Posts Tagged ‘Paul Schaefer’

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dave Gibson: Less Pigeon Holing, More Story Telling

Today, the experiences, views and outlooks of wild land advocates and foresters are often pigeon-holed as necessarily antithetical to each other. I don’t hold that view, and neither does Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley. For evidence, read Dan’s “December Wood” essay. We were both mentored by Paul Schaefer, one of the most effective advocates for wilderness conditions in the Adirondacks during the 20th century.

Paul had many outdoor debates during the 1950s with former Finch, Pruyn executive Lyman Beeman. The two men saw a tract of forest and viewed its potential quite differently, of course. Yet, they both respected each other’s point of view and recognized, as we do today, that foresters of all kinds share with wilderness advocates a deep love for the land, for productive soils and for stewardship over a long period of time, on a human time scale anyway. Good wood grows on good wood, some say. And sometimes a conservationist has got to make some money cutting trees.
What brought this to mind is one of the most interesting stories I ever heard from Paul Schaefer. One day in January, 1991 he was reminiscing about the great depression and World War II, when the bank withheld his assets from his construction company. Then his bank closed, and would not allow any withdrawals, forcing Paul to take on odd jobs in order to feed his family. Then came severe restrictions and shortages on the building materials he used as a homebuilder, and the cost of a house became very dear, preventing him from doing a lot of building.

One day during WW II, Paul read in the daily newspaper in Schenectady that the county airfield, mostly undeveloped at the time, needed to be transformed into a bombing range and military airport. Trees had to be cleared there, pretty big ones at that. Paul read this and went over to Scotia to take a look. He found about ten state or county workers clipping goldenrod with handclippers. He went in and spoke with the person in authority and asked “you want someone to cut trees for you don’t you?” Yes. “What are they cutting goldenrod for?” “They don’t have the skills to cut trees,” came the answer. “Well, you’ve got your man here,” Paul replied.

Paul needed the help of some Adirondackers, so he got in touch with George Morehouse in Bakers Mills to come down and give him a hand with the tree cutting. Each week, Paul would drive up Route 9 to Bakers Mills (at least a 2.5 hour trip one way in those days), pick George up and drive him down to Scotia and the two of them would cut for days at a time. George would stay at Paul and Carolyn Schaefer’s home at night. There were no chain saws available. They required a cross-cut, two-man saw.

“We worked together really smooth,” Paul told me. They cut and they cut. One day, Paul and George got a saw wedged in the tree. They left it, took up another saw and went on cutting. Years later, Paul recovered that wedged saw, all rusted except the blade in the bole of the tree, which was gleaming. “If you want your blade to remain nice and shiny, keep it in a piece of oak or something,” Paul advised. That blade was a part of Paul’s memorabilia destroyed when his barn burned down in the early 1960’s.

One day, after many hours of cutting, George Morehouse said he had to get home. Paul offered to let him stay overnight and drive him home tomorrow. No, I got to get home today, George said. Paul, dead tired, drove George back to Bakers Mills and all the way back. He was so tired on his return journey that he almost failed to stop at a railroad crossing. He put on his brakes a foot before the train roared past him.

So that’s the way Paul Schaefer, the wilderness advocate, guide and homebuilder, got by several years during World War II by selling some of this wood from the airport as lumber and firewood, and turning the little airfield in Scotia, NY into a military facility.

Photo: Paul Schaefer at his Adirondack cabin, c. 1960, courtesy of the Paul Schaefer Collection, Adirondack Research Library.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Elk Lake: The First Adirondack Conservation Easement

The signing of an important conservation easement last week protecting a large percentage of the former Finch, Pruyn lands reminds me of a visit I paid to Paul Schaefer in March, 1990. At that time, Governor Mario Cuomo had proposed an Environmental Bond Act, which required legislative approval before going to the voters (it was ultimately voted down). How was the bond act being received in the legislature, Paul asked. I gave him the news that it was having a rough reception politically. Paul remained optimistic. The bond act was important because it would permit the purchase of conservation easements in the Adirondacks, and that should be enough to tip public support in its favor, he felt.

