Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Present at the Creation: The APA’s Job Left Undone

Adirondack life story present at the creationThis piece first appeared in Adirondack Life in 1989 at the time of the appointment of Governor Mario Cuomo’s ill-fated Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century (the Berle Commission).

The six-million acre area for which the Adirondack Park Agency was charged in 1971 to design and enforce a land-use master plan was filled with a poten­tial for conflict in direct proportion to its vast size. To some, the APA was Big Brother, set up by downstate in­terests to turn their homeland into a wilderness for the pleasure of the rich. To others it was a bold stroke of vision, a stab at preserving the character of the Adirondacks before it was over­run by development that would for­ever subdivide Forever Wild.

As the APA pursued its mandate, the dispute turned nasty—and then violent. Staff members were harassed while waiting in line at the grocery store, in restaurants, in bars. Ex­ecutive Director Harry Daniels receiv­ed sinister calls concerning the where­abouts of his daughters; mechanic George Farrell was kicked out of his fish-and-game club because he work­ed for the APA, and his children were ostracized at school. “People thought we were incubating the child of hell,” said staffer William Curran.

In 1975, at the heat of the battle, three APA officers, including then Counsel and now APA Chairman Robert Glennon, were waylaid by gun-toting residents in Star Lake. The guns were not loaded, but a sixty-year-old grandmother did pack enough power in her punch to smash the glasses of APA Operations Director Richard Estes. Organized protesters dumped a truck load of horse manure on the APA headquarters lawn. Planted on the pile was a sign, “We’ve taken yours for three years, now here’s ours.” The staff drew lots to see who would get the load of fertilizer.

Returning from a late meeting in 1977, Glennon let himself into the headquarters building to discover an intruder in a ski mask crouched be­hind a bookcase. The place reeked of gasoline that had been poured over desks and carpet. Glennon, a former Dartmouth football player, threw himself on the man and held him pinned until the State Police arrived.

Twenty-odd years have passed since the forces that launched the APA were put in motion, and today’s mood has been moderated by time. The APA turned out to be neither the monster land-taker its opponents por­trayed nor the saviour of the wil­derness way of life that its proponents hoped. Development money is pour­ing into the Adirondacks at historical­ly high levels, and in the relative calm that now surrounds the Agency, Governor Mario Cuomo has created a new commission to devise a new role for the APA — and a new vision for the Adirondacks.

Until roughly the late 1960s, when completion of the Northway provid­ed a concrete welcome mat for 55 million vacationers, the area inside the Blue Line had languished in splendid isolation. The state owned 40 percent of the land; the rest was privately owned, free and open to whatever money dictated it should become.

Zoning had existed in cities and suburbs since the 1920s, and land-use planning dates back to the orderly division of New England townships. In the Adirondacks, the Town of Webb (Old Forge) was probably the first to discuss zoning in 1957, but nine years passed before a plan was adopted. Local efforts could only go so far as a town’s boundaries, though, without mechanisms for treating water­sheds or ecosystems that existed be­yond the reaches of the surveyor’s tape.

One example of more comprehen­sive, region-wide planning grew out of the 1954 Federal Housing Act: the Interstate Commission of the Lake Champlain Basin. Through InCo-Champ, Vermont and New York looked at such issues of mutual con­cern as air and water pollution, the location of power plants and land-use. A decade later, Nelson Rockefeller outlined his development policies for each of ten regions of New York State in a slim volume, “Change, Challenge, Response.” Regional controls for Long Island were the first priority, but be­cause of a rapidly disappearing shore­line, the Lake George/Lake Champlain area was a close second. Within two years, thanks to Great Society pro­grams and money, regional planning was a national phenomenon.

In 1966, forester and Forest Preserve historian Roger Thompson, research director for the State Senate Finance Committee, issued a report suggesting the Adirondacks needed better man­agement to accommodate and inform increasing numbers of visitors. In his view, the Forest Preserve and the Park were mutually exclusive entities, the latter inviting a variety of intensive uses and the former limiting public access.

The next year, Thompson began working with Conrad Wirth, a former director of the National Park Service and Ben H. Thompson, also a former National Park Service employee and a member of the State Council of Parks, on a study funded by Laurance Rockefeller. In late July 1967, their report was made public.

