The Adirondack Park Agency celebrated Arbor Day 2011 with a tree planting in honor of Clarence Petty. Petty was one of the first employees at the Adirondack Park Agency following a long career with the NYS Conservation Department. He served on the Pomeroy Commission (Inter-Legislative Committee on Natural Resources) and the Temporary Study Commission on the Adirondacks.
Mr. Petty had a profound impact on the Adirondack Park and is considered one of the most influential environmentalists of the 20th century.
Born in 1905, Clarence spent the first three years of his life in a small cabin built by his father who earned a living as a guide and caretaker on Upper Saranac Lake. In 1908, his family moved to Bartlett’s Carry, then in 1911 to a house on First Pond in Coreys. Clarence graduated from Saranac Lake High School in 1925. With the strong urging of his mother Catherine, he went on to receive a forestry degree from Syracuse University’s School of Environmental Science and Forestry. Before his employment as a New York State Forest Ranger, where he was the first aerial firefighter in the Adirondacks, Mr. Petty was a camp supervisor with the Civilian Conservation Corps and a flight instructor with the U.S. Navy.
One of his favorite jobs – “a paid vacation” was how he described it- was the three years he spent, starting in 1959, exploring the Adirondack Forest Preserve to assess the condition of two million acres of “forever wild” state lands. As liaison officer between the state legislature, which mandated the study, and the Conservation Department, which managed the state lands, he would follow almost every woods road, stream, and trail in the entire Preserve, identifying areas whose wild character merited extra protection in a newly proposed category called Wilderness. For political reasons, Clarence’s recommendations were shelved, but they would resurface in 1968, when he was happily “on loan” from the Conservation Department to Governor Rockefeller’s Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks.
Building on his earlier research, Clarence refined the studies. In its final report, released in January 1971, the commission proposed that one million acres of state land in the Adirondacks be classified as Wilderness, where no motorized use and few structures would be allowed. In 1972, the recommendations became law. Clarence then retired from state service at the age of sixty-five and he and his wife Ferne headed for Alaska, a place whose natural glories lived up to his expectations.
When he returned, George Davis, the first staff member of the newly created Adirondack Park Agency, asked Clarence to give up his retirement for three more years and join the APA, where his main task would be to inventory dozens of Adirondack waterways. Based on his findings, the rivers would be recommended for special protection according to their classification as wild, scenic, or recreational under the state’s new Rivers System Act. Clarence finished his inventory and retired from state service for good in 1974. In 1975, 1,200 miles of Adirondack Rivers were given special protection by the state legislature.
Clarence Petty passed away on November 30, 2009, at the age of 104. Throughout his life he adamantly spoke on behalf of wild places and nature. Mr. Petty typed countless letters to legislators and members of Congress, to the governor and the president, urging them all to preserve wildlife and wild places. He was a force on St. Lawrence County’s Environmental Council and served on the Boards of the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Nature Conservancy, and Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks.
Each year the Adirondack Park Agency commemorates Arbor Day by planting a tree in celebration of the good work and accomplishments of people who have made significant contributions to the overall good of the Adirondack Park. The ceremony will take place at 11:45 on Thursday, May 11, 2011, at the Adirondack Park Agency headquarters in Ray Brook. The General Public is welcome to attend.
Prior honoreeies include:
2003 John Stock
2004 Harold Jerry
2005 Breck & Barb Chapin
2006 Donald Hill
2007 Barbara McMartin
2008 Peter Berle
2009 Agency Secretaries
2011 Clarence Petty
Photo: Clarence Petty’s son Ed (left) and APA Chairman Curt Stiles plant a tree in Clarence Petty’s honor.