- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

Even before the Kittatinny Hotel opened its doors in 1829 as the first tourist lodge in the Poconos, visitors came from the nearby cities of New York and Philadelphia to enjoy the wildlife and scenic vistas. Today, people are coming from the city to stay, living in Pike and Monroe counties for their retirement years, or commuting to jobs in New York City or New Jersey.

"It's not that far, assuming you don't get bogged down in traffic," only about 80 or 90 miles from Manhattan and closer to workplaces in northern New Jersey, said Lawrence Squeri, author of "Better in the Poconos: The Story of Pennsylvania's Vacationland."

The migration is fueled by a mixture of proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, a mountainous region with tourist amenities, and an infrastructure of roads and electronic communication that can handle the commuters, said Gordon DeJong, a Penn State University demographer.

"If people want to live there, they must be willing to tolerate a long commute," Mr. DeJong said. "It's a question of trade-offs in what people value: Time versus lifestyle preference and income in terms of where they work."

He said the growth in the Poconos is part of a growing pattern of expanding suburban areas around major cities, citing growth in Vermont and New Hampshire from the Boston area as another example.

Paul J. Shane, who oversees the Pocono Commuter site on the Internet, said his commute to a job at the Associated Press in New York City takes about five hours daily.

"I get up at 4:45 a.m. to catch the 5:50 a.m. bus," Mr. Shane said. "If I wait another half-hour, the commute takes another hour."

Most Poconos commuters, he said, don't go all the way into New York City, but work along the Interstate 80 corridor in New Jersey.

Mr. Shane, a 17-year commuter, started his site about five years ago to give potential newcomers the information they need to decide whether to move out to the Poconos.

"I knew too many people who'd commit their life savings, then couldn't stand the commute," he said. He described it as "paying with time instead of money" for a home because of lower prices in the Poconos region.

The median home price in the Long Island, N.Y., counties of Nassau and Suffolk hit $287,500 in the past year, according to the National Association of Realtors, jumping 26.5 percent for the nation's sharpest increase in median home price. For the entire New York City metropolitan area, the median price hit $285,600, a jump of 20.9 percent.

A comparison of Westchester County, N.Y., and Stroudsburg, Pa., at the National Association of Realtors' online site shows that one needs an income of only $62,076 in Stroudsburg to live as well as one would on $100,000 in the closer New York City suburb.

Mr. Squeri said in the short run, the growth is beneficial for the resort industry that has been a traditional Poconos mainstay.

"The people who move in suburbanites with money from traditional New York City suburbs demand services," he said. "When they're provided, they're a plus for the vacation industry better ambulances, better medical facilities.

"Even more important, they give rise to fancier restaurants, and that adds to the attraction of the Poconos. Fancy restaurants and coffee bars are not likely to appear in rural areas. A coffee house is always a sign that there's money in the area."

The migration has made the two counties Pennsylvania's fastest growing. Between April 1, 2000, and July 1, 2001, Pike County's population jumped 4.8 percent to 48,507 from 46,302, while Monroe County grew 4.3 percent to 144,676 from 138,687. The fastest-growing counties nationwide during the same time were Douglas County, Colo., with 13.6 percent growth, and Loudoun County, Va., in the Washington area, with 12.6 percent.

Between 1990 and 2000, Pike County's population grew to 46,302 from 28,032, a jump of 65 percent, while Monroe County expanded to 138,687 from 95,681, a jump of about 45 percent.

Mr. Squeri expects development to pick up even more later in the decade after a planned commuter-train line along the one-time Lackawanna railroad line goes into service.

That line, expected to be completed by 2006, will run from Scranton, Pa., to Hoboken, N.J., says Charlene Doyle, manager of administration for the Monroe County Rail Authority.

"Nassau County in the New York City area was made feasible for suburbanites by the Long Island Railroad," Mr. Squeri said.

He speculates in his book that the resort industry will not fade out, but will move to less-populated areas in the region, such as Carbon and Wayne counties, following a traditional pattern. The first resorts were based near the Delaware River, but those died out and new resorts were started further inland.

The Penn State Population Research Institute found in a study of the Philadelphia area that the suburban ring extends five to seven miles every 10 years, Mr. DeJong said.

The influx of people moving in from New York City has helped resort owners solve a longtime labor shortage as spouses and teen-age children of commuters seek jobs closer to home, he said.

With the benefits, however, come problems.

Wealthy new residents raise real estate values, Mr. Squeri said, since often they have sold expensive homes in northern New Jersey or Westchester County to buy similar homes for less money in the Poconos. The new residents make life more expensive for longtime residents, both in terms of higher real estate prices and higher property taxes as demand for schools and other services grows.

"Traditional, longtime residents resent that," he said.

Congested roads and problems such as discipline in the public schools also add to the hassles of living in the Poconos. "As one retired resort owner said, and I don't necessarily agree with this, 'They came here to escape big-city problems. They don't realize they are the problem.'"

Some new residents want economic development so that they and their children can find white-collar jobs closer to their new homes. "If there are more jobs, the kids are more likely to stay," Mr. Squeri said.

In time, he said, these changes could make the Poconos seem more like the areas the migrants are leaving.

"In the long run, if more people are coming and more developments are created, the area might lose its attractiveness. When vacationers drive out there, if the area reminds them of Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, they may no longer go," Mr. Squeri said.

But that won't happen for a while, he said, because of the efforts by resorts and hunting and fishing clubs. He cited the Blooming Grove Hunting and Fishing Club, the region's largest with 15,000 acres, as an example.

"As long as it survives, that's 15,000 acres developers won't get their hands on. That's a case of a huge resort keeping the area green," Mr. Squeri said.

Many of the people moving in from larger cities, mainly New York and Philadelphia, also are willing to back efforts to keep the area green.

"When people move to rural areas, they wish to be the last to move in," he said.

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