Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dave Gibson: Fighting For A Wild Upper Hudson, 1968-2013

Proposed Gooley Dam Reservoir c 1968This week’s Adirondack Park Agency public hearings in Minerva and Newcomb about the classification of new Forest Preserve land along the Upper Hudson River, Essex Chain of Lakes, Cedar and Indian Rivers were well attended and informative. At Minerva Central School, there was no applause, no heckling. Folks listened to differing viewpoints respectfully, and several speakers noted a fair amount of common interests.

While most speakers favored a Wild Forest classification which would allow motorized access through an area long closed to public use, one former Finch, Pruyn manager noted the damage done to the roads by all-terrain vehicles. There was only one speaker in Minerva who favored unrestricted, unregulated, all-out motorized use from the Goodnow Flow to the Cedar River. Most appreciate the havoc this would cause to a region they know, or wish to get to know.

While representatives of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and others spoke in favor of a Wilderness classification and wilderness management for much of the area, for reasons of the area’s characteristics and ability to withstand public use, we also acknowledged the importance of public access via the former Finch roads. Former Finch, Pruyn employees gave first-hand accounts of the well-built roads and culverts they put in decades ago that make this land accessible today from Newcomb.

All Wilderness advocates appear united in also favoring a Wild Forest classification to the north of the Essex Chain Lakes encompassing 6,000-7,000 acres in order to permit reasonably easy public access from the road system to the Upper Hudson, Deer Pond and the Chain Lakes.

The only question and difference among us is where a Wilderness-Wild Forest boundary should be drawn, and precisely wUpper Hudson River by Paul Schaefer, c. 1968here motorized access should end. Several local boat-builders, fly-fishing guides and outfitters noted the compatibility of a Wilderness (or Primitive or Canoe) classification with the growth of their outdoor recreational businesses. However, they also spoke in favor of reasonable vehicular access to the Upper Hudson above the heavy whitewater. Nobody is in favor of forcing river guides and paying clients to carry heavy boats uphill for a mile or two after a great day of fly-fishing or paddling.

I asked those attending the APA hearing in Minerva to recall another time more than forty years earlier when true common ground brought over 600 people from all walks of life to Newcomb Central School to fight for the Upper Hudson River’s very existence. Had these people not been successful, the lands and waters now subject to these APA hearings and soon to be opened to the public would have been under a huge reservoir. The ‘60s were the waning days of the big dam era in America and in New York. For many years water planners seeking to slack the thirst of New York City and Westchester and to augment the Catskill Park reservoir system had looked to the Adirondacks. 1961-65 were also drought years, and some urban planners argued that freshwater releases from a big dam on the Upper Hudson would push back the salt water moving up the estuary, threatening NYC’s water supply intake.

I thank Larry King, who once chaired the Conservation Committee of the Schenectady Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, for sharing his correspondence about the public’s fight against Gooley Dam No. 1 in the years 1968-69. If it had been built, Gooley Dam proposed less than a mile below the river’s confluence with the Indian River, would have taken 16,000 acres, flooding 25 miles of the Upper Hudson and its tributaries north through Newcomb, inundating the Cedar River, Essex Chain Lakes, Goodnow Flow, Lake Harris, Rich Lake (where the Adirondack Interpretive Center now lies) and all the way to Catlin Lake in the Huntington Wildlife Forest. Reports from that time indicate that the reservoir behind the 200 foot high dam would have fluctuated between a maximum of 1610 feet above sea level to 1,555 feet – or 55 feet of drawdown, the height of a six-story building. An article in the Troy Record in Nov. 1968 quotes Newcomb’s Supervisor and Town Clerk concerning the impact of the reservoir’s flooding on their town: gone would be 75 year-round homes, eight businesses, 150 camps, the central school, two churches, the state campsite, and all lake shores, all replaced by “the visual, air and water pollution of vast mud flats.” No wonder 600 people arrived at Newcomb Central School to discuss that situation.

The threat of a dam to be located either at Gooley  below the Indian, or downstream near Kettle Mountain, was real. Governor Rockefeller’s Conservation Commissioner, R. Stewart Kilborne, was also the Chairman of the State Water Resources Commission – an obvious conflict of interest – which had issued a report recommending dams on the Upper Hudson to provide “low flow augmentation” of the lower Hudson River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted detailed topographical surveys of the Upper Hudson in the summer of ’68 at the request of the State. “This surveying activity has naturally alarmed conservationists and numerous regional meetings and organizations have passed resolutions opposing “Gooley No. 1” wrote the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks.

In a letter dated August 2, 1968, a spokesman for Conservation Commissioner Kilborne replies to concerns from Philip Ham of the Forest Preserve Association of New York State:

“The major reservoir purpose would be to supply additional water for the New York Metropolitan Area… Without the releases from upstream reservoir storage, salty water in the lower Hudson River estuary would move upstream farther during periods of low flow as withdrawals are increased and could endanger fresh water supply intakes such as at Poughkeepsie… The reservoir releases would also be available for water supply to other communities along the River above Hyde Park… The larger flow would increase the waste assimilation capacity of the River…Recreational use of the reservoir would be considered…The reservoir would have potential of providing benefits in eastern New York for about two-thirds of the population of the state.” He closes the letter with “Considerable further investigation, including a feasibility study, is required before a specific project in the Upper Hudson Basin can approach implementation stage.”

