Almanack Contributor Pete Nelson

Pete Nelson

Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.

When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.

Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Visit to Hurricane Mountain

Hurricane Mountain From Amy's LookoutRecently I celebrated the heavy snowfall by visiting the Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area. The first part of the visit was a hike to the summit along the trail that begins at Route 9N between the Keene Valley and Elizabethtown.

What a glorious day in the woods! The beauty of the snowfall, clinging to every branch, brushed and sparkled in the higher elevations with hoar frost, worked in concert with an utterly luminous winter light, to make it one of the loveliest winter climbs I’ve ever done. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Where Was the Mysterious Station 77?

Colvin-Survey-Disk-Best-PictureThanks to the good faith and honesty of Kyle Kristiansen, the young man who unearthed a benchmark disk from Verplanck Colvin’s 1882 Adirondack Survey in a New Jersey field, I had in my possession a triangulation survey bolt marked Station 77.

Colvin and his crew placed thousands of benchmarks, but only about three hundred of these nickel-plated copper triangulation bolts, which I was told were numbered roughly from 1 to 299.

I assumed it would be a simple matter to find records that would positively identify it. I was mistaken. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Mysterious Benchmark At Station 77

Colvin Division of Levels - Measurement of Whiteface MountainIt was late on the afternoon of November 4th, 1875.  A party of men worked feverishly in dense fog and deepening Adirondack frost, chiseling into the hard summit stone of Mount Marcy, New York’s highest point. They had been working since the first hint of daylight without the benefit of food or water, pressing on to finish their work as conditions worsened.  They turned their attention to setting a benchmark – chipping into anorthosite so tough that it had destroyed scores of their drill bits and chisel points.

Their leader Verplanck Colvin had just completed the final rod and level measurement in a series that had begun weeks before, many miles away on the shore of Lake Champlain. At last the height of the mightiest peak in the Empire State was determined with accuracy: 5344.311 feet above mean tide.

The benchmark they laid on Marcy in the growing darkness and cold that afternoon was number 111 in a long sequence rising from Westport. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Brother Yusuf Burgess: A Trailblazer is Stilled

Brother Yusef is amazing.  Our hopes are with him.Last weekend the people of New York State lost a leading citizen, the children of Albany lost a dear friend and the Adirondacks lost a trailblazer. On Friday, December 5th, Brother Yusuf Abdul-Wasi passed away unexpectedly at the age of sixty four.  His substantial contributions to the Adirondack region were only a small part of his many undertakings.  But from the perspective of the ongoing work to make the Adirondack Park a more inclusive, welcoming and life-changing place for everyone,  we have suffered an incalculable setback.

Brother Yusuf was a tireless doer, a walker of the walk who gave the experience of the outdoors to countless urban children.  He was also a man of courage and staying power who struggled through war and personal adversity and emerged as a voice of dignity, commitment and wisdom. His story is a great American story and his accomplishments were many (you can read a brief article about his life here). » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Commentary: Should We Manage Wilderness?

Lost Brook Tract in WinterA couple of weeks ago my friend Dave Mason sent me an interesting article from the New York Review of Books. The article was “It’s Time to Live with the Birds”, a review of a book by Ecologist John M. Marzluff entitled Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife. Let me quote an excerpt from the review:

“Marzluff and other urban ecologists find a gradient in bird life. A few tough survivors hang on in the urban core; the open country outside has many birds. In between—in leafy, variegated suburbia—there is the richest mixture of bird species of all. This finding is counterintuitive. One would have imagined that what he calls the “urban tsunami,” the global shift of populations into cities, would result in homogenized biological deserts with only a few starlings, house sparrows, and pigeons for bird life. That fails to take into account many wild animals’ elemental will to survive, and their capacity to adapt rapidly to new opportunities.”

The book’s argument is that suburban environments constitute a new class of ecosystem that could be studied and leveraged for the benefit of many species. Despite that, I’m not likely to take my next hike in search of a wilderness experience in Barrington, Illinois. But Marzluff’s work reminds us to consider – from an admittedly odd context – that the best way to care for a wilderness might be to leave it alone. Whatever changes and challenges the area faces, Nature itself, with its relentless motive to adapt, will find a better way then well-intentioned human beings who try to manage it ever could. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Commentary: Adirondack Population Decline Not Inevitable

IMG_0226Peter Bauer recently ran a post reviewing a report that college-educated young people are leaving rural areas in droves for “close-in” living in cities where economic opportunities, cultural amenities and entertainment options far exceed their native communities. Bauer described this as a subset of a larger dynamic, namely the decades-long global trend toward urbanization. At the conclusion of the article he asked leaders of the Park to “understand these dynamics and to develop strategies for ways to tap into these larger trends.”

Adirondack leaders and residents alike have been aware of these trends for a long time, living both population decline and gentrification of their communities as personal experiences.   But while the fact of these changes is unquestionable, Bauer is right in his call: the full dynamics are not that well understood here in the Park. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Commentary: Summon The Will To Address Land Issues

APSLMP - LogoNearly a year ago I posted an informal poll here at the Almanack in order to measure which issues facing the Adirondack Park were considered most important to readers. At the time my purpose was to prove my suspicion that human diversity, the issue I considered most critical to the future of the region, was not on the collective radar. The poll results supported my contention and started a conversation that has grown into multiple initiatives. I couldn’t be happier about that. But now I want to return to the poll for a different purpose. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

What Would an Adirondack National Park Look Like?

1967 National Park Proposal An interesting discussion developed this week in the comment sections of several Almanack articles related to the APA’s review of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP). The discussion was spurred by DEC Forest Ranger Scott van Laer. His contribution: why not consider an Adirondack National Park? So I thought I’d have a little fun and explore what one might look like.

