Study Showing that Wilderness Helps Adirondack Economy Will be Presented Thursday to Adirondack Research Consortium

By John Sheehan, Adirondack Council Communications Director

Wilderness is what sets the Adirondack Park apart from all other protected forests in the Northeast. Because of the care and passion of our ancestors, we have inherited a legacy of the largest areas of pure, motor-free wilderness east of the Mississippi River and north of the Everglades.

These pristine lands are the last vestiges of the great forests from which American civilization grew. They are part of our heritage.

But what is the impact of wilderness on the modern Adirondack Park? Does wilderness preservation harm economic growth? Do people shy away from buying homes and businesses inside the Adirondack Park? How about near Wilderness Areas?

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/ClarksonStudy.jpgAccording to a recent study by Clarkson University, the answer is: No! Wilderness is very popular. In fact, it is having a positive impact on property values throughout the Adirondack Park. The premium ranges from 25 percent (every buyer) to more than 300 percent (for buyers from outside New York).

On Thursday, May 26, Clarkson School of Business Assoc. Professor Martin Heintzelman will present his new study on the economic impacts of public lands classification to the Adirondack Research Consortium as part of the consortium’s annual gathering, slated for Lake Placid.

The consortium is an interdisciplinary, regional network of scientists who gather to present and discuss research papers and reports. It includes colleges and universities, as well as independent research teams, which all work with state and federal agencies to gather information on issues that affect public policy. Its annual conference is slated for Tuesday through Thursday at the Conference Center at Lake Placid, and the Golden Arrow Resort.

Dr. Heintzelman’s ground-breaking study sought to measure the economic impact of ecological decisions made by state government officials when they choose the best management strategy for newly acquired, public Forest Preserve lands.

This is important now because the state has acquired – but not yet classified – more than 36,000 acres of land adjacent to the High Peaks Wilderness Area. Much of this, including the sensitive Boreas Ponds and the lands around those ponds, would make outstanding additions to the High Peaks Wilderness. Consolidation of these lands into the High Peaks Wilderness Area would also create a link to the Dix Mountain Wilderness, resulting in 280,000-acres of contigious wilderness. It would rival many national parks and federal wilderness areas out west in size, beauty and ecological health. (See

The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan dictates that officials must classify new Forest Preserve according to its ecological characteristics and ability to withstand public use. Economics are not supposed to enter the equation.

However, in a Park that is half-public and half-private, economic considerations are inextricably linked to every public policy decision. So when the law directs a public official to set aside economic considerations when classifying new lands, there is often a natural tendency by officials to seek some measure of economic compensation for local communities.

Frequently, this has led officials to recommend less new Wilderness and more intensive recreational options. This only makes sense, though, if one assumes that a Wilderness classification is likely to depress the local economy. Dr. Heintzelman found otherwise.

The study analyzed more than 77,000 real estate transactions over a decade in the 12 counties that comprise the Adirondack Park, using proven statistical models and Geographic Information System mapping technology to assist in the analysis.

“In general, results confirm that private properties inside the Adirondack Park, all else equal, have higher values than those outside the blue line,” says the study. “The results also suggest that proximity to protected land positively impacts property values. Specifically, we find that properties within 0.5 to 6 miles of Wilderness are valued at up to a 25-percent premium.”

The boost in property values for lands near Wilderness areas was found to be statistically similar to the difference between homes situated on waterfront, which are worth an average of 27 percent more than similar homes located away from the shore, the study noted.

“Overall, our results suggest that Wilderness land has significant positive impacts on nearby property values … This result is reasonable since allowing motorized vehicle use in (other lands) may destroy wildlife habitat, degrade the region’s bio-integrity … and produce undesirable effects like noise and pollution,” the study said.

“This result may indicate more economic activity in a local region, and surely points to increased amenity values for nearby landowners,” the report said. “These results do not mean that, in order to maximize property values, all public lands should be designated as wilderness, but that, at the margin, additional wilderness areas are likely to increase local property values. Economic theory suggests that as the amount of wilderness increases, each additional acre of Wilderness will become less valuable than the last. Nonetheless, at current levels, the marginal value of additional Wilderness is still positive.”

“…Non-NY buyers pay more than 100 percent more for properties in the Park than outside of the park … More importantly, non-NY buyers also pay a much higher premium for properties close to wilderness land, compared with NY buyers,” the study said. “Specifically, non-NY buyers pay approximately 3 times more for properties that are within 0.5 miles to 3 miles of Wilderness lands.”

A summary of the study can be found HERE.


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For the past 25 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.  John develops and executes the Council’s public relations and communications programs. 

He works with the media to explain the unique nature of the Adirondack Park and to help the public understand the Council’s efforts to sustain its clean air, wilderness, wildlife, clean water and vibrant communities.  He is the principal author of our annual State of the Park Report and assists with the editing of all Council publications. 

Born in Troy, NY, John Sheehan is a graduate of Catholic Central High School and the State University at Albany.  Today,  John and his wife Deborah live in Albany and have a family camp in the Adirondacks. Their daughter Hannah attends Clarkson University.


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