Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dave Gibson: 50 Years of Upper Hudson Stewardship

Rivers policy and history, stewardship of our Forest Preserve, and positive interactions with young people from Albany came together on Arbor Days, April 27-28, north of Lake Luzerne. Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve was pleased to play a role. First, let’s review some history.

The role of Paul Schaefer’s Adirondack Hudson River Association: Many years ago, the utility giant Niagara Mohawk power company owned land along the upper Hudson River in Luzerne, Warrensburg and North Creek. One of their goals was to create large hydroelectric dams at Hadley-Luzerne, and the shoreline was considered flowage, where water levels would fluctuate up and down 50 feet or more during power generation, and reservoir filling. Other mega-dams on the Upper Hudson were being planned by the Army Corps of Engineers, which would flood the river as far north as Newcomb.

The water to be released from these reservoirs would augment the New York City water supply, and flush out the salt water creeping upriver from New York Harbor. During a public meeting about the dam projects around 1965, Adirondack conservation leader (and founder of Friends of the Forest Preserve) Paul Schaefer waited until everyone else had spoken. When his turn came, Paul told the company that their project would violate Article 14, Section 1 of the NYS Constitution because a small area of the land to be flooded was publicly owned Forest Preserve.

As a result of a constitutional amendment Paul’s Moose River coalition had achieved in 1953, only a vote by two separate sessions of the State Legislature and a vote of the people could authorize flooding of any part of the Forest Preserve for river regulating projects. Furthermore, Paul told the company that the Upper Hudson River should be left just as it is – wild and free-flowing, part of our society’s natural inheritance, and consistent with a long record of legislation protecting the Adirondacks. The company was dismayed by these facts and views, but persisted. They and the City of New York should have known that Paul Schaefer would also persist in organizing another of his great citizen coalitions for wild rivers in the Adirondack Park, called the Adirondack Hudson River Association.


As a result of that coalition’s influence, the State Assembly unanimously passed legislation that prohibits any dams on the Hudson River or its tributaries north of Lake Luzerne. The Senate, led by Republican Senator Bernard C. Smith, also championed the bill which was signed by Governor Rockefeller. The year was 1969. Flowage becomes Forest Preserve: Years passed, and in the early 1990s Niagara Mohawk conveyed its beautiful “flowage” along the Upper Hudson to conservation third parties, who in turn conveyed it to the State of New York to incorporate into the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

Nobody was happier about this acquisition than Paul Schaefer, who asked us to drive him up to tour the area once again. I remember how pleased he was that day – despite the macula degeneration which robbed him of his visual acuity. Paul died in 1996. A difficult period ensued when budget and staff cuts forced DEC to hand management responsibilities for what was then called the Hudson River Recreation Area over to Warren County. A stubborn pattern of overuse by large groups, as well as damage by motor vehicles became well established.

Fast forward to 2012: NYS DEC was again managing what is now called the Hudson River Special Management Area. Managing public use on some of the most popular sections has become a top priority for Foresters and Forest Rangers working out of the Warrensburg office. In spring 2011 the river flooded heavily, causing further damage to shoreline and campsites. Just months after Adirondack Wild had organized, Dan Plumley and I met with DEC Forest Rangers in Saratoga Springs.

Information was shared and positive relationships created in that meeting that led directly to Arbor Day 2012, an opportunity to plant trees to help stabilize soil, discourage motorized vehicle use, as well as restore and better delineate appropriate camping sites. Partnerships: The 300 trees would be provided by the DEC Tree Nursery in Saratoga Springs, a part of DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests. Volunteers were needed to supplement DEC’s own staff, so Adirondack Wild contacted Yusuf Burgess at Green Tech Charter School in Albany, where Yusuf works and, in his spare time, organizes many of these young people to learn teamwork and skills in camping, fishing, skiing, kayaking and climbing in the mountains. Stewardship of public lands also seemed just the right fit for these energetic young men and women, who are becoming skilled at urban gardening in their home city.

Arbor Days: I was joined by Adirondack Wild Board Director Tom Cobb on Arbor Day, April 27, to help DEC staff, including Forest Ranger Chuck Kabrehl and Senior Forester Tad Norton, plant trees at camping sites up and down the river. It was inspiring to see the organization, commitment and motivation of DEC regional staff in action. That evening, 15 Green Tech students and their supervisors arrived with food and camping gear, put up their tents, organized their kitchen area, and settled down to a cold night as temperatures dipped to 25 deg. F.