The bombshell they dropped was the proposal of an Adirondack Na­tional Park: 1.7 million acres encom­passing the High Peaks and the rivers, ponds and lakes of the central Adi­rondacks. Two-thirds of the land was already owned by the state, and the rest would be acquired with federal funds. Just five communities within the new Park boundaries—Inlet, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Blue Mountain Lake and Indian Lake—would live on to provide toilets and toothbrushes to travelers, but thousands of property owners would have to be displaced. Acquiring the state land was estimated at $59 million, and $51 million for the private land.

The grand plan met instantly with virtually unanimous vocal opposition. Preservationists knew the Forever Wild status was far more protective than National Park policy; conservationists knew National Parks were closed to hunting. The counties and towns saw doom. Many questioned Laurance Rockefeller’s motives. Was the proposal a tidy way for the state to get out of paying taxes to localities? (Under New York State Real Property Tax Law wild or forest lands in the Forest Pre­serve are subject to local real estate taxes.) Was Rockefeller acting as a straw man to pave the way for the work of the Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks? Had he plans to open a Rock Resort on family land near the new Park’s northern boundary?

These and a thousand more ques­tions swirled throughout the Park that summer of 1967. Actually, the national park was in harmony with Laurance Rockefeller’s ideas regarding outdoor recreation facilities, and his interest in protecting the Park from over development.

“Nelson may have lacked the authority to realize Laurance’s ambi­tion for a national park in the Adi­rondacks, but from the moment of his brother’s setback, Nelson began to engineer the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency,” wrote Joseph E, Persico in The Imperial Rockefeller published by Simon &. Schuster in 1982 (Persico served for many years as Rocky’s speechwriter; his brother Richard was Executive Director of the APA from 1973-78.) “Hundreds of years from now, Americans may still be enjoying the last great wilderness in the Northeast because of Nelson’s love for and loyalty to Laurance.”

On September 18, 1968, Governor Rockefeller appointed the first Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks, and charged it to answer the following questions:

What should be the long-range State policy toward acquisition of additional Preserve land?

What measures could be taken to assure that development on private land is appropriate and consistent with the long-range well being of the area?

What should be the State policy toward recreation development in the area?

Should there be federal participation in any phase of the plans, including a limited park or wilderness area?

Should there be greater management flexibility in some portions of the area?

Should there be even stronger safeguards for the wilderness portions?

Should procedures be developed for a more flexible policy regarding consolidation of public lands?

Ten men were appointed to the committee, including three attorneys: Henry Diamond, long-time associate Laurance Rockefeller and later commissioner of the new Department Environmental Conservation; Peter S. Paine, with deep roots in the Adirondacks and a Manhattan office; and Frederick Sheffield, who also served on the Trudeau Institute Board of Directors. There were four media people: Lowell Thomas; Adirondack Daily Enterprise editor/publisher James Loeb; Howard Kimball, former Elmira mayor of and a board member of the Gannett Newspapers chain; and Congressman Leo O’Brien (D-Albany), who had served on the Interior Committee and was then a Capital District newspaper columnist. State Senator R. Watson Pomeroy, oral surgeon Dr. Julian Anderson and Frederick O’Neal, President of Actor’s Equity and an A.F.L.-C.I.O. officer, completed the roster.

Many points of view were clearly represented; the New York State Conservation Council and the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks were particularly notable in their absence. Loeb was the full-time Adirondack resident. In an editorial the day after his appointment to the commission, Loeb wrote, “composition of the commission reflects one basic fact which [we]… might as well recognize and accept: the Adirondacks do not belong to us, but rather to all of the people of the state and the nation.” To remedy the situation, Richard Lawrence, Elizabethtown attorney, and Robert F. Hall of Warrensburg, newspaper publisher, were added.

The study commission was greeted enthusiastically within and without the Park. In October 1968, the Tupper Lake Free Press felt the group’s role was “primarily to safeguard the values which make this country worth living in.” Harold Jerry, former State Senator and outdoor recreation facilities plan­ner for the Conservation Department, was named executive secretary. He had authored the official rebuttal to the National Park proposal. Jerry “liked bright people not already captured by the system. He wanted a staff of young Turks and went to colleges looking for them,” said George Davis.

Davis was a forester who had two months of Cornell graduate school under his belt and a thesis project deal­ing with private/public land mix in the Park. When he came to the Tem­porary Study Commission, Davis dis­covered, “My goodness, Nelson Rocke­feller is practically a dictator. I won­dered, is there a legislative branch somewhere?” But the Governor’s dedication to public service and sweep­ing vision made him an exciting man to work for. “At that time, there was no controversy… everyone, hunter, local supervisor, Manhattanite, said we don’t want a National Park, but we do want the Adirondacks protected.”