Later that year, Paul formed Sportsmen for the Bond Act. It was one of many highly focused organizations he created in his lifetime. This effort, one of the last he personally led, revealed an evolution in Schaefer’s approach to Park conservation. Since 1930, Paul had fought for any appropriation that would add more Forest Preserve, public land protected as “forever wild” by Article 14 of the NYS Constitution that would eventually be classified wild forest or wilderness. He persuaded many organized hunters to support his wilderness philosophy. But he also came to believe that many private holdings in the Park should be available for active forest management, which he viewed as complimentary, both ecologically and aesthetically, to adjacent “forever wild” Forest Preserve. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Dave Gibson: A Greenhorn at Hunting Camp

When I was wet behind the ears, in an Adirondack sort of way, Paul Schaefer took me to the sturdy cabin at the edge of the wilderness that he had built sometime in the early 1960s in the Town of Johnsburg. Paul had located his cabin, named Beaver House, on high ground with a distant view of Crane Mountain, but in the shadow of Eleventh or Cataract Mountain which lay in silhouette immediately to our west. It was November and somewhere below Eleventh Mountain in the gathering gloom of a wilderness afternoon lay a hunting camp populated with men who Paul had recruited into the Cataract Hunting Club years earlier. In fact, the original club members, including fathers and grandfathers of the current generation, dated to around 1931 when Paul hired a teamster to take them in by horse and wagon. In 1987 they were still going in that way courtesy of local teamster Earl Allen.

By 1987, the knees of the 78 year-old conservationist and hunter Paul Schaefer no longer supported his tall frame on the several mile tramp over rough terrain to reach the Cataract Club’s camp on Diamond Brook. So Paul did the next best thing. He sat in Beaver House before a roaring fire talking about the history of the region, its people, conservation history, hunting experiences, and the Siamese Wilderness he knew so well.

A light rain was falling outside, but the light was fading much faster. I was really getting comfortable in the warmth of that room, listening to Paul, when out of the blue he said: “now, Dave, reach into the pocket of my jacket and take out the piece of paper.” I gave him the paper. “I need you to hike into the wilderness and hand over this camping permit to the boys in camp. If the ranger shows up and they don’t have this permit, they could be in a lot of trouble. So, you’d do me and them a big favor by hiking in there.” My heart jumped. I had never been into hunt camp before. “How do I reach their camp, Paul?” Paul gestured with his big right hand, his head cocked, emphasizing. “Go down the trail here to the junction, and then follow the wagon trail west, keeping the mountain always on your left. A mile in, you’ll reach the height of land. Stop right there. A tall red spruce stands ahead on a rise. Don’t go past it. Bear left, keep the mountain on that side and follow the stream down another mile. You can’t miss it. And tell the boys I may try to go in there tomorrow, but I’m not promising.” He gave me a rain slicker and a flashlight, and a hearty “You’ll be back in no time.” With the camping permit in my pocket, my heart pounding, but my voice full of confidence, I headed out the cabin door.
The rain was falling steadily, and afternoon light had all but faded as I tried to determine if I had reached the height of land. I had gone up and down. Height of land seemed a frustrating matter of impression in these big woods. Trying to keep the mountain in sight I veered left and trusted to luck. I suddenly realized my jeans were soaked through. Trudging on, the trees were noticeably larger, including red spruce. How could horses drag a wagon full of gear all the way back here, I remember asking myself. But I was on a mission for Paul. Stumbling on and on down the rough wagon trail, crossing innumerable small streams, I finally smelled wood smoke. Excited, I went uphill into some balsam and spruce, following my nose. In the gloom below, the long tent appeared. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I had made it. I heard muffled laughter. Then my mouth dropped. In the glow of my flashlight, a huge antlered deer hung from a pole. I found the tent entrance, pulled the tent flaps open and walked in. I remember the hissing of those kerosene lamps. All conversation ceased, as ten hunters looked up at me from the chow they were eating on a long table. “Gosh, Dave,” someone said, “you look kind of wet. What can we do you for”? “Guys, Paul sent me in with your camping permit.” At that, I reached into my jeans and out came the paper, dripping wet. Nobody said a word. Bill broke the silence. “Give this to me straight. Paul sent you in here tonight to give us that?” I nodded. The tent erupted in roars of laughter. Dave got up and gave me something warm to drink and a place by the stove. The good natured kidding went on for a while. I felt a whole lot better about life and a bit dryer, and with new found confidence headed back to the cabin. I did leave that permit. The cabin lights were like a port in a storm as Paul welcomed me back with that enormous handshake, and a plate of food. “Take a seat and tell me how the boys are doing.” As I ate, I knew that I had passed some test that mattered to Paul, the first of many to come.

