Saturday, November 1, 2014

What Would an Adirondack National Park Look Like?

1967 National Park Proposal An interesting discussion developed this week in the comment sections of several Almanack articles related to the APA’s review of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP). The discussion was spurred by DEC Forest Ranger Scott van Laer. His contribution: why not consider an Adirondack National Park? So I thought I’d have a little fun and explore what one might look like.

Those who know their history or have read Bill Ingersoll’s two-part series covering the history that led to the SLMP know that this is not a new idea. In 1967 Laurance Rockefeller proposed that a National Park be established in the heart of the Adirondacks. It was a non-starter – overwhelmingly opposed – but spurred changes in thinking that were critical to all that followed.

Rockefeller’s National Park would have been immense. At 1,720,000 acres it would have been the third largest in America (with the addition of several outsized parks in Alaska plus Death Valley over the last five decades it would rank ninth today). The proposed park extended east-to-west from New Russia to Wanakena and north-to-south from Franklin Falls to the Canada Lakes area. It would have swallowed the communities of Saranac Lake and Lake Placid along with every town in the Central Adirondacks, from Newcomb to Long Lake to Indian Lake. Five of these communities would have been deemed “exclusions or enclaves” within the park, catering to tourists and selling curious. The rest would have been absorbed. In light of this it is not hard to see why opposition was intense. The study that was drafted to propose the park claimed that all in all a whopping 600,000 acres of private land would have been acquired by the Federal Government. You can click on the map at the top of this article to get a good look at the suggested boundaries.

The reasoning behind the proposed park was complicated. Some of it was about resources. Some of it was about obvious pride in the magnificence of the Adirondacks. Much of it was about having a way to finally seize private land en mass in order to protect it before it was developed – and in the process make a “real” park. Here’s a telling excerpt from the report:

…after more than 80 years of land acquisition within the authorized approximately 6-million-acre park boundary, the so-called “blue line,” only 40% of the land has been acquired for park use; most of the public park land is in tracts so scattered that the Adirondack Mountains State Park is not, in fact, a reality – after 80 years it is largely a fiction…

That is an amazing piece of history, from its tone to the odd (incorrect) name for the park.

So why consider a National Park now? I will not put words in van Laer’s mouth but one of the main reasons one might consider it is the same as it was in 1967: resources. The resources of the Federal government far outstrip the resources of New York State, which has been cutting staff at both DEC and the APA. Meanwhile the number of users of the High Peaks region is more reflective of a National jewel than a typical state park. That’s why some might think it an idea worth considering anew.

Without question a park of the scope proposed by Rockefeller would never be proposed again; the public-private patchwork of land in the Adirondacks has become a precious state legacy. But what about a smaller version? What about an Adirondack National Park that encompasses the High Peaks region only? I decided to follow van Laer’s lead and take at look.

Before I continue I want to make clear that I myself do not support this idea. For a whole host of reasons I think it would be a mistake, even as I’m certain it would never gain enough traction to be approved by the people of New York State. But to see what it might really look like is both instructive and fun. So here we go.

I made two tries at a National Park centered in the High Peaks: a larger one that would be more complete, more contiguous and much more contentious due to the required private land acquisitions; and a smaller one that essentially has the same boundaries as the current High Peaks Wilderness.

Either way the Adirondack National Park would become the 60th National Park in America. It would be the largest National Park in the Northeast and the third largest in the Eastern United States after Everglades and Great Smoky Mountains.

The larger version would be roughly 375,000 acres, about half the size of Yosemite. It would be the 14th largest National Park in the Continental United States and the 22nd largest overall. It would consist of a contiguous area containing the entire High Peaks, Dix Mountain and Giant Mountain Wilderness Areas and bounded roughly by Routes 73, 86 and 3 to the north, Routes 3 and 30 to the west, 28N and the Blue Ridge Road to the south and the Northway and routes 9, 9N and 73 to the east. It would exclude the bordering communities including Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Long Lake, Newcomb, Elizabethtown, Keene Valley and Keene, each of which would become gateway communities.