Six months into its work, the Com­mission issued an interim report in which the methodology for answering the Governor’s questions was out­lined: four phases of action, from fact-finding to recommendations, were to address ten major fields of interest, from an inventory of wildlife, to local government practices concerning taxation and zoning, to sociological reports. To help the commission an Advisory Committee of special interest groups was assembled.

The Advisory Committee was a cacophony of more than 30 voices, from the Garden Club of America to the New York State Snowmobile Association. C.V. Whitney, Edwin S. Litchfield and William Brune, presi­dent of the Northwoods Club, serv­ed, along with Arthur Benson, Fron­tier Town’s mastermind, Old Forge businessman A. Richard Cohen and Lyman Beeman, president of paper giant Finch, Pruyn and Company.

County boards and advisors wrote position papers answering Rockefeller’s questions. Beeman suggested manag­ing part of the Forest Preserve for hunt­ing, fishing and logging, as well as maintaining some untouched wilder­ness areas. The Hamilton County Board of Supervisors urged that “the use of the Adirondacks for water storage purposes for other areas should be limited to instances of last resort.”

The Gooley Dam was still very much an issue in 1968. The project proposed damming the Hudson River to the Indian River, destroying 30 miles of wild river, flooding 14,000 acres of forest and creating a lake of 22 square miles, about half the size of Great Sacandaga Reservoir. At nearly every Temporary Study Commission hear­ing, Westchester county and New York City hydrologists and engineers urged the impoundment to meet the needs of downstaters, each of whom used 150 gallons of water every day.

Half a dozen hearings were held in and out of the Park. At the Lake George hearing, C.V. Whitney sug­gested the state develop a series of 1,500-3,000 acre parks “with first-class lodge or motel, camping facilities, swimming beach, bath houses, boats for rent, instructor to take care of children; perhaps a riding school or nine-hole golf course or tennis courts and outdoor theater. The lake or pond should be well-stocked with fish—no hunting allowed.” At the same hear­ing, Winifred LaRose’s testimony look­ed into the future with more accuracy: “To a very large extent, the future of the Adirondacks rests in the hands of the private landowners, both large and small, who together may be willing to surrender some of their rights for the over-all benefit of the Park.”

The notion that government could tamper with basic rights of landowners upset many. In July 1969, Loeb wrote in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: “Whatever the final Commission recommendations are, they will be greeted with considerable hostility. This is inevitable, because no set of meaningful recommendations could possibly satisfy everyone.”

Later that year, Commission chair­man O’Brien was relieved of his duties. Harold K. Hochschild’s name was mentioned as his replacement. “Rockefeller fought that appointment,” said George Davis. “Months passed and lots of pressure came from different quarters. The problem was that H.K.H. was a peer, with great power and abilities, who could remember Nelson in short pants.” Davis added, “What a marvelous choice that was.”

Under Hochschild’s direction, the Commission hit its stride. Margaret Lamy, who had edited the Lake Placid News until 1967 and then directed publicity for the Adirondack Museum, commented that museum-founder Hochschild added a new dimension to the group because of his “deep respect for the people—the workers—who had really built the Adirondacks.”

Commission member Frederick O’Neal, a black actor whose stage career began in the 1920s, “became a bellwether in many ways,” according to George Davis. “O’Neal had never been north of Yonkers, and he went on every field trip and read every report thoroughly. His opinions often brought people back to the basic vi­sion, the future of the Adirondacks.” He told Davis, “I don’t believe I was put on this Commission to pull the Governor’s chestnuts out of the fire.”

With 1970 one week old, Rocke­feller’s State of the State address created a new superagency, the De­partment of Environmental Conserva­tion. Beyond fish, game and forest, it was to document and regulate air and water pollution, pesticide use, solid waste disposal and more.

In two years, members of the study commission took eight three-day field trips (aside from the staff’s considerable field operations), conducted 30 business meetings, met many times with the Advisory Committee and subcommittees and held six public hearings. On December 15, 1970, the report was presented to Governor Rockefeller.

There were 181 specific recommendations, ranging from the location of a four-year state university within the Blue Line to reintroduction of the wolf, from securing the New York Central railroad bed for snowmobile and horse trails to the placement of visitor information centers on the fringes of the Park. Technical reports by nationally regarded experts on transportation and the economy, natural resources, wildlife, recreation, local government and more provided a framework for the recommendations The report also showed that 626 individuals and corporations owned more than half of the private land—nearly two million acres.

