Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Champion of the Forest Preserve: David Newhouse

It’s been my honor and privilege to know some great Adirondack conservation leaders in the late 20th century. One I feel deserves a lot “more ink” is the late David L. Newhouse, a native of the Midwest and graduate of Purdue University, who arrived in New York State following World War II to become a leading metallurgical engineer with the General Electric Company in Schenectady.

His interest and leadership quickly expanded into the Adirondacks for, as Dave wrote rather formally and very modestly in a biographical paragraph: “My interest in the Adirondacks and Catskills had its roots in my developing recreational use of them, for hiking, climbing, camping, and canoeing in the Forest Preserve and other wildlands. I learned about pressures for competing and incompatible uses of these lands that threatened their character, and became very involved in conservation of their values and in education as a means of gaining popular and political support for wilderness and wild forest values.”

He certainly became very involved. Dave founded and chaired the Constitutional Council for the Forest Preserve from 1966 to 1974, where he worked with leaders of the Adirondack Mountain Club, Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and Sierra Club to assure that Article 14 – the “forever wild” clause of the NYS Constitution – survived intact at the 1967 Constitutional Convention, and afterwards. Dave went on to serve two terms as Club President of the Adirondack Mountain Club and Board President and Treasurer of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks. He also served on the boards of the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and Environmental Planning Lobby. He received numerous awards throughout his Adirondack career, and ADK created its annual David L. Newhouse Conservation Award in his honor. The Association presented Dave with its highest honor, the Howard Zahniser Wilderness Award in 2002.

Dave’s modesty and quiet nature belied a tenacity for investigation, fact-finding and standing on principle. For instance in 1970, Dave and fellow members of the Adirondack Mountain Club set out to conduct “a survey of tree cutting and degradation of the wild forest character of the Forest Preserve by the recent cutting of new snowmobile trails and the conversion of foot trails or abandoned roads into snowmobile trails.” The number of tree stumps were counted and each numbered and photographed, distances from the trailhead calculated, and a report issued.

In just one field season, fall of 1970, 125 freshly cut trees four inches in diameter or larger were found along just 13 miles of new snowmobile trail. Many more were subsequently found. These surveys were brought to the attention of new DEC Commissioner Henry Diamond, and undoubtedly contributed to subsequent limits on motorized uses and snowmobile trail mileage and dimensions in DEC policy and the State Land Master Plan adopted in 1972. I thank Larry and Maryde King, members of the ADK survey team, for contributing the photos and documentation. Dave’s and ADK’s techniques informed later investigations of snowmobile trail widening and motorized abuses throughout the Forest Preserve in the 1990s. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
“Newhouse,” as he often referred to himself, was blessed with a capacity to analyze issues and prepare clear, readable position papers on Article 14 and Forest Preserve policies. In 1966, he authored “The Battle for Wilderness in New York State’s Forest Preserve” which appeared in the Living Wilderness magazine of The Wilderness Society. In 1988, Dave authored the first conservation policies of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks.

Dave’s style, especially up against opponents of the wilderness, was to speak softly with logic and reason conveyed in careful phrases, and respect for his listener. He was truly low-key, laughed easily, and won over a lot of people that way, or if not, they at least listened. I won’t forget my first Adirondack issues meeting. It was at ADK HQ in Glens Falls, January 1987. The Environmental Bond Act had passed the previous year, and Dave felt he could persuade the Adirondack Conservation Council of sportsmen that the wisest use of these public funds should be used to acquire conservation easements in the Adirondack Park. After all, how better to protect the land and provide access for hunting and fishing, while maintaining private ownership? Who knows, Dave’s persuasiveness might have won a few of them over. Now, we have over 800,000 acres under conservation easement in the Park.

As snowmobiling developed in the 1960s, Dave borrowed a snowmobile and invited himself to go riding with a group he didn’t know deep into the Forest Preserve. This was not exactly the way Dave, a passionate wilderness advocate, hiker and snowshoer, would choose to spend a day in the woods, but he thought he might learn something, and might have an opportunity to engage them. Near the end of their ride, Dave and another rider broke away from the rest of the group and stopped at a beautiful lake. The rider next to Dave took off his helmet to look at the frozen lake, but kept his machine running. Dave gestured to him to turn off his snow machine. He did, and was struck. “It’s so quiet,” said the man. “This is the Forest Preserve, isn’t that the point?” Dave asked him. This was the man’s first exposure to solitude, and how easily, casually motor vehicles can destroy it.

I won’t forget my surprise at seeing Dave pull up to a conservation meeting on his motorcycle, bound in leather and a helmet. I’d known him for years, yet had no idea he rode. “It’s not a matter of if you fall,” Dave told me. “It’s a matter of when you fall.” Dave was a very disciplined individual. One day he decided to end his motorcycling career, and that was that.

Dave lived through the depression, and was very conservative of the conservation treasury. As Treasurer of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, he worried constantly about our income and expenses and appreciated careful accounting practices. Debt was anathema to him. When we incurred some debt to acquire Paul Schaefer’s home for our Center, Dave voted with the majority and supported the cause, but lost sleep over it.

Dave, an engineer, was not afraid of technology. He was a devoted and learned user of Apple computers, and learned McIntosh software inside and out. In the early years of personal computing, he donated hundreds of hours teaching his ADK and AFPA colleagues to become more computer literate.

He was a devoted family man, often taking family vacations with Helen and their children hiking in the Adirondacks, the Catskills or visiting the great western National Parks. He worked hard as an engineer, and after retiring from General Electric became a private consultant, and his talents were much in demand at home and abroad. Yet, somehow he found the time to be back on the trail, on the mountain, in the board room, investigating and arguing with persuasive logic, and with humor for wilderness in our world. His great generosity to this cause, with his financial resources, with his time, with his skills, with his friendship persisted throughout his life.

I’ll close with this story. The year was 1992. Neil Woodworth of the ADK and I were meeting with the DEC Commissioner to try to persuade him to stop the paving of a trail at Mt. Van Hoevenberg Recreation Area, a trail which Neil had shown was part of the Forest Preserve. We both had the feeling that we should bring Dave along with us. Dave sat quietly as Neil and I argued our points with the Commissioner, who appeared dismissive of our information and attempts to lobby him.

This was a necessary project to enhance the Olympic Regional Authority’s athletic program, he informed us, and had economic significance to the Lake Placid region. Finally, we invited Dave Newhouse to weigh in. Quietly, with a smile, Dave reminded the Commissioner that he, like his predecessors, was legally bound to do everything he possibly could to protect the Forest Preserve and uphold the Constitution. There was no doubt, Dave said, that paving this trail would degrade the former, and compromise the latter. Surely, the Commissioner would not allow this to happen. That was all Dave said. The trail was not paved over.

Photo: David L. Newhouse, courtesy Adirondack Mountain Club.

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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 PreserveDuring 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.

2 Responses

  1. Cassandra says:

    I have read and reread this article several times since it was written. It is truly wonderful and I want thank Dave Gibson for remembering David Newhouse and for showing me another side to the life of the man I was blessed to call my grandfather. I cannot thank you enough for that.

  2. Dave Gibson says:

    It is a great treat for me to read your comment, Cassandra. Thank you.