Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Partnership For Wilderness, 1946-2018

In July 1946, Howard and Alice Zahniser drove with their children to the Adirondacks for the first time. Howard had started work as the first executive of The Wilderness Society in Washington D.C. the year prior. Howard would begin drafting the federal Wilderness Act of 1964 (66 drafts in all) from a cabin he acquired in the Adirondacks.

Howard kept a journal of his first trip to the Adirondack Park.  The rest of us know about it thanks to his son Ed Zahniser’s small book, Where Wilderness Preservation Began – Adirondack Writings of Howard Zahniser (Ed Zahniser, Editor., North Country Books, 1992). For 72 years the extended Zahniser family, now including the fourth generation, has returned to the same place in the Adirondacks. This August I held a cook-out to welcome them back.

According to Howard’s journal, in 1946 Howard and Alice drove their family from Maryland to Schenectady, NY. They drove to Schenectady via State Route 7 (no Interstate 88 then).  In Schenectady, they met up with Paul Schaefer and his wife Carolyn and their children. Paul was well on route to becoming one of the most accomplished Adirondack wilderness conservation leaders of the 20th century, as well as home-builder, hunter, angler, Adirondack author and filmmaker.  The two families drove to the Adirondacks via Northville (no I-87), Wells, and then east on Route 8 to Bakers Mills where they arrived for several weeks at the Schaefer family cottage at the foot of Eleventh Mountain.

From that home base 72 years ago, Howard Zahniser and Paul Schaefer and their families began a lifelong friendship and partnership for wilderness, here and across the country. From their base camp, they explored what is now the Siamese Ponds Wilderness and then what is now the High Peaks Wilderness. From their campsite or cabin porch, Howard and Paul dreamed of a stronger Article XIV of the NYS Constitution (“forever wild”) and a national wilderness preservation system founded upon it. They frequently collaborated about all of this, for the next 18 years. Together, with allies, they achieved much for the Adirondacks and for the country.  Their children learned to fish, climb apple trees, swim and observe wildlife. Some played mountain music, some sang. They came to know local people. They all gained strength, endurance and confidence. Later, Ed Zahniser went to work for the National Park Service. Ed is a frequent contributor to the Almanack. We collaborate with him every chance we get.

Paul, having come with his parents and siblings to the Adirondacks in 1923 or so, got to know local Adirondackers. They were generous and helped to support the Schaefers who were from the city and, in 1923, did not yet know how to live and survive a rural life. They learned. Paul and Carolyn, in turn, taught many other city people to feel comfortable in and to love and embrace the Adirondack experience, its residents, and its wild spaces. Paul and Carolyn’s children (and the other Schaefers) spent and still spend many seasons in the Adirondacks. One, Evelyn, with husband Don, has lived and worked in the Park for many years. Though I did not know Carolyn, I got to know Paul Schaefer in his 70s and 80s. I am one of those visitors that Paul helped make welcome in the Adirondacks.

On August 5, 1946, Howard Zahnser’s journal reads, in part: “I saw the sun rise over the hill, was up at 7:30 and after making a fire hiked with Mathias (his son) up the road …to the last house, which is for sale. A great view of Crane Mt. in the distance and of Eleventh Mt. As we came back we heard a breakfast bell and smelled bacon.” From there, they took a day trip to North Creek, “then up to the Hudson and into Thirteenth Lake on a woods road.” Upon their return, before dinner “I read Robin Hood aloud to Mathias, Esther, Karen, Mary and Evelyn seated around the fireplace. We also sat a while on the porch swing, the half moon just down the back of Eleventh Mt. still making a glow around the top like a corona. We thought we saw northern lights.” A given day’s journal entry often closed with: “we sat on the porch talking until midnight.”

The cabin for sale that Howard saw the August 5 day became the Zahniser cabin, still in the family.

On August 5, 2018 Ed and Christine Zahniser, their children, and their children, Ed’s brother Mathias and Ann Zahniser and other, younger, extended Zahnisers joined Evelyn (Schaefer) Greene, Dave Greene and his family, Greg and Ellen Schaefer, along with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve  from all over for a cook-out in this same place. As I started to flip hamburgers, Ed Zahniser’s son Justin announced: “do you know that Maryland is the only state that lacks a designated wilderness area?” Justin appears to be his grandfather’s 2018 wilderness fact finder. It’s a strong and needed inheritance. It was hot, 80 degrees in the shade. Yet, because we all were at 2200 feet we were somewhat cooler than those in the valley below and even cooler than those baking in Schenectady.

Later, some of us sat on the cabin porch talking. We listened as Dave Greene, Paul Schaefer’s grandson, recited from memory and sheer appreciation of the man a speech that the Adirondack hermit of Cold River, Noah John Rondeau, might have given.to an audience seventy years ago. Briefly, we were transported to another time. It was like the hermit was performing right there and then. Dave’s recital was spellbinding. I should journal about it. Howard, were you listening?

(Credit to: Where Wilderness Preservation Began – Adirondack Writings of Howard Zahniser, Edited and with an Introduction by Ed Zahniser, 1992, North Country Books)

Photos, from above: Howard Zahniser in the Adirondacks photo by Alice Zahniser; Paul Schaefer in the Adirondacks, August 1946, photo by Howard Zahniser; and From left to right, Evelyn, Calvin, Dave, Melanie, dog Cedar (the Greene’s) and Chris and Ed Zahniser departing the cook-out, August 2018, photo by Dave Gibson.

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David Gibson

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for nearly 25 years, much of that time as Executive Director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and then as first Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

During 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 a partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.




One Response

  1. Charlie S says:

    NIce read! We need more people like Howard Zahniser and Paul Schaefer, people with vision and who care about what remains of the healthy ecosystems on this small planet earth. Of course the way we’re going with all of the turbulence globally (and now the conservatives are, all over again, aiming for militarizing space, which will be the advanced version of the beginning of the end for the human race) it’s probably not going to matter but I suppose we can keep the faith….just in case.

    “Paul was well on route to becoming one of the most accomplished Adirondack wilderness conservation leaders of the 20th century, as well as home-builder…”
    > I’ve been in at least three of Paul’s homes and to say the man was unique in his designs would be an under-statement. He even built a shed in one yard of a house he built at Niskayuna that is shaped like a lean-to. I suppose the Adirondacks was always with him when he was alive.

    “Ed Zahniser’s son Justin announced: “do you know that Maryland is the only state that lacks a designated wilderness area?”
    > Must be run by tories Maryland! I don’t mean to politicize but I cannot help but wish to express the first things that come over me after reading things, cannot help but wish to express the truth.

    “A given day’s journal entry often closed with: “we sat on the porch talking until midnight.”
    > O’ how this reminds me of more simpler times! I recall a umber of elders over the years sharing with me how the thing to do in the past was to sit on their porches late into nights and chat with family and or neighbors. Then television came along and that was the end of that.

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