The three most noteworthy ideas were the creation of “an independent bipartisan Adirondack Park Agency. . . with general power over the use of private and public land in the Park,” the classification of State lands, and a $120 million bond issue for acquiring scenic easements.

In the December 21, 1970 New York Times, Harold Jerry said: “The Park is now a meaningless entity. It’s almost a fiction. All we want is to see that the Park has a compact entity of its own and to come up with a comprehensive plan for a workable Park.”

Ten thousand copies of the report were made available, free, and supplies quickly dwindled. The Lake Placid News wrote in January, “The most amazing thing about the report of the Temporary Study Commission is the silence which has greeted it.” Keough, president of the Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce wrote to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in February, “Just glancing through this Adirondack study will make you proud to be a part of the Adirondacks.”

Some members of the Council, though, went on record to oppose the creation of the Park Agency: Lyman Beeman, A. Richard Cohen, Arthur Benson, Francis Donnelly of the New York State Forest Practices Board and International Paper’s Gerard Pesez. Benson had strongly supported the national park idea at public meetings. His enthusiasm en­couraged Laurance Rockefeller, who was later dismayed to learn that Benson’s theme park, Frontier Town, was perched just on the outskirts of his proposed Park. Finch, Pruyn had plans to develop the abandoned Gooley Farm at the confluence of the Hudson and Indian Rivers. In a telegram to the Governor, the men wrote that the bill “will not preserve the ecology of the Adirondacks, will not meet outdoor recreation needs, will not sustain the depressed economy of the region.” The federal government had describ­ed Essex County in the 1960s as having a “substantial and persistent labor surplus,” a polite phrase for chronic unemployment. In adjacent Hamilton County, unskilled labor, as a percen­tage of the workforce was three times the state average. With joblessness ranging from 25 percent midwinter to two percent in summer, it’s no surprise that Adirondack per capita incomes were among the lowest in the state.

The controversy became heated in the spring. By then, many had read and reread the report, picking apart the fabric of the text to pull the strings that would most inflame their neighbors. Hall’s newspapers, which had printed 7,500 16-page tabloids summarizing the 181 recommenda­tions, carried Essex County Supervisor James DeZalia’s attack and a rebuttal by Robert Courtney Jones from Westport. DeZalia concluded, erroneously, that “people acquiring property by pur­chase, gift or inheritance must apply to the Agency for a permit to continue its former use,” and “the state must have first option to buy any property offered for sale in the region.” These interpretations fed the worst fears of thousands within the Park.

Frank Casier wrote to the Adiron­dack Daily Enterprise in May: “The state recommendations when read in their entirety are a plan to keep the average citizens out, to convert the Forever Wild Adirondacks into a Forever Empty Park, thereby defeating the purpose of having a Park.”

The public outcry in the North Country was a distinct contrast to the resounding silence in the Governor’s office. Passing a workable budget was Rockefeller’s main priority. Study Commission members wondered if the Park Agency would ever get off the ground. Clarence Petty wrote to Harold Hochschild that “favorable ac­tion by the administration and legis­lature appears dubious.” Frederick Sheffield and Peter Paine met with Laurance Rockefeller and attorney Gene Setzer in March. Sheffield wrote: “Rockefeller’s original recreation plans and his personal office staff have never deviated from their goals and are therefore intending to ignore almost entirely the Temporary Study Com­mission’s report in spite of the very high degree of support it has received.”

Commissioners asked friends, fami­ly and neighbors to lobby for passage of the bill. “My guess is that letters to the Governor and Messrs. Brydges and Duryea from large contributors to the Republican Party would be helpful,” Hochschild wrote to the group. O’Neal helped the A.F.L-C.I.O. draft a resolution of support.

Then Adirondack Museum Curator William K. Verner wrote to the Gover­nor in late March. “There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that the late Serge Koussevitsky, while rehearsing a stu­dent orchestra at Tanglewood, ran into problems coaxing the right tone and phrasing out of the lead cellist, an in­strumentalist of the female persuasion. After repeated false starts, stops, explanations, hummings and the like, Koussy is said to have lowered his baton and spoken to the young lady in this wise: ‘My dear, between your legs you hold the most beautiful instrument in all the world and all you do is sit there and scra-a-a-tch it.’ In a sense, this has been the history of the Adirondack Park.”

