I could not agree more about the roles of youth programs/high school teams/club teams. We live in one of the towns you mentioned and have an extremely strong youth program which provides a good foundation to kids, but also balances competition with fun and offers a broad range of team levels (house and travel) for younger kids since many develop and are interested at varying levels.
Once players decide whether they really want to devote extra time to lacrosse and challenge themselves at the next level (middle school age for the most part), club teams provide an excellent option to do just that, giving kids more exposure to other coaching styles, teammates from other towns and a broader range of strong competition. High school teams are certainly critical, particularly for those fortunate enough to have strong programs, but you are absolutely correct when you say that the emphasis has shifted to the club teams as far as recruiting is concerned. All players I am aware of (granted, there may be an exception here and there) who have been recruited in our town have done so based upon their club experience, with the support of the high school coach.