While visiting family in Oregon recently, I spent some time reflecting on what makes the Adirondacks special, while also enjoying some of the incredible nature that makes the Pacific Northwest special.
(Please forgive this small departure from water issues – though forests, as any Adirondack history will remind you, are crucial to water quality.)
I visited Oregon’s largest state park, Silver Falls, about 50 miles south of Portland, which includes a loop trail that passes by as many as 10 impressive waterfalls. While on the coast, I hiked through extraordinary, old-growth forest and across cliffs that opened to admittedly-clouded ocean views.
The natural areas feel sprawling in a state nearly twice the size of New York, but the scope of the state’s park system pales in comparison to the Adirondack Park.
Oregon’s 254 state parks take in incredible shorelines, waterfalls and ancient forests. But Oregon state parks account for just 122,000 total acres – about 62 percent the size of the High Peaks Wilderness or about 11 percent of the total wilderness in the Adirondacks. Crater Lake National Park accounts for another 183,000 acres, and Oregon includes well over 1.5 million acres in dozens of federal wilderness areas, some of which stretch to the size of the Adirondacks’ largest wilderness areas and in total roughly match the size of Adirondack public lands.
Driving from Portland to the coast, I watched out the window as massive hemlocks and firs draped in deep green moss ticked by – incredible specimens you rarely find an equal to on the East Coast. But between the ancient trees opened windows of forest devastation. Rows of young trees stretched across hillsides; in some places all you could see was the slash of a clear cut.
Obviously, logging still happens in the Adirondacks. I regularly see and hear trucks stacked with logs rumble past my home. The region’s history calls to mind grainy photos of timber workers standing atop logs stretching edge-to-edge across the Hudson River. But forever wild protections and numerous conservation easements have protected vast (and largely intact) swaths of North Country forests.
While in Oregon it feels like the forests are on the decline, in the Adirondacks the forests appear more on the mend. I learned during a recent online presentation by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies that the Rocky Mountain region forests have become a net releaser of carbon dioxide as a result of raging fires, and the Pacific Northwest is trending in that direction, while 85 percent of forest-based carbon sequestration in the country happens in Eastern forests.
As many of the unlogged forests in the West continue to burn in the decades to come – New Yorkers may well find new reasons to be grateful for the protections first put in place over a century ago.
A favorite pine tree near the author’s Corinth home divides into four massive trunks as it reaches skyward. Photo by Zach Matson
Editor’s note: This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.