On May 10, 1971 Nelson Rocke­feller sent the APA bill to the Legislature. “Time is critical,” his press release said, for the state economy was headed towards a record deficit and the political climate was not favorable to creating a new state agency. Rockefeller’s plan presented a dilemma to the predominantly Republican North Country representatives—would they be penalized for going against the leader’s wishes in order to voice the views of their constituents?

There was a coalition of strong support for the bill, organized by the Constitutional Council for the Forest Preserve, but the traditional downstate support for Forever Wild interests did not mobilize. Contractors, unions (except the A.F.L-C.I.O.) a municipal leaders who worried they were next in line for state-imposed development controls opposed the bill.

Environmental groups increased their lobbying. Representative Glenn Harris, whose territory extended from Long Lake to Herkimer, asked that the bill be delayed to the next session After Rockefeller’s rebuff, Harris went to Assembly Speaker Perry Duryea to discuss modifications. A key revision would allow towns time to prepare their own zoning guidelines not sub­ject to Agency review. At the time, about ten percent of the 107 com­munities had any kind of zoning.

On Saturday, June 5, 1971, the Assembly was packed for the debate. Peter A.A. Berle, (D-Manhattan), later DEC Commissioner, now presi­dent of the National Audubon Socie­ty, led the floor fight for the bill, rely­ing on facts and figures in a vestpocket compendium put together by William Verner. That the Park belonged to all New Yorkers was hammered home.

Harold Hochschild witnessed the struggle as compromises built by the Republicans threatened to dilute the bill painstakingly crafted by the com­mission. In a 2 a.m. meeting with Duryea, the Harris “grandfather clause” exempting towns with zoning ordinances was presented, but Hochschild would not agree. Adam Hochschild in Half the Way Home recalled the scene: “‘If you make any more concessions to the real estate lobby,’ Father told the Speaker, ‘I’m go­ing to call a press conference and say that our commission’s recommenda­tions have been betrayed.’ ”

Hours later, the deadlock was broken when a July 1, 1971 deadline for local zoning was inserted. The Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of the creation of the Adiron­dack Park Agency and the Senate vote was 22-14. Once again, Half the Way Home described that dawn, when Harold Hochschild awakened en route to New York City and remarked to his driver: “I liked the expression on the Speaker’s face when he said, ‘All right, you win, Mr. Hochschild.’”

Richard Lawrence was appointed the first chairman of the APA and, once again, George Davis was plucked from Cornell. Some felt the Agency should be based in Albany, but it ended up in the Conservation Department’s former Ray Brook home, an empty log building. The first pen­cils and chairs had to come from the DEC next door. For months, an emp­ty toilet paper carton served as Davis’ desk. The AT&T serviceman was nonplussed to install a phone on a cardboard box.

The agency had to start from scratch developing procedures and designing forms and vouchers. But, enabling legislation contained two deadlines that forced the Agency into intense activi­ty. The Master Plan for State Land was due for the Governor’s approval June 1, 1972 and the master plan for private land was to follow in 1973.

A staff of 16 set to work. Davis and others inventoried soil categories, slopes, scenic vistas and biologic re­sources from rare plant habitats to bald eagle nests. This data was colored on tablecloth-size Plan-o-Metric maps. The lawyers went to work converting the maps into words; Director of Operations Richard Estes and the Commissioners reviewed ongoing pro­jects. “There was a feeling we were real­ly doing something important, and the staff was totally dedicated,” said Davis.

The first APA Commissioners in­cluded Raquette Lake builder James Bird; Whitman Daniels of Delmar; Central New York attorney William Foley; Richard Lawrence; Peter Paine and Mary Prime from Lake Placid. Ex-officio members were DEC Commis­sioner Henry Diamond, and Richard Wiebe from the Office of Planning Ser­vices. Former Oneida County Ex­ecutive Harry Daniels was named the first Executive Director.

“It was so frustrating to separate the attacks from the genuinely useful in­formation,” said Davis. The draft maps were shown at hearings with planners and supervisors, county by county. St. Lawrence County Planner Richard Grover felt that “the predominant features used to delineate land use areas, property lines, lent themselves to favoritism. I argued for the water­sheds as universal, identifiable natural boundaries. Historically, the Forever Wild clause goes back to the protec­tion of watersheds.”