So, what happened? First, the drought of the 1960s finally broke, and the sense of a downstate water emergency passed. Second, leaders like ADK’s Larry King, Paul Schaefer of the Adirondack Hudson River Association, and Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks’ Arthur Crocker argued to state officials that about 20% of Gooley’s reservoir would flood Forest Preserve land and therefore a Constitutional amendment requiring a majority of the voters would be needed to approve the dam. Third, alternatives like water conservation were not only suggested, but finally began to be seriously implemented, such as the widespread installation of water meters in the New York City metro area (as of the mid-60s, just 20 percent of New York City’s water users were metered). Fourth, a large, diverse, vocal coalition against Gooley No. 1 emerged, including native Adirondackers, all the Adirondack environmental-conservation-recreation groups of that era, including the New York State Conservation Council, the council of hunting and fishing and trapping councils across the state. Indeed, Paul Schaefer credited sportsmen and women for helping to fill the halls to protest the dam in Lake George, Newcomb and other locations. North Country Senator Ron Stafford joined these protests.

Paul Schaefer asked rhetorically in a pamphlet issued in late July, 1968: “are we willing to lose the best trout waters remaining in our State, excellent big game hunting country and some of our very best winter yarding grounds for deer? Shall we replace challenging five hour white-water canoe adventures through country federal officials have described as the “most spectacular river scenery in the East” with boating on a widely fluctuating millpond? Shall we drown out miles of fine hiking trails and wilderness campsites, replacing them with a cemetery of stumps and dreary mud flats?”

Ultimately, the State Legislature got the message from their constituents loud and clear, and both Senate (Senator Bernard C. Smith) and Assembly (Assemblyman Clarence Lane) introduced bills to prohibit dams on the Upper Hudson and its tributaries above Luzerne. The bill was approved in the 1969 session by votes of 53-0 in the Senate and 146-0 in the Assembly and was signed by Gov. Rockefeller who, after all, was a builder of big things like dams and powerplants and state plazas and who had been sitting on the fence quite a bit on the issue.

So, while stakeholders this summer argue to the APA passionately for one State Land classification or another, or a mixture, ultimately this is all part of a regionally and globally important Adirondack Park, as several speakers pointed out. Thanks to an earlier confederation of Park interests which fought off downstate planners and dam builders, today our children and grandchildren and visitors from around the globe have options ecologically, recreationally, economically in drawing a living or finding great adventure along and near the shores of a wild and free-flowing Upper Hudson River.

Editor’s Note:  The Adirondack Park Agency continues to hold hearings around the state to explain options and gather opinions for managing up to 46,400 acres of former Finch, Pruyn/Nature Conservancy and adjacent Forest Preserve lands in the Upper Hudson River region.  All of the Almanack’s coverage of the new state lands, including the debates over wilderness and wild forest classifications, the maps, hearings, and more can be found here.  Details and maps of the several proposed classification schemes can be found here

Illustrations: Above, the proposed Gooley Dam on the Upper Hudson, showing low and high water lines (Map by Lawrence H. King, and provided courtesy of the map-maker; this version was printed in The [Troy] Record, November 23, 1968. Below, a photograph of the Upper Hudson River by Paul Schaefer taken in about 1968.

Dave Gibson

Dave Gibson

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for nearly 25 years, much of that time as Executive Director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and then as first Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

During Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history.

Currently, Dave is a partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

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6 Responses

  1. Randy Putnam says:

    What a great article; one that put some good perspective on the current on-going discussions about the F-P lands. Had the Gooley Dam been constructed any of today’s discussions would not be taking place. Also, so nice to see how bi-partisanship can actually match with public interest. A lesson some of our leaders and state citizens would be wise to re-learn.

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  2. Avon says:

    What I read elsewhere today reported that at the latest 2.5-hour hearing 1

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  3. Avon says:

    … at the latest hearing 14 people favored Wilderness classification and only 12 favored Wild Forest. So I question how meaningful author Dave Gibson’s conclusion is, that “most” speakers advocated for Wild Forest.

    These days, an election victory of 55%-45% is sometimes called a “landslide,” while I think that 11 out of 20 is a bare statistical majority. Given how fast Americans change their minds these days, with a president’s job approval rating rising or dropping 10 points within a month, I’d advise caution in proceeding here!

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  4. michael ingrassia says:

    How can you compare building a dam with allowing tax payers to use the land they bought. Allowing a few snowmobiles to use already made roads and increasing the economics of struggling communites is a no brainer.

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  5. Out of the approximately 40 people who spoke at the Indian Lake APA meeting Tuesday night, it was a BLOWOUT in favor of Wild Forest. Only several people spoke in favor of Wilderness and most of them were from Protect the Adirondacks.

    Darrin

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  6. [...] Adirondacks: Fighting For A Wild Upper Hudson, 1968-2013 [...]

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