Photos: Cataract Club members Dave Conde, Bill Townsend and Doug Miller (l-r) at Beaver House before heading into camp; Beaver House, the cabin Paul Schaefer built near the Siamese Ponds Wilderness.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The National Adirondack Debate of 1932

It is fitting that the Lake George Land Conservancy has created a John Apperson Society of friends and donors. Through his work for a wilder Lake George and Forest Preserve throughout the Adirondacks in the first half of the 1900s, Apperson, the General Electric engineer, gave heart, body and soul to healing what he considered the ills of industrialized, over-engineered society – to the extent that Apperson acknowledged that Lake George was his wife, and the Lake’s islands were his children. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Origins of Friends of the Forest Preserve

Today’s paddlers on the South Branch of the Moose or West Branch of the Sacandaga Rivers, or hikers, loon watchers and snowmobilers along numerous winding forest trails in the Moose River Plains or Ferris Lake Wild Forests would be fifty feet underwater if the mid-20th century dam proponents, and their state sponsors had held sway.

Citizens who valued these Adirondack valleys for their wildlife and wildness opposed them. One of those organizations was Friends of the Forest Preserve, founded in 1945 by Paul Schaefer. I write this on September 13, his birthday. This history of the founding of the organization is contained in Schaefer’s book, Defending the Wilderness: The Adirondack Writings of Paul Schaefer (1989, Syracuse University Press). » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dave Gibson: Return to the Moose River Plains

A summer day. The road to the Moose River Plains from Limekiln Lake is free of traffic this morning, the sun’s rays have not yet turned the evening dew to dust. As I drive down the shaded road I think about the work of local people from Inlet who dug and placed sand on these roads to give the heavy logging trucks enough traction on the steep sections.

Dick Payne, former Inlet Police Chief, left me memorable impressions of working the Plains in the “old days.” Since 1964 when the Gould Paper Company sold this land to the people of the State, the land is Forest Preserve. As the cicadas begin to whine from the trees, I try to remember another group who hiked in via the Red River valley to discover what was at risk from the Higley and Panther Mountain Dams on the South Branch of the Moose River. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dave Gibson: Lessons in Adirondack Activism

Adirondack conservationist Paul Schaefer was a pied piper for young people in search of a cause, just as John Apperson had been for him when Schaefer was in his early 20s. By the 1970s and 80s, Paul was approaching 80 years of age, and scouts, teens, and earth activists of all ages found their way to Paul’s doorstep. I want to share a few of the lessons he conveyed.

One spring day in 1990 I met with Paul to discuss Governor Mario Cuomo’s Commission on the Adirondacks (Berle Commission) report which was about to be made public. Paul mentioned that on Earth Day, a group of “idealistic” young people had come down to pay him a visit. He had planned to show his award-winning film, The Adirondack: The Land Nobody Knows, but his Bell and Howell 16-mm projector could not be found (I had borrowed it). Instead, Paul invited the students into his living room. “I’ve never had a better time in my life,” Schaefer told me. “These kids were idealists, and we need them.” » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Adirondack Conservation Group Announced

An advocacy and educational organization with historic roots in the 1940s will re-launch on Friday according to a press release issued today.

Organizers for the group Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, originally founded in 1945 by Adirondack wilderness advocate Paul Schaefer, say it will focus on the benefits of wild lands across the state, including Forest Preserve lands in the Adirondacks and Catskills. “Adirondack Wild will advocate when wild lands are threatened, be a strong partner to protect them, and train stewards to care for them,” according to today’s announcement. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Unsung Adirondack Heroes: Lydia Serrell

In thinking about Adirondack unsung heroes, singer-songwriter Peggy Lynn’s powerfully moving song Lydia about Lydia Smith (wife of Paul Smith) comes to mind. I write about another Lydia who related very strongly to that song, and who did so much for the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks (AFPA). Her name was Lydia Serrell. I worked with Lydia for 18 years, and can attest that she was an extraordinary Adirondacker in her own right, and instrumental to the success of the organization.

Lydia Serrell fell in love with the Adirondacks at an early age. The daughter of Hungarian immigrants and carriage makers working in Schenectady, she was “shipped out” after her mother’s death c. 1918 to live with her mother’s sister, her Aunt Anna and Uncle Chris Kohler, at their farm in Gravesville, Town of Ohio in the southwestern Adirondacks. Lydia’s great friend Linda Champagne writes: “Lydia attended a small north country school. Her uncle, a guide in the nearby Adirondack League Club (Uncle Chris), and his wife (Aunt Anna), who had been a cook at the club, created a comfortable life for the city girl. The modest home had only a spring for water. Entertainment meant skating on ponds and reading Zane Grey novels by kerosene lantern in the evenings. When her father remarried, and she returned to Schenectady, she continued a lifelong love of hiking, touring and reading the history of the Adirondacks.” » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dave Gibson: Remembering Paul Schaefer

I was privileged to know Paul Schaefer for nearly a decade at the close of his life. He was my early mentor in all things Adirondack. In 1987 I was fortunate to have been selected executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, the organization Paul served as a Vice-President. Each Friday I would try to stop by his house to learn more about his and Adirondack history. John Warren’s piece about the Moose River Plains suggests the great influence Paul had in preventing the Plains from being flooded by the proposed Higley and Panther Mountain dams.