Bruce Brownell, a graduate forester and a fifth generation Adirondacker, found other problems with the maps. “Probably the largest body of zoning that existed already, 125 miles of shoreline of Great Sacandaga Reservoir, owned and controlled by the state, was missed.” Also overlooked was a plan called Lakeview, the oldest and largest private development with­in the Blue Line. In the late 1920s, the Bushey Shipbuilding Company creat­ed Lakeview on the shores of what was to become the huge reservoir. “These lots were marketed with airplane rides and street-corner tents in Albany, Schenectady and New York City to sell 25’x100′ lots. Seven to ten thou­sand lots were laid out, along with 15-20 miles of streets. But along came the Depression before the lake,” Brownell said, so the property lay dor­mant for decades.

In 1959, the Brownell Lumber Com­pany in Edinburg bought the remain­ing lots, for timber on about 500 acres and to sell 1/4 and 1/2 acres to peo­ple who would, in turn, buy building materials from them. During the in­terim review period, “the moratorium,” to Brownell, the Park Agency wanted a complete legal record of all the sales going back to 1927 before they could sell any more lots. “The job could easi­ly have taken me 5-6 years, an impossi­ble task, really, so we quit.”

But in 1972, others were just start­ing. In St. Lawrence County, the Horizon Corporation bought 24,000 acres at triple the going rate, plan­ning to subdivide the property into 8,000-10,000 plots. According to Alan Schwartz, St. Lawrence University professor, even though Horizon had tremendous backing, “they were speculators and subdividers, not developers. They divided up Arizona desert and sold it sight unseen.”

Ton-Da-Lay, just north of Tupper Lake was an 18,500 acre tract with room for campers, condos, “ranchettes for the horsy set” and luxury lakeside estates. Developer Louis Paparazzo, who had begun com­munities in Indiana, California and his homestate of Connecticut, envisioned the core 3,000 acres would have shops, restaurants, and “an audiovisual museum of the Adirondacks.”

Other companies besides Horizon and Ton-Da-Lay were thinking big as well. Boise-Cascade bought 3,250 acres on Lyon Mt. for a retirement/summer home complex, while in the south­western Adirondacks, a Toronto-based firm had signed a purchase agreement on 9,000 acres, to be carved into 5,000 homesites over 20 years.

Water was the issue in 1972 that ultimately defeated Ton-Da-Lay. De­spite the fact that the Town of Altamont had zoning ordinances in effect, the DEC ruled that Paparazzo could not prove the adequacy and safety of the water and sewage systems, and that the development would have an adverse impact on natural resources.

An organization called Citizens to Save the Adirondack Park form­ed quickly in Canton and Potsdam to publicize the threats posed by develop­ments of this magnitude. They hired Peter Berle and prominent environ­mental attorney David Sive as ad­visors. At its peak, CSAP had 2,600 members who wrote letters, made calls and manned information booths at barbecues, parades and field days.

“We were a group of rather effective amateurs,” said Peter Van de Water, a founder of the group. “We knew we were helping set up the APA.”

Work continued on the State Land Master Plan. About 45 percent of the state land (close to one million acres) was in 15 wilderness areas of at least 10,000 acres each, with “primeval character and influence, without per­manent improvements or human habi­tation.” The criteria outlined in the 1964 federal Wilderness Act helped define these regions. Separate unit management plans were to be drawn up by DEC. Smaller but equally fragile territories were the primitive areas such as the Hudson Gorge. In the third category, wild forest areas, more in­tensive use was possible and motor vehicles were allowed. Wild, scenic and recreational rivers were described, and a special canoe area was set aside.

The proposed rules and regulations for interim project review were pub­lished in January 1972 in many local newspapers. Excluded from review were the State’s own efforts on State lands, forest management, agriculture, basic building improvements on homes and businesses and develop­ments of less than five acres or fewer than five lots.

Nearly two million acres were zon­ed for resource management requir­ing 42 acres per principal building. Rural use, with eight acres per build­ing, involved 1.24 million acres. Low (3.2 acres per building) and moderate intensity (1.3 acres) uses, near the edges of settlements, were allowed on about 300,000 acres, while the great­est development could occur within hamlets and villages, 36,000 acres. Even these density figures represented compromise from the original recom­mendations; resource management was to have been over 60 acres per principal building.

Would-be developers had to take in­to account dozens of scenic, historic and ecological criteria, but they could request a preliminary consultation with staff for specific recommenda­tions. A 90-day project review period was required for Agency study, but for many that was just enough time to miss the prime building season. Chestertown attorney Dan Smith call­ed the legislation “the Lawyers and Surveyors Relief Act of 1972.”