Those who know their history or have read Bill Ingersoll’s two-part series covering the history that led to the SLMP know that this is not a new idea. In 1967 Laurance Rockefeller proposed that a National Park be established in the heart of the Adirondacks. It was a non-starter – overwhelmingly opposed – but spurred changes in thinking that were critical to all that followed. » Continue Reading.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Commentary: Make Ecology Cornerstone Of State Land Plan

Slide BrookThe Adirondack Park Agency has announced that it is opening the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan for review. This is momentous news. Together with the Land Use and Development Plan which governs development on private land in the Park, the State Land Master Plan (SLMP) is one of two fundamental documents used to carry out the will of the people, as expressed in Article XIV of the NYS Constitution, that the Adirondack Forest Preserve  should be “forever kept as wild forest lands”. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Lecture on Wilderness by William Cronon

Giant from Amy's Lookout.  Many new Irene slides.This week I attended the Third Annual Jordahl Lecture, established by the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies in Madison, Wisconsin.

This year’s lecture, intended to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act, was given by renowned environmental historian William Cronon. As we ponder revisions to both New York State’s Open Space Conservation Plan and the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP), Cronon’s presentation provides an interesting and useful historical perspective. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Western Ridge

S0010504-001One of the things I value most about Adirondack wilderness is how evocative it is in its intimate spaces. Where other wilderness areas might be most affecting in their scenery, their grand vistas or their iconic imagery, the Adirondack forest itself, in its dense, primeval nature, generates equally strong emotions. The vast and trackless stretches of uneven terrain and close-held woods, unremarkable by any common standards of majesty or wonder, possess as much power as any wild place I’ve ever visited. To venture into the Forest Preserve is to experience an unmistakable immersion that activates ancient echoes of the primitive selves we all harbor, institutional memories lodged deep in our genetic code.

Of all the sensations the Adirondack wilderness evokes, the strongest and most valued to me is loneliness. It may seem odd to value loneliness so highly. If I were forced to live with it on a daily basis I have no doubt it would lose its appeal. But in this era of social bombardment a little loneliness is good for the soul. Indeed it always has been. Loneliness invites a distinct form of reflection replete with significance about one’s place in the world, about one’s values and priorities. It requires, in the absence of civilized companionship, that we instead connect with Nature and with our internal lives, indeed with those deep, primeval echoes that, more to me than religion or the supernatural, define mystery. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

What’s The Most Difficult Bushwhack in the Adirondacks?

Bushwhack Fallen Spruce and DuffIt was a perfect fall day here in Madison last Monday, the kind of luminous afternoon where it seems nothing can possibly go wrong. I was at the park with my loyal dog Henderson, whose raison d’etre is to chase and catch flying discs (Frisbees, for those of you as old as me).  There we were, surrounded by blazing fall colors and muted green grass, warmed by an Indian summer sun and refreshed by a delightful breeze.  All was bucolic even as I, in a moment of excess enthusiasm, overthrew the disc, launching it into what seemed like the jet stream.  It soared skyward, caught the prevailing westerlies and proceeded well down field like a fat, migrating goose until it shot past a fence and over a thick stand of trees and brush, depositing itself somewhere therein.  “No worries,” I cheerily shouted to Henderson, who had brought himself up short at the fence and was peering beyond with concerned attention.  “I’ll get it.”

I hopped the fence and jogged over to the thicket.  The disc was lodged deep inside so I forged on in.  It was quite dense and I had to bull my way through it.  No matter – everything around me was erupting in fall beauty and my spirits were unassailable.

My scratching, scraping and shoving efforts immediately brought to mind memories of Adirondack bushwhacking, which did nothing but brighten my mood.  I could almost imagine myself plundering along in some great Adirondack fastness, maybe a favorite place like the dense woods between Blue Mountain Lake and the Sargent Ponds.  Oh revel! » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Voices From The Diversity Symposium

image001(4)It has been nearly a year since I began a series of columns on diversity in the Adirondacks. Much has happened since then, most notably a challenging, motivating and well-received symposium held in August, “Toward a More Diverse Adirondacks.”

The symposium was a good start to addressing the important challenges in making the Adirondack Park more welcoming and inclusive, thereby increasing the Park’s role in the betterment of the lives of all New Yorkers and giving it a richer, more robustly supported future. But if a good day of conversation was all we accomplished it would amount to very little. So a number of initiatives are underway to the further the work. It is our sincere wish to make diversity part of the cultural DNA of the Adirondacks, as surely for human beings as it is for the natural world. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pete Nelson: An Updated Adirondack Promotional Quiz

the view from NewcombSince I posted my little prototype promotional quiz on Saturday I have gotten a lot of great input, some on-line, some off-line. The reaction tells me that people are interested in this, so I have incorporated the various suggestions I received into a new version.

Here it is: Adirondack Promotional Quiz Version Two » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lost Brook Dispatches: A Promotional Adirondack Quiz

the view from NewcombLast time Amy and I were at Lost Brook Tract we were talking about how to promote the Adirondack Region to people who know little or nothing about it.  The default approach for decades has been to promote it as something like Vermont, the Berkshires or the Poconos:  cozy resorts, Adirondack chairs, pretty scenery, shopping, tourist sites and an overriding rustic chic.  That’s all well and good, but in a time when more and more people crave mountains and wild places, when camping and hiking are the leading recreational pursuits, I have wondered why we don’t try to promote the Adirondacks in a different way. » Continue Reading.