Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Making waves for clean water: A look back to 1972

clean water act anniversary

An influential film highlighted Adirondack rivers

As the Adirondacks celebrates the 50th anniversary of the nation’s Clean Water Act (1972-2022), I thought to thumb through a set of old reports to find out what the nonprofit advocate Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks was doing or thinking about at the origins of the Clean Water Act during 1972.

So much of a groundbreaking environmental nature was happening in 1972 that shared the spotlight with the national Clean Water Act. Here is a small sampling from the Association’s 1972 report, authored by its president at the time Arthur Crocker, and by its vice president Paul Schaefer:

  • “On January 22 (1972) the Environmental Planning Lobby had its first convention in Albany under the leadership of the environmental lawyer, David Sive. Attendance was in the neighborhood of 350 persons representing some 100 different New York State conservation groups. The meeting was addressed by (DEC) Commissioner Henry L. Diamond who called the meeting ‘the beginning of real political unity, real political sophistication and real political effectiveness by the environmentalists of New York State.’”
  • “Adirondack Park Agency in 1972: Richard W. Lawrence, Jr. of Elizabethtown, who had been active in Republican Party circles and various local business and publishing interests, has resigned as a Trustee of this Association on assuming a four-year term as Chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency. Other members of the Agency, appointed by Governor Rockefeller are James Bird, a general contractor from Raquette Lake; Whiteman Daniels of Delmar, a public relations man with Adirondack roots in the Town of Schroon; William J. Foley, a practicing attorney from Old Forge; Peter S. Paine, Jr. of New York City, a partner in the law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton; Mrs. Raymond C. (Mary F.) Prime of Lake Placid, a housewife active in civic affairs and conservation; Joseph P. Tomelli of Yonkers, President of the International Brotherhood of Pulp Sulphite and Paper Mill Workers
  • Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act: Bill has been passed and sent to Governor Nelson Rockefeller for his signature that would preserve free flowing conditions on certain selected rivers of the state which, with their immediate environs, possess outstanding natural, scenic, historical, ecological and recreational values, provides for administration of the system, jurisdiction of the DEC and APA, classes of rivers included and penalties and enforcement.
  • Environmental Quality Bond Act: Authorizes creation of state debt not exceeding $1.2 billion to provide moneys for preserving, enhancing, restoring and improving quality of state’s environment, with provisions not to take effect until approved by people at 1972 general election.
  • Public Hearings Schedule to take place concerning the newly drafted, 1972 Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, to be submitted to the Governor. June 1972 public hearings to be at: Lake Placid Community Center, Lake George Old Courthouse, Old Forge Community Hall, Rochester and New York City.
  • Letter from DEC Commissioner Henry L. Diamond to the new Adirondack Conservancy Committee’s co-chair Arthur V. Savage lauding the cooperation of The Nature Conservancy in acquiring Camp Santanoni in Newcomb and committing to the state’s acquisition of same as part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. This was the first big project of the newly formed Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

Most of the remainder of the Association’s report was focused on another 1972 project, a so-called “Wild Rivers Movie,” that bore the title “Of Rivers and Men.” The paragraphs stated:

“Mr. Fred Sullivan…is continuing his editing of film on the rivers of the Adirondacks….The Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks is supporting a 30-minute sound and documentary moving picture…which will graphically portray the classifications of the proposal by the Adirondack Study Commission that of 6,000 miles of such rivers, 968 miles would be protected either in the wild, scenic or recreational classification….

With the Adirondack Park Agency Act now law, it is apparent that vigorous and sustained efforts will be needed to educate New Yorkers as to the intent and significance of the Study Commission’s report…recommendations on the wild rivers system have not yet been enacted into law at this time….very few of our citizens have any coherent understanding at this time of the Adirondack river system or scientific facts relating to its preservation.

The film is being directed by Frederick Sullivan, a native of Glens Falls, as a thesis for a master’s degree in film making at Boston University. He is producing a 16-mm color documentary of these rivers and the problems inherent in the proposal. By October 15, 1972, he will have completed the film. It portrays the Adirondacks in remarkable depth and detail. It describes the rivers selected to be in the system and tells the story of the all-out effort to protect the wild character of the region being made by the State, the Adirondack Park Agency, and by the people of our state and elsewhere. It brings out the importance of Article XIV, Section 1 of the State Constitution which protects 2.25 million acres of the forest preserve in the headwaters of these major rivers and streams.

