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The Adirondacks


Studying here doesn’t change what you learn, it changes how you learn, and that makes all the difference. Students will be front and center for field trips, conversations and meetings with stakeholders in learning about the complex issues, options, history, challenges and opportunities inherent in the 128-year conservation experiment that is the Adirondack Park. The Adirondacks are the past, present, and future of large-scale conservation efforts:


The history of the modern conservation movement can be traced to the Adirondacks, on many levels, and the intellectual and political cauldron that created the Adirondacks affected what conservation looks like across our nation and our globe. Conceived in the early 1870s, and created in 1885, the Adirondack Park predates the United States Forest Service by 20 years and by 70 years the federal Wilderness Act.

In 1892 the New York State constitution was amended to protect all public lands in the park as forever wild in perpetuity. This is the only constitutional protection for wild lands in the United States, including at the federal level.

The need for coordinated region-wide management resulted in the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency in 1973, a pioneering state executive-level planning agency before there were any other examples of state level planning in the Northeast.

On these and many other levels, including philosophical, artistic, and societal, the Adirondacks have shaped our nation.


There are an estimated 135,000 year-round residents living in 103 towns and villages across the 6 million acres of the Adirondack Park, which is evenly divided between public and private ownership. The Adirondacks offer some of the most remote and wild places east of the Mississippi River, but draw 7 million visitors each year, while an additional 92 million people live within a half-day’s drive.

adkDespite this proximity to major urban centers and significant tourism, local economies are fragile, and based on USDA free and reduced lunch data, the park is one of the most “rural” (socio-economically depressed) regions in the eastern United States. This challenging economic situation encourages widespread “brain drain” as Adirondack youth leave to find better economic opportunities and quality-of-life amenities. As a result Adirondack communities are growing older demographically, becoming the oldest average-age communities outside of Florida. As more members of the “baby boomer” generation retire and move seasonally to the park second home ownership increases, raising the tax rate for all housing, an increasing challenge for low-income and young families, feeding the historic and continuing disparity in the park between the “haves and have nots.”

There is broad awareness of the challenges facing the park, and many groups actively seeking solutions. In the past contention trumped consensus, however a new area of cooperation seems to be emerging.


The Adirondacks are a UNESCO world heritage site, a distinction powerful as a statement about its ecological integrity and expanses of wilderness, but also significant highlighting the potential to capitalize on global interest in this landscape and promote the economics sustaining human communities in the park. Can we create the balance necessary?

How do we safeguard natural communities while trying to create healthy human ones? Will the Adirondacks be loved to death, or will towns slowing wink out as invasive species, global climate change and a lack of economic opportunity drive out the last residents? What is the greatest good desirable for the Adirondacks, and who gets to say?

Most importantly, as we wrestle with these issues from the comfort of the developed world, how can others learn from our experience, shortening the time for achieving success in their own countries, according to their own values? And how can professionals trained here assist in that process?

This is a telescope on the microcosm students will explore during the ARS.


Adirondack Links

Culture and recreation


Organizations and Agencies



YouTube Channels

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