I don’t recall ever crying before at an annual meeting. I am pleased to catch up with people, I am excited to see members and friends gathered together in one place in support of our Adirondack and wild mission. I am proud of the efforts of my colleagues and our members as we talk about our accomplishments together over the past year, and anticipate the challenges in front of us.
But tears flooded my eyes at The Grange in Whallonsburg this past week when Bonnie MacLeod displayed the best of Gary Randorf’s photography set to some o f the most beautiful string music I have ever heard.
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve has wanted to honor Gary Randorf from the moment we reorganized in 2010. He has been one of the Adirondack Park’s most effective advocates and ambassadors. His photography has portrayed the wild beauty of the Adirondacks throughout the world. He is a hero, mentor and teacher to my colleague Dan Plumley, to me, to Ken and hundreds who know him, or who have read his book The Adirondacks, Wild Island of Hope (2002).
Our recognition finally happened at The Grange, an historic and restored space just a few miles from Gary’s former home and farm in Whallonsburg. Dan Plumley led our recognition and named the award in honor of Paul Schaefer. Gary’s good friend Bonnie MacLeod has worked for years to digitize Gary’s color slides which are owned by the Adirondack Council, where Gary served as executive director and senior advisor. The fruits of Bonnie’s work were shown at The Grange following our award ceremony. As her presentation lit up The Grange with Gary’s intimate reflections of mountains, lakes, the valleys, and as one image dissolved into the next and the strings swelled, I was overcome. I’m certain many felt as I did. Well done, Bonnie, and thank you.
Gary received our first Paul Schaefer Wilderness Award named in honor of that finest of wilderness coalition leaders, the late Paul Schaefer, the founder of Friends of the Forest Preserve, and one of the Adirondack teachers Gary most highly values. For those who know nothing of Gary Randorf: He began his Adirondack career in 1972 as an ecologist with the NYS Adirondack Park Agency and conducted, along with the legendary Clarence Petty, a comprehensive review of Park’s wild, scenic and recreational rivers. He later became executive director of the Adirondack Council, where he led that organization to new heights as a Park advocate in the 1970s and 80s. He became a leader in the fight to combat acid rain’s devastating impacts on the Park’s fish, soils and freshwater. Later, he returned to the APA as an educator, interpreter and photographer for the new Park Visitor Interpretive Centers.
Friends and colleagues wrote testimonials for Gary. Here is one from Gary’s former colleague at the Adirondack Park Agency and Adirondack Council, George Davis:
“From the day I dragged Gary Randorf away from Cornell and to the Adirondacks until this very day I have never regretted it. There are few who have done as much as Gary to protect and preserve our great Park — the only one I can think of is Paul Schaefer himself. How very appropriate that Gary is honored today with the very first Paul Schaefer Wilderness Award!”
Here is another from former APA member Elizabeth Thorndike:
“Gary always knew how to get his point across without alienating, friend, foe or audience. I wish I could be with you on Saturday, but please add my admiration and salute to one of the great Adirondack advocates.”
This came in from Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“Gary has been an inspiration to me for nearly forty years. His strong advocacy for protecting our beloved Adirondacks while leading the Adirondack Council set the bar for all of us in the advocacy community. .. Gary’s powerful and evocative photographs carried the beauty of the Park to a broad audience, expanding those voices calling for the preservation of this most beautiful of wild places.”
John Davis of Essex is one of those who have followed in Gary’s footsteps not only in the Adirondacks, but globally. John received Adirondack Wild’s Wild Stewardship Award, and through his wife Denise conveyed the following message:
“Many thanks and much gratitude to Adirondack Wild, Champlain Area Trails, and supporters of each for recognizing today the work friends (including some here today) and I have done in recent years to protect and restore habitat connections, within the Adirondack Park, from the Park to surrounding wildlands, along the proposed Eastern Wildway, and even along the proposed Western Wildway, which I’ve been trekking this year.
I feel especially grateful and humbled to be recognized on a day when my mentor and friend Gary Randorf is being honored—most deservedly. My years of conservation work in the Adirondacks have rested on what I’ve learned from Gary, following him on rambles through Adirondack forests and listening to his stories of Adirondack conservation efforts. Along with two other great Adirondack mentors, biologists Anne LaBastille and Jerry Jenkins, Gary has taught me that to be a good advocate for wild places, we must know them viscerally, through exploration by boot, boat, and ski. Even if Gary is mostly in warmer climes these days, I shall always feel I’m following him as I wander the woods and waterways and issues of the Adirondack Park.”
Champlain Area Trails, whose motto is “Saving Land, Making Trails” was also presented with a Wild Stewardship Award for creating new ecological and recreational connections, for stewarding those trails, and for strengthening the Champlain Valley’s human and natural communities. Accepting were CATS executive director Chris Maron and Board Chair Katharine Preston. Later, Chris led a group from Adirondack Wild up the Wildway Overlook trail to a tremendous vista of the Valley, its farms, the Lake, and Split Rock Mountain, a place which Gary championed, helped protect, and where he took many of his photographs. I will never forget Gary leading Ken and me on a winter ski trek into the Split Rock Wild Forest. In my journal I wrote: “Falling often, we try to follow Gary and the sun on its afternoon arc into that hemlock ravine to Barn Rock Bay where rock was once cut and slid on great bridges and docks to waiting ships. We get up and dust ourselves off, while Gary, who has not fallen once, shows us many animal tracks along the trail: mouse, deer and bobcat.”
We are, as Dan Plumley and I are fond of saying, links in a long historic chain of Adirondack conservation. Gary Randorf has strengthened the chain immeasurably. Dan writes of Gary: “From his leading work with the young Adirondack Park Agency, assessing the Park’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act, fighting side by side with him for federal legislation to combat acid rain, or standing up to rapacious developers, Gary Randorf used his drive, intellect, voice and photography to secure the Adirondack Park for a generation and generations to come. Gary epitomizes all that Paul Schaefer taught us in the fight for protecting wild places.”
Gary Randorf gets the final word: “We are and will continue to set an example of how to do it – that is saving a wilderness that includes people. If we fail, we fail not only our state, our country and ourselves, but also the world” (The Adirondacks, Wild Island of Hope).
Photo: Participants at Adirondack Wild’s annual meeting at The Grange in Whallonsburg send greetings to Gary Randorf, recipient of the Paul Schaefer Wilderness Award.