The Hudson, the Ausable, the West Canada, the Bouquet, the Sacandaga, the Bog, the Grasse, the Moose, the Indian, the Independence, the Raquette, the Saranac, the Schroon; these and other rivers with their deep canyons, waterfalls, rapids and their heavily forested watersheds are portrayed as never before.

A wild river is a symptom of environmental health. Pure waters flowing freely through lands primitive in nature and free of man-made development, where the air is still nourishing to the biota instead of debilitating, characterizes a wild river ecosystem….

…we have channelized and dammed about enough of our American rivers. Provision of water supply, flood control, hydroelectric power, and recreational values can be provided via alternative means, while a free-flowing river, once developed, can never be made pristine again….

…We need wild and untrammeled lands , too, or our wild rivers will be akin to healthy circulatory systems in diseased bodies. It is essential that we have at least a few vast stretches of mountain, seashore and forest wildernesses because of the incomparable sanity it can bring into our often frenetic lives. For spiritual renewal , the recognition of identify, and the birth of awe, there is no substitute…here the scientist can attempt to understand nature’s activity at a basic level and begin to perceive the complexities of ecological principles. The obvious benefits of unpolluted land, air and water need not be labored upon.”

Production of the 1972 film “Of Rivers and Men” took two years, involved 25,000 miles of Adirondack travel, and 10,000 feet of exposed film. Tranquil stillwaters and roaring white rapids were run in a canoe. More than 1,000 audiences saw the film in its first two years. TV stations in New York City, Schenectady, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo gave he film prime time. Many large conservation organizations and many colleges and libraries bought copies. About one million people viewed it. Along with the rivers, featured in the film are interviews with early Adirondack Park Agency members, chair Richard W. Lawrence and member Peter S. Paine. The film was a vital factor in sustaining public support across the state for the Adirondack Park Agency, then in its infancy.

Paul Schaefer often told us that the film was also instrumental in Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s signing of the state’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act of 1972 – and Governor Hugh Carey’s signing of bills that expanded the Rivers system in 1975. I met Fred Sullivan many years later when he was working at Paul Smith’s College to expand the college’s curriculum from two to four years. I recall his having dinner with me and my associates to gain the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks endorsement of the college’s plans. I remember feeling that I was meeting a very charismatic, visionary individual, with a clear view of why the College was heading in the direction it was. He had a sense of humor, too. I was impressed – just as Paul Schaefer must have been when young BU graduate Fred Sullivan of Glens Falls, NY was selected to undertake the first serious, and influential Adirondack environmental documentary.

The nonprofit advocate Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve has made some digital (DVD) copies of the documentary “Of Rivers and Men” (1972), and of Paul Schaefer’s next film, the equally influential “The Adirondack – The Land Nobody Knows” (1980). For more info, contact us via Adirondack Wild’s website,

Photo provided by Dave Gibson

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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.

3 Responses

  1. Gary N Lee says:

    Hi Dave, Just wrote about this movie this week and the trip past the big pine on the Beaver Lake trail to Beaver Lake where we walked across the lake to go to the Indian River for some filming for the movie.

  2. louis curth says:

    Dave, Your clean water article brings back a flood of memories for me of that time back in the 1970s and of the many leaders whose influence shaped NYS during those halcyon days of environmentalism. As my good friend and fellow ranger, Gary Lee points out above, these were not arms length memories for us, but rather lived experiences involving real people that we interacted with.

    I’ll never know why Almy Coggeshull conspired to get me elected to the EPL board, but it put me in the middle of people way above my pay grade who had big ideas for protecting the environment and, for better or worse, it has colored the way I perceive life ever since.

    I cannot recall meeting movie maker Fred Sullivan, but I do remember fellow EPL activist Winifred LaRose (Upper Hudson Environmental Action Committee – 1982 Champion of Conservation) speaking well of Fred Sullivan and his work back then.

    At any rate, some years later, the passage of the Wild, Scenic, Recreational Rivers legislation led to the UHEAC taking on its biggest legal battle in defense of the scenic Hudson River at Riparius. This battle was fought before the PSC, and won with a ruling that prevented a major expansion of unsightly power lines proposed by Niagara Mohawk Power. It’s value as a precedent for the protection of our wild and scenic waters remains unchallenged.

  3. David Gibson says:

    Thank you, Lou, for reliving your lived experiences in those years. I look forward to speaking with you more about them. And thanks to Gary Lee as well. I look forward to reading his.

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