Earth Sciences teacher and outdoor enthusiast Gary Osarezuk helped the boys cut firewood, and then brought out his guitar. The group was equipped with proper gear thanks to Green Tech, and grants that Yusuf receives for his work.

Yusuf is an award-winning leader in using outdoor experiences to transform urban youth into aware, confident and contributing young men and women. He is also New York’s representative on the national board of the Children and Nature Network, having influenced hundreds of young people who are now themselves mentoring teenagers to also grow personally and professionally through outdoor pursuits. Yusuf’s youth groups are featured in the 2010 documentary film, Mother Nature’s Child. Forest Ranger Chuck Kabrehl, whose busy ranger district encompasses many tens of thousands of acres of Forest Preserve, turned up bright and early the next day to greet the students bundled up in coats and hats. Some of them are graduates of Green Tech recruited by Yusuf to serve as mentors to the younger boys.

The potted evergreens and bare root hardwood trees provided by Saratoga Tree Nursery were waiting on an eroded hillside near their campsite. Ranger Kabrehl explained to each student how to plant a tree – how to extract the tree properly from the pot, how to spread out the cramped roots, how deep and wide to dig, where the root collar was located, indicating proper planting depth, the importance of deep watering. In addition, the boys learned about how evergreens and hardwoods grow. Soon, each young man had a shovel in his hands, and over the course of several hours the sandy hillside took on a greener hue. The young men were self- motivated, and worked steadily.

I asked one how he was feeling. “The air is so clean up here,” he said. “I could come here every day.” Another said: “The birds are so loud here”! Their smiles conveyed more than words. They cleaned up their campsite at noon, and eventually moved with Ranger Kabrehl to another site just downriver where another 100 trees awaited planting. I checked in with Green Tech’s earth sciences teacher Gary, who camped out with the boys: “There is a good competition among the boys to see how many trees they can plant. It’s a motivating force here, and with their school work.” Several other Forest Rangers joined Chuck Kabrehl.

During a break, one of the boys’ teachers in Albany asked the Rangers: “One thing I’m really surprised about is how much trash is up here. Why would people leave trash in such a beautiful area”? The Rangers noted that some of the trash is the result of ease of motor vehicle access. “It may be counterintuitive,” said a Ranger, “but the more stuff you can bring in your car right up to a campsite, the more stuff can and will be left there as well.”

Gates across the roads in strategic places is part of an overall management strategy of blocking off easy auto/truck access to a campsite, requiring able bodied campers to park and then walk a distance to the site, as we had done. That has reduced the trash problem. Persons with disabilities who are certified with the DEC are the only members of the public authorized to open the gates and drive right to the campsites. It was a satisfying day of hard work along the Upper Hudson, with visible results.

As Paul Schaefer was fond of saying, we had experienced a “red letter” day. We finished planting around 3 pm. The younger students snacked or fooled around near the river, some of the older ones continued to water the trees. One of the young teachers, a woman who grew up in Brooklyn, asked Ranger Kabrehl: “I can’t imagine how big this area is. How do you know where you’re going in the Adirondacks”? How do you find out where to camp or hike?” Chuck gave her suggestions. “I’m definitely coming back,” she smiled broadly. We packed up our equipment and returned to the cars. I handed out “Friends of the Forest Preserve” magnets to each boy, thanked them, and they returned the sentiment. The Forest Rangers also shook their hands, and asked if they would return next year to do more work. The feeling was mutual.

In between now and then, Yusuf has made plans to take these and other young people kayaking in the Adirondacks and along the Bronx River in New York City, as well as sailing on the ship Clearwater. To Yusuf, “using the power of nature to transform urban youth” is an action statement.

Photos: Forest Ranger Kabrehl instructing on tree planting; Greening up the hillside; Group shot – taking pride in the work; Paul Schaefer in the 1960s.

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve

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 managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

3 Responses

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Never trust the Army Corps of Engineers. Just look at what they have done to New Orleans.
    Basic problem as always is stupid man always thinks he is smarter than Mother Nature or, if you prefer, God.

  2. Paul says:

    Pete, Hydro Quebec is laughing all the way to the bank.

    I am glad this was stopped but it is a balance when you are talking about something like hydro power. It is probably made up for with burning coal. When they burn that in Ohio the acid lands in this same river.

  3. TiSentinel65 says:

    A recent article in Adirondack Life talked about a proposed dam on the Schroon River back during the early part of the 1900s. It was to be located north of exit 24 where the mountains and hills choke down on the river. Schroon Lake would have swallowed up quite a bit more land. It was a very good article. I encourage the inquisitive to read about it. It is alot like Dave’s article.

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