Monday, July 24, 2017

An Environmental Salute to George Canon

The late Newcomb Town Supervisor George Canon did not concede anything to the environmental side, but in paying my respects to him I admit to admiration for what he accomplished for his town and county and for how, beneath a very tough exterior, George cared little about who he was seen with, who he would approach, talk with or share a drink with. Not that he wanted my organizations to publish pictures of us smiling before the camera. That would have gone too far.

Early on, when George and I met occasionally, our only common ground was to talk about a man we knew from very different points of view – Arthur Masten Crocker. Arthur was a patrician member of the Tahawus Club, so a part-time resident of Newcomb. He was also a leading environmentalist of his time, having grown to young manhood around Masten House, near the old village of Adirondac, and fished lakes Henderson and Colden.  Arthur also appreciated Adirondack history, local guides and men who worked for National Lead – men like George Canon.

Arthur and George occasionally went fishing together. Arthur thought and wrote a lot about acid rain and property taxation and bent George’s ear on the latter subject more than once, probably at tax time. For his part, George Canon knew a great deal about real property taxation, relying as his town did on Finch, Pruyn’s and the State’s tax payments. George and Arthur had a mutual respect for each other and clearly enjoyed bantering. To me, Arthur Crocker was an intellectual, thoughtful, discriminating and sometimes intimidating member of my board who gave generously to the cause of protection of the Adirondacks, wrote us frequently, and expected a lot from those who worked or volunteered for the organization. George Canon and I shared an occasional story and laugh as we spoke of Arthur from our different vantage points.

As time went on, I along with my Adirondack Wild colleagues Dan and Ken, appreciated that George would not hesitate to come over and shake our hands. That handshake would come with a grimacing smile, and almost always with words that could be heard across the room, “I don’t agree with you most of the time,” but it was the handshake that counted.

So much for handshakes. There is much more to recognize George for from my standpoint. For one, there’s the Newcomb Visitor Interpretive Center. Before and after its opening day in 1990, the year I think George was elected town supervisor to succeed Charlie Madison, the VIC had his support. George didn’t miss many opportunities to benefit his Town and the VIC still does benefit Newcomb and the entire central Adirondacks. I treasure its esker, the great trees, the stream, the marsh, the beautiful lake and the people who run it every day and host great meetings and events. In the VIC’s early days, my organization was proud to sponsor an exhibit there about the “forever wild” constitution, working closely with the VIC, APA and the Fred Brink’s Company in Boston. Given our wilderness advocacy and history, George could have objected to this exhibit. He never did (to my knowledge).

Then, there is Camp Santanoni and its intermingled human and cultural history and “forever wild” landscape. During the 1990s, there were quite a few meetings at the Newcomb Town Hall to try to reach consensus about its unit management plan. George was there. How could the road, historic buildings and adjacent Forest Preserve co-exist within the strictures of the Constitution and the guidelines of the State Land Master Plan? In defense of the Forest Preserve, would groups like those I worked for have to challenge the Town and the State to limit the historic restoration footprint there? Ultimately, the historic area was limited in size, the road closed to public motorized uses and the structures painstakingly restored, while the Forest Preserve on either side of the road remained intact. George and his town devoted lots of their resources and efforts to help Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) and NYS DEC restore Santanoni’s history without insisting on motorized access and a much larger historic area footprint requiring forest clearing. The summer rally for ATV and truck access down the Santanoni road petered out. George never got behind it. Instead, he joined AARCH’s board of directors. George was passionate about preserving local history.

There was the Statewide Open Space Conservation Plan. George served on its Region 5 committee from the get-go in 1991, as I did. George and other local government leaders surely put their stamp on that committee’s many long meetings, discussions and motions about real property taxation, restrictions on use of eminent domain, forest preserve, conservation easements, access, agriculture, and so much else. The “local veto” that got into the Environmental Protection Fund legislation of 1993 (and remains there still) had George’s fingerprints all over it (as well as the real property industry’s) and Senator Stafford made that a key condition for Senate approval of the EPF legislation. Debates in the Region 5 committee sometimes grew very heated, but we often cooled down thanks to a great lunch George and his employees served us at Newcomb Town Hall. George knew how to treat people right, even those with whom he disagreed.

Meetings about generic open space protection are one thing. Hard cases involving a lot of local land for sale are another. When early in this century National Lead (then it was Kronos Holdings in Texas) – for whom George had worked for years – decided to sell its holdings in Newcomb, how would Supervisor Canon react? He made sure certain places were set aside for future mining, and that as much conservation easement as possible was included in the deal. He looked out for the Town’s interests. But he also realized open space protection, tourism and visitation had become highly important to that long-term town interest. He and his boards ultimately abided by the Open Space Plan, worked with the Open Space Institute’s Joe Martens knowing that a lot of the land would ultimately become Forest Preserve Wilderness and new access to the High Peaks – as indeed it has. People like me wrote a lot of letters full of concern about the details of the deal and the state’s ultimate acquisition and classification, but there is a great deal to thank George Canon for in the intermingled wilderness and history the public enjoys today at the old village of Adirondac, Mt. Adams, Henderson Lake and surroundings.

More recently, tensions over the classification and management of the former Finch, Pruyn lands often put George and me and others back on our separate sides of the fence. But before, during, or after these fraught hearings I never knew George to be spiteful or mean spirited. In fact, when he showed up at meetings or hearings his was a quite stabilizing presence. One could count on his forceful, clear-cut position in defense of his region as he saw it without his getting too personal about any of it. One could also count on George’s successful efforts to get a rise out of me and others. In those cases, it was best to laugh right along with him.

Photo: George Canon, courtesy AARCH.

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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.

One Response

  1. Terry says:

    When it comes right down to it, Dave, human decency is the best policy for all of us!
    Thanks for recognizing, with a fine tribute, a great man!

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