Thursday, October 1, 2015

Marshall McLean, Ardent Conservationist

Marshall McLeanPay a visit to the Adirondack Research Library (ARL, operated by Union College’s Kelly Adirondack Center) sometime. The Library is located at the former home of wilderness champion Paul Schaefer, where he and Carolyn Schaefer raised their family beginning in 1934. Reading in that library offers me a healthy reminder of the tight rope walked by former defenders of “forever wild.” When it came to standing up for wild country, our predecessors were often up against a wall, just as we sometimes feel today.

I recently visited the ARL to reacquaint myself with the federal government’s 1942 condemnation of a 100-ft Right of Way “for the rail transportation of strategic materials vital to the successful prosecution of the War” from the soon-to be built mine at Tahawus, Newcomb. In the ARL archives, the name Marshall McLean frequently crops up. He was the attorney representing the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks in court in 1942-43.

Few from the Forest Preserve protection side, certainly not Marshall McLean, were prepared to argue in court against the federal taking during the war emergency. Everything needed to win the war in Europe would be done, including condemnation of a small part of the public’s wilderness. The strategic mineral was ilmenite, or titanium dioxide. The United States built the spur line to Tahawus for $3 million about a year later. Condemned property included 13 miles of NYS Forest Preserve (middle and northern spur), along with 17 miles through lands of various private owners (southern spur). The easement over the many private property owners was deemed permanent. The easement over the Forest Preserve was deemed “temporary” for fifteen years after the war ended.

What McLean challenged in court was the federal government’s seemingly arbitrary 15-year extension of this taking of Forest Preserve land after World War II had ended. What was the justification for the extended federal taking with the emergency long past? The military’s attorneys were adamant this was a necessary precaution. McLean, I am sure, was made to feel small and petty for making such a stand and questioning the military’s judgment as the war in Europe raged and men were dying. McLean, however, was not so easily bruised. Wild country was part of his patriotism. It called to him, and he answered the call.

McLean and his client, the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, did not win their appeal and the railroad ROW was extended for 100 years in 1962 (pay back for the cost of building the rail line). For the privilege of handing over part of our Forest Preserve for 100 more years, New York State was supremely ripped off. Royalties for 100 years were established at $63.50 annually, with a lump sum payment to NYS of $6,350 – paid in advance. Why did Governor Rockefeller concede to this miserly payment for public lands in 1962? I don’t know the answer.

But this post is not about the Lake Sanford rail spur, which is much in the news today thanks to a plan by Iowa Pacific to storage oil tankers along its length. It’s about Marshall McLean. He died in 1952. The values McLean stood up for in court during WW II were the same values he espoused in helping the NYS Conservation Department (he was counsel to the Department) acquire parts of what is now the High Peaks Wilderness area in the 1920s.

According to Camp Fire Club of America records, McLean was a chief negotiator for the Conservation Department with the then private owners – Ausable Club and Tahawus Club. In this connection, the late Arthur H. Masten, vice president of the McIntyre Iron Company and member of the Tahawus Club, wrote disparagingly in 1923 about the State’s condemnation of Lake Colden and the Flowed Lands and subsequent public access and recreation which has brought “into this country many people, neither sportsmen nor forest lovers, who regard the woods much as they would Coney Island and treat them accordingly… most of these people have no regard for the game laws… almost any known method of fishing is employed except dynamiting… that such results were likely to follow (State condemnation) was recognized by Mr. Pratt, former Conservation Commissioner, who at one time gave positive assurance that the Lake would not be taken from its owners. Later however, he yielded to pressure, being somewhat in awe of one of his subordinates who vociferously insisted that the occupation of the property by a private club constituted an abhorrent ‘special privilege,’ subversive of the rights of the people. The gore around Lake Colden was accordingly appropriated in October, 1920, notwithstanding the protest of its owners” (from Masten’s The Story of Adirondac, The Adirondack Museum, republished, 1968).

It is possible, perhaps likely that the Conservation Department “subordinate” who pushed hard for the State’s appropriation of these lands, mentioned by Masten, is Marshall McLean. As for the disparaging comments by Arthur Masten, they are understandable from his privileged ownership perspective, and from a conservation viewpoint, then and now. No doubt the trout waters of Lake Colden were severely pressured in the 1920s, just as the Little Tupper strain of brook trout were negatively affected by the introduction of bait fish and bass after the State’s acquisition from Mrs. Whitney in the late 1990s.

Paul Schaefer often mentioned Marshall McLean’s name to me. For instance, Paul said McLean was unstinting in his efforts to help Paul’s coalition defeat the Higley and Panther Mountain Dams on the South Branch of the Moose River immediately after World War II. These dams enjoyed strong State government support all the way to the top in the person of Governor Dewey. McLean is photographed by Paul testifying before the influential Legislative Committee on River Regulation which Paul helped to create as credentialed, scientific voices against the dams, inserting himself as committee secretary. Marshall McLean appeared to move easily between representing the state and private Forest Preserve advocates, affirming the values of Article XIV, wilderness and the Forest Preserve all the while. It surely wasn’t easy.

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For all of his efforts, McLean was eulogized by the Camp Fire Club of America for “a lifetime of devoted service to the fields of conservation, sports and wild life. He served for 14 years on the Federal Advisory Commission in connection with the enforcement of the Migratory Bird Act, and was on the advisory committee which codified the N.Y. State Conservation Laws. He was an accomplished hunter, photographer and sportsman, serving for many years as chairman of the Conservation Committee of the Camp Fire Club, and received an honorary degree from Williams College for his distinguished work in the conservation field.”

After his death, in 1955 Camp Fire struck a bronze memorial plaque in McLean’s honor and placed it at the cabin on Lake Colden in recognition of his efforts to acquire Lake Colden and the Flowed Lands for the public’s Forest Preserve. The plaque was destroyed along with the cabin in the fire of 1998. Camp Fire, like McLean did not give up easily. The plaque was recast, and with DEC permission members hiked back in to replace it on the current Ranger cabin wall where it hangs today.

My great thanks to Jeff Gronauer of the Camp Fire Club of America for the photographs and background information about Marshall McLean.


David 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.




One Response

  1. Dave,
    I think that Warwick Carpenter and John Apperson were heavily involved in the controversy over the Tahawus Club…in 1920. Warwick, the secretary of the Conservation Commission, was fired for taking a stand about the matter, There is a fascinating file in the Adirondack Museum, documenting the controversy. After Carpenter was fired, John Apperson made a courageous and eloquent appeal to the newly formed Adirondack Mountain Club, supporting Carpenter’s stand (a “Memorial”) he had submitted to the club. George Pratt was his boss at the Conservation Commission, and he also became head of the new Adirondack Mountain Club. John Apperson, by the way, was in correspondence with Marshall McLean as early as 1913, as he tried to find out how a prominent lawyer viewed some of the thorny issues in the management of the forest preserve, campsites, and so forth.