You live where?

In retrospect, I think the question took me by surprise so much that it was a few seconds before I realized what she said. Why do you live here? she repeated, as if I had a ready-made list of reasons. I mean theres nothing here. What exactly do you do in an area like this? The questioner did not intend to offend me, and I have heard this challenge before, although I will admit to being a little put-off at first. She was simply trying to understand why someone would choose to live in a region that remains (for the most part) removed from what could be considered a normal urban lifestyle with its conveniences. Despite my passionate dissertation on the reasons why I feel the Adirondacks are a wonderful place to live - I had the feeling that my words werent really getting through. It seemed as if she had an attachment to the place that she called home that for whatever reason, was strong enough to marginalize anything the Adirondacks could offer. In retrospect, I think she understood what I was talking about, but could not imagine sharing the same point of view. Thats ok - this area certainly isnt for everyone and thats probably a good thing! During a trip through western Vermont last week, I took note of how many travelers guides and brochures we saw that promoted the Adirondacks. It struck me as a bit ironic that we travelled to a vacation destination that had an obvious connection back to the very place we left. After living and working in Burlington for a couple of years in the early 90s, I can understand why a connection exists between our two regions. Whether you look east from the summit of Gore Mountain or west from the docks in Burlington - we are geographic neighbors separated, or possibly joined (depending on your point of view), by Lake Champlain. It was during this time, and despite our best efforts, we wound up leaving the Green Mountain State for the simple reality of economics. What started out as a youthful adventure turned into a lesson that I continue to learn from today. As it turned out, we moved to Vermont at a time when many were seeking to find a place to live that was safely removed from the problems of the metro areas to our south. Vermont was beautiful, close by, and in many ways - unspoiled. This rapid influx of new residents, coupled with the states efforts to promote industry and jobs, drove housing prices through the roof and out of reach for first-time prospective home buyers. Its a story that has played-out across the country and one the Adirondacks are struggling with today. To twist an old adage a bit - Vermont was a nice place to visit, but we simply couldnt afford to live there. While there will always be people who may not appreciate our region for what it is, the number of second homes and increasing development make it obvious that we do have something to offer. It makes us ask the question, How do you continue to preserve the qualities of a region in the midst of an influx of new residents? Or closer to the point, How do you manage growth without destroying the host? To answer that question, we would be well-served by taking another look across the lake. What makes Vermont special in my mind is that despite its growth, and changing demographics, its managed to hold on to and even promote the qualities that make it so desirable. Its a region that has become very successful by celebrating itself and encouraging others to join in. The end result is an expanded community that constantly ties itself back into what makes it special. There is no opportunity to wonder why people live there - the reasons are obvious. Its certainly not perfect, as any native Vermonter would attest, but its their best shot at making it work. For those who understand that long-range planning looks ahead for generations, versus five or ten years, the challenges we face locally start to become even more critical. As I was told by a young couple that moved to North Creek from Vermont several years ago - We love it here. The Adirondacks are what Vermont used to be like 20 years ago. That couple did the best they could here but in the end they wound up moving back to Vermont. The lack of affordable homes and long-term employment prospects proved to be too much for them. Are they better off now? To be honest, we eventually lost touch so I dont really know. But for their sake, I certainly hope so. In the future, I hope that people continue to come to the Adirondacks for the right reasons. If for some reason this region doesnt turn out to be what they thought it would be, I hope they leave because they want to, not because they have to. Brett Hagadorn is editor of the News Enterprise. He can be reached at brett@denpubs.com

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