Monday, July 13, 2009

Protecting The Adirondacks: A New Era Begins

After months of discussion and evaluation, the decision was made on Saturday to formally consolidate the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks (AFPA) with the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks (RCPA) and to form a new organization called Protect the Adirondacks. The new organization will continue a better than 100-year history of protecting the Adirondacks so I thought I’d take a moment to take a look at the new group and how it developed historically.

At their annual meeting last Saturday at Heaven Hill Farm outside the Village of Lake Placid, the memberships of both organizations voted in favor of consolidation, which enables the process to move through the final legal steps of incorporation. The membership of the Residents’ Committee voted 83-0 in favor of the consolidation. The membership of the Association voted 111-2 in favor.

Founded in 1901, the Association was the first citizen-based organization created to protect the Adirondack region. The AFPA was organized to “enlist the interest of all true sportsmen and lovers of nature throughout the state and that with the cooperation of all, an association would be created with the likelihood of its becoming a useful body which would yield as lasting and potent influence on Adirondack affairs.” On the morning of its founding, the Association voted to oppose any amendment to Article 7 of the New York State Constitution, the “forever wild” clause (which was renumbered Article 14 in 1938). The clause states that the state Forest Preserve “be forever kept as wild forest lands.”

Paul Schaefer wrote in 1995 that Gifford Pinchot, (later President Theodore Roosevelt’s go-to guy for all things forestry) urged repeal of Article 14 in order to permit the “scientific” lumbering of state lands. “A detailed color map by Pinchot of 1901 shows 100,000 acres of Forest Preserve surrounding Raquette Lake ripe for lumbering with plans for roads, a railroad, sawmill and other developments,” Schaefer noted. The AFPA fought successfully to prevent the plan from being enacted.

The RCPA emerged in 1990 as a response to virulent opposition to environmental recommendations issued by the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. Opponents of the Commission’s suggestions organized protests that clogged the Northway between exits 20 and 28, including one led by then Republican State Senator Ronald Stafford (Betty Little now holds his seat). The RCPA was organized in response to arguments made by organizations such as the Adirondack Fairness Coalition, the Citizens Council of the Adirondacks, and the Adirondack Solidarity Alliance that protecting the Adirondacks was an idea that came from outside the region.

As a historical side note: The Adirondack Fairness Coalition was founded by three local attorneys, the founder of Lincoln Log Homes, and the Schroon Lake supervisor. Adirondack Solidarity Alliance was founded by retired Lieutenant Colonel Calvin Carr, and the Citizens Council (echoing the name of the white supremacist organization founded to opposed Civil Rights in the south) was founded by Donald Gerdts, a one-time Long Island real estate developer. According to a book by David Helvarg [link], Gerdts led a mob to the home of Adirondack Council staff member Eric Siy which threatened to burn down his house. “They want our blood, they want our land, and they want us out of here,” Gerdts told the Hamilton County News at the time. Other organizations, taking the names Minuteman Brigade and Liberators (or possibly the same folks using different names) sent threatening letters. Attacks were made on the staff of environmental organizations, the DEC, the APA, and their supporters, and various roads and forest areas were vandalized. Among those who were reported by local newspapers to have physically attacked supporters of the Commission findings were Maynard Baker as well as Calvin Carr, who punched the Adirondack Council’s John Sheehan and was hit back. Don Sage, of Schroon Lake, told the Plattsburgh Press Republican at the time that his opponents were communists and suggested they who should “be burned out and executed.” That was twenty years ago, although some are still active in what they call the Property Rights Movement even today.

According to their mission statement Protect the Adirondacks! will be dedicated “to the protection and stewardship of the public and private lands of the Adirondack Park, and to build the health and diversity of its human communities and economies for the benefit of current and future generations. Protect the Adirondacks looks to a future in which the wild character, ecological integrity and mutual well being of the natural and human communities of the Park are sustained.”

According to the its press release the new organization will “break new ground in research and policy analysis, educational outreach, grassroots activism and hands-on contact with Park landowners and land managers to promote exemplary stewardship of Adirondack landscapes. Protect also plans to strengthen and expand existing programs in Forest Preserve protection and management, and in stewardship of the Park’s privately owned working forests, including such programs as the Sustainable Forestry and Adirondack Lake Assessment, and the Adirondack Park Stewardship Training.”

Protect will maintain educational and administrative offices at its Center for the Forest Preserve in Niskayuna, and an Adirondack Park office and membership headquarters in Saranac Lake. AFPA Executive Director David Gibson will lead the new organization. Members of Protect’s executive committee are: Charles Clusen, chair; Lorraine Duvall, Robert Harrison and Dale Jeffers, vice chairs; David Quinn, treasurer; Maryde King, secretary; and Nancy Bernstein, assistant secretary.

Photo: A Letter to the Editor of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise from Dick Beamish of Lake Clear, 1992.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

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