By my very rough calculations on the order of 115,000 acres of private land would need to be acquired including the Finch Pruyn lands agreed to but not yet purchased by the State. Additional acquisitions would include (clockwise from Lake Placid) some of the lands extending around Adirondack Loj and Heart lake but excluding the Mount Van Hoevenberg Recreation complex, the private holdings around Johns Brook Lodge, the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, the Elk Lake Preserve, all of the lands around Tahawus, the Camp Santanoni Historic Area, all of the private holdings north of Route 28N between Newcomb and the hamlet of Long Lake, the Follensby Tract currently held by the Nature Conservancy and the private lands around Ampersand Lake. Here’s a map of this version, layered upon the APA Land Use map (it’s clickable):

Adirondack National Park Larger









The smaller National Park would roughly fit Scott van Laer’s suggestion of using the High Peaks Wilderness only. At about 240,000 acres it would be the 30th largest National Park in America, in the middle of the pack, slightly bigger than Mount Rainier National Park.

This version would require the acquisition of far less private land, around 35,000 acres. Almost all of the purchases would be comparatively less controversial, including the Finch Pruyn lands due to be acquired (which I fully encircled in the map below) as well the Follensby parcel. The border would skirt the Adirondack Mountain Reserve to the north. It would still take true inholdings as well as the land around Adirondack Loj. Here’s a map of that one:

Adirondack National Park Smaller









Seeing a potential border helps to delineate what might be at stake, for good or bad, in a National Park proposal. Others can speak to the contrasts in how land would be protected and managed. What do you think? Does anyone support a modern-day proposal to create an Adirondack National Park? What borders might make sense? Larger? Smaller? Something else?

Top Photo: Map of the proposed 1967 Adirondack National Park

Related Stories

Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

8 Responses

  1. Scott van Laer says:

    This is funny or fun…If there was a HP National Park I would lose my job and you would lose your land.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      I would hope you would lose your assignment, not your job. But Lost Brook Tract would indeed be a memory, at least as private land. In actuality it would likely change not at all. I doubt anyone would be by to disassemble the lean to any time soon.

  2. Bill Ott says:

    If an Adirondack Park part becomes a National Park, then there will really be no more Adirondack Park, just left over park parts. The character of the park will be lost, and there will be nothing left to talk about on this site. I hope I do not live to see this happen. Do not ask me to describe the character of the park. It is just there, it is alive, and hopefully it is not in danger. And besides, if I were to ever meet Scott VanL, I would not want him to be unemployed and homeless.

  3. David says:

    The same idea has been proposed ( nor seriously ) about the White Mountains in NH.

    Some things to consider:

    1. I could not be able bring my dog since NPs don’t permit dogs in their back county.

    2. NP status would create attract ational attention , which would vastly increase overuse and commercialization.

    3. We ( NYS residents) are doing quite well in managing the park. Witness the most recent additions to the forest preserve.

    $. We’d have nothing left to argue about and this website would be moot.

  4. Glenn L. Pearsall says:

    Am I missing something here? I have always thought one of the great attributes of the Adirondack Park is that it is a park people could live in, not next to? We are engaged in a great experiment to determined if we can balance a desire to preserve the wildness that is here and yet, at the same time, maintain viable human communities here. If successful, there is a lot we can teach a world that is wrestling with depleting natural resources and a growing population. A national park is not the answer, but rather an avoidance of the question.

  5. Bill Ott says:

    Perfect. Do not push it off on the feds, but fix it in NY. If you cannot fix it here, and the usa fails, where next?

  6. Bruce says:

    I’m glad this is mostly an esoteric discussion.

    Except for having deeper pockets, what can the feds do that NYS can’t do for the HPWA? At least NY is retaining the essential mixed character of the park.

    Using the GSMNP as an example, some of the gateway towns would likely become places on the order of Gatlinburg, TN, or Cherokee, NC, which have become real tourist traps and shopping meccas with lots of hotels, outlet stores, theme parks, and in the case of Cherokee, a casino as well. If NY28 is crowded in summer, it doesn’t compare to US441 or US19 through these places for even more of the year. Do we really need, or even want that kind of development in the Adirondacks?

  7. sean says:

    With the Ted Cruz’s of the world threatening to sell off National parks for mining and fracing and over logging (seeing how the man believe that the only park like setting should be in his yard as land he steals from his foreclosed neighbors..You in the Adirondacks in many ,many ,many ways have it better staying as a state park …Please fight for your wilderness ,please fight for better funding …

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox