Wednesday, November 17, 2021

On the idea of an Adirondack Mountains National Park

adirondack national park mapOn a fall Saturday afternoon in the early 1990s some friends and I met up with wilderness coalition leader Paul Schaefer (1908-1996) at his cabin. Deciding to spend the night with him at the cabin, we drove Paul into North Creek for something to eat. We tried the area’s hotel. One of the hotel staff took a look at Paul’s red plaid hunting jacket and asked him if could change into something more formal. At that, we turned heel and, walking across the street, the side bordering on the Hudson River, entered Smith’s restaurant. Paul was immediately comfortable, having eaten here many times. Someone greeted him, a fellow deer hunter who remembered him. We took a booth and Paul ordered a steak.

As we ate, Schaefer told us how, eating breakfast one morning at Smith’s restaurant in July 1967, he had picked up a copy of The New York Times. On that late July morning, Laurance Rockefeller’s proposal for an Adirondack Mountains National Park, submitted in a report with the official seal of New York State, was in that newspaper and many others.  The Times headline read: “Huge U.S. Park Urged in Adirondacks.”

Paul and Laurance Rockefeller, brother of the Governor and chairman of the New York State Council of Parks, were acquainted. Paul and Governor Nelson Rockefeller were, in fact, acquainted. Just the year prior the Governor had come to a state meeting of the New York State Conservation Council and presented Paul with the NYSCC’s 1966 conservation achievement award, a miniature carved bald eagle. In the mid-late 1960s Schaefer was at the center of a well-organized citizen campaign to preserve the upper Hudson River, its tributaries and towns like Newcomb from being flooded by the proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam to be called Big Gooley at the Blue Ledges, just below the Indian River confluence. Governor Rockefeller was very aware of this (ultimately successful) campaign to save the wild upper Hudson, and of Schaefer.

Paul told us he was stunned by the national park proposal. The plan for a national park within the central portion of the Adirondack Park was released by the Office of the Governor and proposed as consisting of 1.12 million acres owned by the state as part of the Forest Preserve and 600,000 adjoining acres owned by timber companies and other private landowners to be acquired over time for the national park. The approximate boundaries of the proposed national park would be Saranac Lakes/ Lake Placid/High Peaks to the north, the I-87 Northway to the east, Indian Lake to the south, and Fourth Lake/Stillwater Reservoir to the west. The Laurance Rockefeller plan excluded from federal acquisition Lake Placid and four other villages, Saranac Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, Inlet, and Indian Lake, all envisioned to become the principal commercial service centers for the national park.

To quote the report, written for Laurance Rockefeller by former National Park Service Director Conrad Wirth, “the national park would include the best of the varied natural scenes and physiographic features that characterize the Adirondack Mountain region including the High Peaks.” According to a 1999 paper about the National Park proposal authored by Tom Cobb, park preserve manager with the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, “the primary rationale for the national park idea was to offer federal protection to the core area of the Adirondacks by consolidating ownership into a large single block of public land. It was also thought that a strengthened federal role would make the region more readily known and available to the 100 million people living in the northeastern United States. Findings of Laurence Rockefeller’s Council of Parks in 1966 concluded that “current state administrative policies and practices were inadequate, that the park concept competed with the forest preserve concept, and that the administrative structure of the Adirondacks urgently required attention. Conrad Wirth went so far as to suggest that the Adirondack Park in its present state existed only as a myth.”

Paul Schaefer told us that after reading the New York Times, full of conviction, he walked out of Smith’s restaurant that July morning of 1967 and went to the river. The Hudson River at North Creek must have been running low. Paul told us he found a rock in or near the river, sat down on it, pulled out a pen and, whether on the newspaper itself or a notepad or his breakfast napkin, wrote a letter to the New York Times which he later typed and submitted. While eating our supper at Smith’s restaurant he told us that his letter was the first of many to be published over the next few weeks, all speaking out against a national park.

I never asked Paul to see a copy of his New York Times letter. But thanks to Tom Cobb there is a record of it. Tom, a close colleague of Paul’s, park preserve manager at Minnewaska State Park Preserve and staff member with the Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century, wrote a paper for a national parks conference hosted by the George Wright Society in Ashville, North Carolina titled “On the 1967 Proposal for an Adirondack Mountains National Park.” Ken Rimany, editor of the Forest Preserve magazine (published by The Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks) reprinted Cobb’s paper – which included Paul Schaefer’s 1967 letter.

The Schaefer letter read “that even if many state conservation leaders espoused the proposal, the people as a whole would reject it. The reason for this is that the citizens of New York State have personally identified themselves with proprietary ownership of the State Forest Preserve. They have been involved in long, weary, expensive and yet successful battles to prevent exploitation of the Preserve and in public referendums registered such opposition with pluralities of more than a million votes. The people of our state feel themselves part and parcel of every acre of the Forest Preserve and will not transfer their personal ownership and control to any outside agency.”

Paul Schaefer’s letter to the editor in the New York Times was followed by others, including this one by former State Conservation Commissioner Lithgow Osborne: Osborne wrote “the real crux of the matter, however, lies in the character of the administration of Adirondack lands under Federal management. The National Park Service, despite many accomplishments, has been over-susceptible to the pressures of the highway builders, of those who conceive of parks as highly developed, semi-rural playgrounds and amusement centers, and also of those who hope for private profit from operating establishments for entertainment nearby…The issue is very clear. If New York State cedes to the Federal Government state-owned Forest Preserve lands, it is virtually certain that their wilderness character will be destroyed, sooner or later…Control of the area should remain where it is.”

Osborne’s letter was reprinted in a special 1967 report of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks which resolved that “we reject the plan of Laurance Rockefeller…as a solution to the mounting recreational pressures of the day and believe it would result in the eventual loss of the wilderness character of the area.” In her 1985 book The Forest Preserve: A Handbook for Conservationists, published by the Adirondack Mountain Club, Eleanor Brown (later a member of the Adirondack Park Agency) wrote of the national park proposal “hunters were against it because of the ban on hunting in most national parks. The Conservation Department…argued that it would disrupt the lumber industry, dislocate much of the tourist industry, disturb the balance of nature, particularly for the deer because of the hunting prohibition, adversely affect state water resources, hamper commercial traffic through the park and affect property tax payments to park municipalities.”

In his classic The Adirondack Park: A Political History (Knopf, 1978) author Frank Graham, Jr. wrote of the national park plan, “as the national park proposal slid toward oblivion late in 1967, Laurance Rockefeller flew to Warrensburg to give a talk to the Adirondack Mountain Club. ‘The weather was bad, and the plane was late,’ recalled Henry L. Diamond, later a New York Conservation Commissioner, who accompanied Rockefeller. ‘The bar had been open for some time, and when we came in there was an audible growl.’ Rockefeller backed off a bit from the proposal during his talk. He implied that its true purpose was to stir some discussion of the park’s problems, that it was, in essence, a ‘trial balloon.’ Shortly afterward, the Conservation Department issued an unfavorable report on the plan and, officially, it was dead.”

For his 1999 paper delivered at the George Wright Society meeting Tom Cobb had interviewed a much older Laurance Rockefeller about his memories of the national park idea. Cobb wrote: “The suggestion that the idea for a national park in the Adirondacks was a political tactic to pave the way for the Adirondack Park Agency does not have a firm basis. Reflecting back on the original proposal, Laurance Rockefeller pointed out that “I always felt a little wistful that if Connie (Conrad) Wirth had not insisted on making it a Park over one million acres and instead had thought merely to protect the scenic mountain area, it might have successfully gone through.”

Map courtesy of the Adirondack Experience

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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 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 Preserve

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




20 Responses

  1. JDash says:

    Following the lead of former Governor Rockefeller in making proposals for the Adirondacks, I’d like to make my own proposal for the Park: dedication of an “Adirondack Hall of Fame” honoring all the people, especially ordinary citizens like Paul Schaefer, who worked tirelessly to preserve the Adirondacks for ‘the next generation.’ Well, I am the next generation and I am eternally grateful to all those who came before me. I literally cried when I saw the wilderness sign at Little Tupper Lake. How many times had I passed Little Tupper and wished it were part of the Forest Preserve? Quite frankly, I don’t know what I’d do without the Adirondacks. There is nothing like them anywhere in the Northeast (Maine is too much of a timber lot for my tastes), or in the contiguous U.S. (Yosemite is small and overdeveloped and the magnificent Redwoods are shockingly under-protected). The new “Hall of Fame” could be located in the Town of Tupper Lake to compliment the “Wild Center” which was a wonderful idea and has drawn many tourists to the Town. We need more development highlighting the natural Adirondacks to help overcome the serious “Nature Deficit Disorder” found in many visitors to the Park. Maybe then we’ll get fewer “large scale” development proposals at the APA and more advocates for “untrammeled wilderness.” BTW: does anyone know what a “trammel” is? It was a device for restraining a horses hind legs to keep them from kicking the blacksmith or veterinarian. How it landed up in so many legal opinions is beyond me!

    • Dave Mason says:

      I took a minute to look up the definition of trammel. Your horse restraint is an example listed. The most general definition of trammel is “a hindrance or impediment to free action”. So, a gate, or a restraint of some kind (as in your horse example) is a trammel.

      Synonyms listed are: drag, hobble, curb, inhibition, hinder, impede, obstruct, encumber.

      So the words “untrammeled wilderness” are about open free unhindered access to the Forest Preserve. In the legal world of the Article 14, this become an issue when people propose fees, or gates, like a National Parks all have, for example. This is why fees for parking are sometimes as ok (for example) but not fees for permits to access the Forest Preserve. Such fees and other restraints on access to the Forest Preserve could be viewed as contrary to Art 14.

      Of course, overuse is a big issue in some areas now. So how can we manage overuse, without creating ‘trammels’ (read restraints) that would be deemed unconstitutional? That is the question that needs to be resolved.

      • jJdash says:

        Thanks Mr. Mason. I appreciate the expanded definition which makes more sense in a legal context. However, does “untrammeled wilderness” mean free, as in no money, access or does it mean that the “wilderness” itself is unrestrained by logging, development, dams, etc.?

        • Dave Mason says:

          I think untrammeled means no fee for recreational access, no undue barriers to recreation. It only applies to Forest Preserve land, not easements like the AMR land.

          Of course there are various rules and regs about different forms of recreation. There are fees for fishing and hunting license same as the rest of the State. There are parking fees on private land bordering NYS land, but not on State land (e.g. The Garden). Shuttle fees show up in Keene. There are campground fees where campgrounds are organized (e.eg Lake George). These are all fees around the edges, not entrance fees.

          There is no fee to go walk in the woods or camp in the forest.

          Putting up gates and charging a fee to enter the Park like a National Park, would likely not be legal.

          It doesn’t mean wilderness open to logging and so on which is prohibited by the words of Article 14.

          Keep in mind I am not an lawyer, just an observer who looked up the definition. ADK lawyers love to debate this sort of thing and I’ll leave it to them. But now I hope you get the idea of what untrammeled means.

          • Adam D says:

            In his 2002 article “Untrammeled, ‘Wilderness Character,’ and the Challenges of Wilderness Preservation” (published in Wild Earth), Doug Scott writes that Howard Zahniser very carefully chose the word to refer to nature free from human encumbrances. According to Scott, Zahniser thought untrammeled was a more accurate word than “undisturbed” to describe protected areas because these areas were actually temporarily disturbed by human activity like recreation. Scott quotes Zahniser (who wrote this in a 1959 letter to C. Edward Graves) thus: “The idea within the word “Untrammeled” of their [ref. to protected areas] not being subjected to human controls and manipulations that hamper the free play of natural forces is the distinctive one that seems to make this word the most suitable one for its purpose within the Wilderness Bill.”

            So it seems like the meaning of “untrammeled” in relation to wilderness in the Adirondacks (and the U.S. at large), is nature’s freedom from things like (as JDash writes) logging, development, and dams, and it does not refer to zero cost access or undue barriers to recreation.

            • Dave Mason says:

              This could be but your definition is more suited to untrampled than untrammeled. Quite different.

              These things will be fodder for lawyers in the future, for sure.

              • Adam D says:

                Dave, the definition provided above is not mine, but Howard Zahniser’s, and it certainly is not “more suited to untrampled.” You should read Scott’s article, which contains a discussion of the difference between “untrampled” vs. “untrammeled” and why the distinction is so important. BTW, at the time of the article’s publication, Scott was the policy director of the Pew Wilderness Center, and he drew on many primary sources (including Zahniser’s correspondence). I think he’s a pretty reliable source. If you have trouble accessing this piece, perhaps I can get a copy to you through the Almanack?

            • David Gibson, Managing Partner, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve says:

              Thank you Adam for uncovering the true
              meaning of the word untrammeled in the context of the wilderness act and its author !

  2. louis curth says:

    Thanks for this wonderful essay full of fond memories of the people and places where I have spent much of my adult life.

    I remember my young self being concerned enough back then to read the proposal for an Adirondack National Park in the NY Times, but not much else. I had only been a ranger for a couple of years and my first big adventure into environmental activism really began when I became a supporter of Paul Schaefer’s efforts to prevent the Gooley Dam proposal from destroying forever the upper Hudson River .

    Your rendition of dinner with Paul at Smith’s Restaurant brought a flood of memories of Anna Smith’s warmth and of all the Friday night dinners that Inger and I enjoyed while sitting in those same booths. We still laugh over the time that Father Ashline, another frequent diner, came in and our young son announced for all to hear; “Mommy, that man has no hair!”

    I can just picture Paul sitting in a booth at Smith’s Restaurant dressed in his hunting clothes, probably the same ones as when ranger Vic Sasse and I dropped in on routine visits to his hunting camp at Second Pond Flow. Whether it was with the local rangers or some North Creek locals having a meal at Smith’s, Paul’s amiability was his strength and I believe it helped him to be such an effective advocate.

    There are endless stories that begin at Smith’s Restaurant, from the UHEAC Saturday outings led by Peter Hornbeck that began at Smith’s, to our creative efforts, led by Bob Nessle to pass the “bottle bill” that emanated from Smith’s, and so much more. All these many interesting people and so many wonderful stories attached to North Creek, the Town of Johnsburg and that once upon a time place called Smith’s Restaurant. Thanks Dave for reminding me.

  3. Ellen Apperson Brown says:

    Nice! Too bad Appy wasn’t around to put in his own two cents worth, but he had taught Schaefer well! I am grateful to you for writing about the chapters of Adirondack history after 1963, when Apperson died.

  4. James M Schaefer says:

    Here is a timely story about a path not followed. It is of special value in light of the Adirondack Council’s well intentioned “Vision 2050” plan that prioritizes INCREASED funding (read “bureaucracy and red tape”) at every turn. Dave’s story about the idea of having a federal layer of National Park administration, with everything it would bring, should raise the hackles of every independent thinker among us. The truism, “Less is More” could never be more relevant.

    • JB says:

      James Schaefer, although I do understand the logic behind the arguments for a blanket of “increased funding”, I couldn’t agree more with your comment!

      We have seen time and time again the damage done by the self-perpetuating cycle of bureaucratic growth, to both people and the environment: from the federally funded “industrial tourism” that Edward Abbey writes about, to the genesis of National Parks as science experiments upon radio-collared animals and silvicultural plantations, to the the metamorphoses of localized government chambers into regional corporate juggernauts (e.g., ROOST), to the aftermath of the years of Cuomo cronyism (advertising campaigns, High Peaks overuse, trail network and campground expansion, large-scale private development, housing crises), and beyond. It does not take much to extrapolate as to where these trends are going.

      Now, ironically and unsurprisingly, we find ourselves in a situation where we do need to at least ask the question: Is a tremendous expenditure of targeted funding in fact necessary to undo the multitudes of sins of past and present, to reign in the madding crowds, to combat the larger forces wrought by dysfunction, balkanization and the warped ethics of systemic negative utilitarianism? Ergo: Has the possibility of decentralized voluntarism become unreachable without the strife of centralized coercion? Should we deploy the fleet, or will the muddy water become clear more quickly if we just let it stand? And, ultimately, will we ever be able to demilitarize once the first salvos of war have started? Will more money inevitably only serve as fuel for the Adirondack Park’s eternal funeral pyre?

      Indeed, the “right” collective vision to guide us in our future actions as a society is essential, but the only absolute component and dictum of that vision must be the acknowledgement and wariness of our own inability to arbitrate justly and to chart the proper course through the murky waters. It seems to me that the only clarity can come from living in fearless awareness of that opaqueness. Hence, the opaqueness of concepts such as land-use planning, wilderness preservation and (particularly relevant to our deliberations here) disinvestment is not the problem, it is our own impetuous reaction to those concepts, for and against–the tighter we grasp the more the whole situation slips through our fingers. There are more self-professed visionaries than ever before, but there is less true and forthright vision.

  5. Breo says:

    Maybe back in the day the proprietors protected the preserve but that is no longer the case and the Adirondacks are being quickly overused for expansion of housing and estates. A National Park is the only way to confidently preserve it

  6. Bree theo says:

    It’s a nice idea but the proprietors of Adirondack property don’t have the best interests of the ADK at heart, especially those who buy it from out-of-state. The best way to ensure preservation is to make it a national park, we can see through history they have managed other US national parks well and respectfully. Otherwise get ready for overuse, leading to less popularity, leading to decline from human interest and natural resources

  7. Charlie Stehlin says:

    ““the national park would include the best of the varied natural scenes and physiographic features that characterize the Adirondack Mountain region including the High Peaks.”

    > I have a copy of that original proposal to make a chunk of the Adirondacks a National Park. I haven’t read it in a number of years, but if memory serves me correct, I believe I recall what came to my mind regards where the boundaries of the national park were to be set…. they were exactly where most of its accessible good Adirondack water was. Correct me if I’m wrong on this but it only makes sense when you come to realize how the corporate mind works. To think if the plan had flown…we might just be used to seeing “Laurance’s pure bottled Adirondack spring water” on store shelves everywhere.

  8. Alan West says:

    Schafer was right. Nothing but a back handed attempt to squeeze residents out.

  9. Steve B. says:

    While I have wonderful memories and experiences of the many Nat’l Parks I have visited, I agree with JB that Ed Abbey had it correct that the nature of the Park Service is to promote industrial tourism so as to meet one of it’s criteria to bring the masses to the parks. This would have killed the Adirondacks. Might have been great for the tourism industry as well as all the assorted construction trades building the roads and facilities thus needed to pack in as many people as possible, but there’s no question that those who wrote Article 14 were forever more wise in deciding on Forever Wild. Creating a National Park would have taken that power away from the local and state government and put it into the hands of the federal bureaucracy as to what would remain Forever Wild. We are lucky this never went anywhere.

  10. Why is the blue line extended to the Gouverneur side of Edwards in the proposed map ?

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