Saturday, July 1, 2017

Blue Line Basics: An Adirondack Park History Primer

Map of the Adirondack Plateau showing the position & condition of existing forests 1884Noted land surveyor Verplanck Colvin raised the alarm about threats to Adirondack resources as early as 1868.

In 1884, a state forest commission created this detailed map of remaining timber resources in northern New York.

Later, a 1891 map included an outline of a proposed Adirondack Park, delineated by a line drawn in blue ink. This is considered by historians to be the first map of the Adirondack Park. Over time, the term “blue line”came to represent the actual boundary of the Adirondack Park.

On May 20, 1892, New York Governor Roswell P. Flower signed a law creating a 2.8 million-acre Adirondack Park. Today, the park offers an array of outdoor recreation opportunities, including more than 1,800 miles of trails and thousands of camping spots.

For more than 125 years, the forest commission’s original maps were kept in DEC files, some originally folded inside 19th Century reports to the New York State Legislature. However, over time the 130-year-old paper maps became brittle. DEC worked with the New York State Library to scan the maps and make replicas for public display. Digital scans of the maps can be viewed at the library’s online collections.

A new exhibit celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the Adirondack Park is now on display at DEC’s main office at 625 Broadway, Albany.  The exhibit includes rare Adirondack and Catskills artifacts, including historic maps, antique survey equipment, field notebooks, and photographs that tell the story of creation of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks 125 years ago.  DEC showcased four historic maps, three maps show how the Adirondack Park boundary evolved in the late 1800s, and a 1911 map that shows the placement of the “blue line” around the Catskill Park.

In addition to the maps, a glass-encased exhibit in the building’s foyer displays antique surveying equipment made by Gurley Equipment Company in Troy, NY, and photographs of Verplanck Colvin and his survey crew. Some of Colvin’s own field log books survive to this day, as do hand-drawn maps of significant physiographic features and progress reports showing triangulation methods to determine exact locations of mountain peaks.

The Adirondack Park is America’s largest state park, and one of its oldest. Encompassing six million acres, it is larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Cannon and Great Smokey Mountain National Parks combined, and is home to 46 peaks over 4,000 feet, thousands of  lakes and 1,181 miles of rivers classified under the Wild, Scenic, Recreational Rivers System and thousands of additional miles of unclassified rivers and streams. The Park is also home to 120 hamlets and communities with a population of 130,000 year-round residents and over 200,000 seasonal residents, making it unique internationally.

More information on the exhibit, including printed brochures, is available online. For more information on the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve, including a full color Park Map and Guide, visit DEC’s website.  The recently launched Adirondack Atlas also includes historic maps of the Adirondacks.

Illustration: Map of the Adirondack Plateau showing the position & condition of existing forests (1884).

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2 Responses

  1. John says:

    “The Adirondack Park is America’s largest, oldest and most storied state park.”

    Sorry — not even the oldest state park in New York.

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