villages within the Park are looking to increase job opportunities for the residents and increase household income.
The Adirondack Main Streets Program was created with the goals of and rural economic development, sustainability, entrepreneurship, and low-income opportunists. This program used the New York Main Streets Program as an example. The primary components of the NYMS Program include beautifying towns, increasing community involvement, and creating a strong economic base by increasing the amount and quality of businesses.
The program itself is specifically tailored to the Adirondack Park. This program takes into account the income of the Park’s residents, the Park’s demographics, and the structure of the towns and villages within the Park’s boundary. Some of the programs provisions include improving infrastructure, increasing entrepreneurship incentives, providing low income employment and training, and overall improving community life. This main streets program will draw capital into towns and villages within the Park while also circulating that capital within the Park’s economy.
A study of Tupper Lake was determined to be beneficial in developing an Adirondack Main Streets Program. This town was chosen for a case study because of its population size, the existing infrastructure, and the current revitalization underway. The revitalization strategy in Tupper Lake could serve as a model for other towns in the Adirondacks who are looking to improve their Main Streets. In this case study it was determined what additions would be needed in the Tupper Lake revitalization. These were areas such as food availability, business expansion, and low-income opportunities. A survey was also conducted in Tupper Lake to determine the needs and wants of local residents.
A main streets program has many challenges after it has already been implemented. These include keeping the infrastructure from degrading, the population stable, and keeping people involved. For future projects there are four areas of research, youth retention, integrating environmental amenities into main streets, art and culture, and policy capacity. The Adirondack Main Streets program will be an aid to the towns and villages of the Adirondack Park.