Beginning in summer of ’72, the APA held meetings on the proposed rules. Questionnaires went to town governments, asking them to look in­to the future to project their water needs and estimate their 1990 pop­ulations—but few communities could even begin to answer those questions.

The preliminary private land-use master plan was distributed on December 21, 1972. The document was complex, the holidays were near, and only 12 out of 107 towns were able to respond by the January dead­line. In 12 days, 15 public hearings were held in each of the Adirondack counties and outside the Park. Hun­dreds testified at the hearings. At the Essex County meeting, Marge Lamy said, “If we fear what will happen on the large tracts of land which are held by the 626 individuals and corpora­tions which own 53 percent of private land in the Park, isn’t it also an ad­vantage to have them subject to public pressure through an Agency such as this?… As for the ‘common man’ who will be priced out of a place in the Adirondacks, like me, he’s been priced out of owning any of the de­sirable property for a long time now.” At another hearing, a man appeared in Indian regalia holding a sign read­ing, “Now that you’ve taken the land, point the way to the reservation.”

On January 18, 1973, Assemblyman Glenn Harris introduced a bill to delay the passage of the private land plan, to give an extra year for localities to study the rules. (The State Land Master Plan had required only the Governor’s approval the year before.) In February, Agency staff met with town and county boards. With some changes, the APA’s final proposal went to the Governor.

Delivering the actual plan to the Legislature wasn’t as easy as it sounds. George Davis recalled that “Harry Daniels was met on the steps of the State Capitol with a temporary re­straining order preventing him from delivering the plan.” Keene Supervisor Robert Purdy got an injunction from a local judge to the effect that the plan was an illegal act since local govern­ment had not been adequately con­sulted. “A few days later, the judge vacated the order when presented with facts of the public meetings.”

The second time around, Harry Daniels went to Albany with his brief­case, but it was APA Counsel William Kissel in another car who had the plan. After last-minute late-night work with Richard Wiebe at the Office of Planning Services, they decided to close the evening with a nightcap in a nearby pub. But before leaving, just in case, they made a copy of the plan to keep in the office and the original went with Kissel. That night, somewhere in Albany, the original private land master plan disappeared.

During the third week of March, the delay bill passed resoundingly in both the Senate and Assembly. Rockefeller then set in motion legisla­tion to pass the plan, and vetoed the Harris delay bill.

Harris said, “I am convinced that if I had not introduced the ‘delay bill’ and obtained the tremendous support of the legislature, the Governor’s office would not have been willing to negotiate any changes in the final bill… Nearly 200 changes were agreed upon and virtually every page of the original bill was amended.”

These changes included the creation of the Local Government Review Board, increasing Adirondack representation among the Commissioners, increasing state aid to municipalities for preparing local plans, changes in lot widths and shoreline setbacks, monitoring by the State Board of Equalization and Assessment of the impact of the plan on the local tax base and more. Time magazine commented, “The plan transcended sim­ple zoning; it was in fact the most am­bitious attempt ever made to make development compatible with nature.” The APA has been created primari­ly to deal with large developers, but is the economic realities of 1973-74-the oil embargo, the reces­sion—evaporated the major endea­vors, the staff worked increasingly with small landowners.

Part of the Park Agency’s early dif­ficulties arose out of the “traditional Adirondack feeling of powerlessness,” according to Marge Lamy. Control of the Adirondacks was in the hands of lumber companies and large land­owners in the 19th century. “It wasn’t just powerlessness, it was the feeling of being at the mercy of outside forces that contributed to the distrust of these laws from outside.”

Bruce Brownell amplified that sen­timent. “It’s clear when you live in the Adirondack Park that the power—the bankers, the lawyers, the govern­ment—is always down the road.”

In the first two years of the Private Land Master Plan, the Agency con­sidered 685 projects and rejected 20. Sixty other applications were with­drawn.

In every application, three major areas were addressed: the question of whether local governments could pro­vide the necessary services; the direct and long-term economic benefits; the physical and biological considerations of the land, air and water. These criteria were designed by the fresh-faced staff who had the Temporary Study Commission reports for guid­ance, but few peers operating on such a vast scale.