Among the highlights in my career was seeing Paul presented with the Governor’s Environmental Achievement Award in 1994 – just one of many recognitions he received in 65 years of tireless, leading work for wilderness conditions in the Adirondacks.

For those who don’t know, Paul Schaefer’s coalitions not only preserved the Moose River Plains, but 30 other valleys from inundation by dams in the 1940s and 50s; saved the Upper Hudson River from four large dams in the 1960s, the largest of which would have flooded the valley all the way to Newcomb; and fought and achieved designated Wilderness and Wild, Scenic and Recreational River legislation in the 1970s, among many other achievements.

Paul Schaefer hunted white-tailed deer every fall in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area near his Adirondack cabin, a hunting club which he founded in 1931. He always credited the sportsmen and women of New York State, and their organized clubs united within the NYS Conservation Council, for providing legions of people who would stand up to save wild Adirondack habitat threatened by the dam builders, and to support wilderness preservation.

Joe Martens, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo’s Secretary for Energy and the Environment, called me one day in 1994 to give me advance notice that Paul Schaefer, then 85, would be receiving the Governor’s award, and asking for background. Joe knew Paul pretty well himself. It was decided to present the award as part of a well-attended conference we were sponsoring in honor of the Centennial of Article XIV of the NYS Constitution (known as the Forever Wild clause). The conference was to be held at the YMCA Silver Bay Conference Center on Lake George.

On the big day in early October, the conference was going full-tilt with speakers and panelists. Bob Bendick, then a DEC Deputy Commissioner, was in the middle of a presentation when we all heard the whop-whop-whop of a helicopter over by the lake. Everybody knew the Governor was arriving, and Bob understood it was pointless for him to continue. “I feel like the warm-up band to the Rolling Stones,” he told us, and everybody made for the doors. Out on the great lawn above Lake George stood the State chopper, blades still rotating. The Governor emerged with his small entourage and, surrounded, slowly made his way to Morse Hall where the award presentation would take place.

All were in their seats, chaos had given way to order, and introductions made. The mood was electric, the applause for the Governor resounding. His speech was pure Mario. Joe Martens had prepared him well. Departing frequently from his prepared remarks, the Governor humorously and eloquently painted a picture of Paul Schaefer and all he had contributed to the Adirondacks, to the wilderness of the great Empire State. The Governor also humorously reminded us that even those Republicans in the North Country who might be inclined to vote for him that fall would suffer a “palsy” when they reached for the Democratic lever.

When he was done, Cuomo asked Paul to join him on the podium to accept the award. All his life, Paul instinctively knew when to make a stand, and when to speak. A year earlier, in 1993, Paul rose to speak after Governor Cuomo during a bill signing ceremony on Lake Champlain. The audience had held its collective breath at this breach of protocol, but to Paul this was simply getting in critical points at the right moment – when they would be remembered.

Now, Paul took the stage to present Governor Cuomo with, of all things, a beaver gavel! Paul’s friend Ken Rimany had fashioned this for Paul, taking a beaver chew as the gavel’s head and fashioning it tightly onto a stick from a beaver dam, and then writing the words of Article 14 on the gavel’s head. Paul told the Governor how all his life he had admired the beaver, the state’s finest and sole wilderness engineer, and that only the beavers, meeting in secret, could have engineered this gavel for the Governor. Cuomo smiled but, not to be outdone, he responded “any beaver can make a beaver gavel, Paul, but only a Governor can present a Governor’s award.”

The exchange made, the Governor departed, leaving us to wonder about his political fate, and leaving Paul time to gather with some friends to tell tales and, as Paul was inclined to say, “add it all up.” It was Paul’s final award. He died on July 14, 1996 following surgery on a knee he had damaged decades earlier while investigating caves along the shores of the Upper Hudson River during his successful efforts to preserve the Hudson Gorge from flooding. He and his wife Carolyn are buried in the Keene Cemetery. His spirit has inspired all of us who knew him to continue his work and extend his legacy on behalf of the New York State Forest Preserve in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains.

Photo: New York Governor Mario Cuomo presents the Governor’s Environmental Achievement Award to Paul Schaefer in 1994.



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