“There was a richness and diversi­ty in the staff that probably only comes along when you create a brand new agency,” said Director of Opera­tions William Curran who joined the staff in July 1972. “We were blessed to have probably the two most know­ledgeable people on the Adirondacks, both of whom were former employees of DEC to assist in advising, cajoling, harnessing the zealots—Greenleaf Chase and Clarence Petty.”

“Richard Lawrence stood alone as commissioner. He was brilliant, poli­tically astute and had the Governor’s ear… He chaired hostile, angry meetings. The Agency whipped up such rage in some people that a lesser man would have either delegated or not attended. He went eyeball to eyeball with them,” said Curran.

In the early days of the Agency, Gary Duprey said people worked night and day, “with dedication that didn’t fit the reputation of a so-called state bureaucrat.” Curran added, The very fact we were creating this plan was both infectious and epic.”

There is no manure on the well-kept lawn of the APA’s head­quarters now, no protesters circling the War Wagon. What the Agency does have is an overwhelming number of development applications, nearly 60 percent more than even a year ago. In the face of skyrocketing land values, there is a sense that the APA is not equipped to fulfill its mission.

The new Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Cen­tury is supposed to find solutions. In a letter outlining the Commission’s role to Chairman Peter A.A. Berle, Governor Cuomo describes his ob­jectives in words that bear striking resemblance to those of Governor Rockefeller’s a generation ago. Cuomo says that the Adirondacks are not fully appreciated yet, that a better focus needs to be developed to create a better Park. He asks whether there is enough control on development, especially in environmentally sensi­tive areas, and whether the APA and State have enough power to assure proper stewardship of Forest Preserve lands.

In his final paragraph, Cuomo asks for information on ways to create a strong economic base “compatible with the Park,” and that, of course, is the hardest issue. Twenty years ago the State of New York created the first large-scale regional land-use plan in the nation against great odds. Now, as that project is fine-tuned, the real question of whether men and women can prosper in the shadow of a forest will be addressed. If the answer is yes, then the great Adirondack Experi­ment may contain an important lesson for the rest of the world.


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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

5 Responses

  1. Curt Austin says:

    You’ve helped me understand the context in which current arguments are presented and debated – thank you. That’s always helpful. Some arguments viewed only from a short-term perspective seem overly alarming – but the fears are justified when you know that they nearly became manifest in the past. Two big ones on each side of the coin: That there was a serious discussion about establishing a National Park. That some truly disturbing development projects were once on the table.

    On the other hand, it’s best to make decisions based on the current state of the Park, taking current trends into account. Slippery-slope arguments based on those older fears can lead to paralyzing, polarizing arguments that cannot be resolved.

    A comment on a smaller time scale: An alarm is sounded in this article about a surge in development. I’ve only noticed a partial return to the status before 2008, which I don’t regard as a surge. The overall trend is still downwards in terms of school enrollment, which I think is the best metric of economic vitality. Some wish development to be throttled as much as possible, while some don’t wish it to be throttled at all. The reasonable compromise is to aim for steady school enrollment.

    • Curt Austin says:

      Oops – by the time I finished the article, I forgot it was from 1989. I must amend my last paragraph: Interestingly, whatever threat of development there was in 1989 either passed or was absorbed without undue consequences or … can anyone comment? I did not live here at the time.

  2. Big Burly says:

    What a refreshing reminder of the tenor of the struggle, still going on, to balance nature and the needs of those of us who live in this spectacular place. There will always be a debt of gratitude owing to the folks who for the most part have made this a civil journey to get it right, and to the staff who have worked diligently over the years to set the bar high.

  3. Paul says:

    I think folks are beginning to understand that the APA is a zoning agency tasked with making sure that development is constrained to those zoning rules set up by the legislature some of the contentiousness has subsided. Early on you had two factions on both sides who thought that agencies mission was one of preservation. Environmentalists thought this was great and people opposed to the idea thought it was terrible. Both sides still gripe about this some but not as much.

  4. Bruce says:

    Excellent article. And to think this all started with some forward thinking individuals in 1894, including Verplanck Colvin when the Adirondack Park was essentially created. Between 1900 and 2000 the park grew by 3,200,000 acres, more than double. State owned land doubled. Road mileage increased by roughly half in the same time period. Park residents increased by about a third. In other words, the land grew at a faster rate than either roads or people.

    I believe that considering the political and big-money pressures they are under, the APA and DEC are doing a great job. That’s why the Adirondacks was on my to-do list when I was growing up and living in Oswego County, and now on my annual vacation from North Carolina. If I were able to make it permanent, I would.