But strange as it may seem to environmentalists today, it was businessmen who took the lead in fighting for an Adirondack preserve. As Frank Graham Jr. notes in The Adirondack Park: A Political History, the state Chamber of Commerce and the New York Board of Trade and Transportation argued, most successfully, that the Adirondack watersheds which fed the rivers and canals of the state were essential to the economy and that logging was converting the mountains into a desert.
In 1885 the legislature enacted a law prohibiting the cutting of timber on state lands and then wisely adopted another measure, unique in the U.S., under which the state paid taxes on the state lands to the Adirondack towns in which they lay. This practice continues to the present, and it has prevented local authorities from complaining that the tax burden falls on private-property owners. It has also given all New York residents an interest in having a say about the Adirondacks, because they are paying the taxes on the state lands.
Still, these measures were not enough to protect the region, and in 1894, in response to the clamor for the preservation of the Adirondacks, a state constitutional convention adopted the Forever Wild clause. That fall the voters approved the new constitution, and the Forever Wild clause went into effect on Jan. 1, 1895.
Through the years no group has dared tamper specifically with the Forever Wild clause, but since 1897 there have been a dozen amendments that have attempted to nibble at the state lands and the park. Almost all have been defeated. In 1953 the voters of the state actually revoked the power of the legislature to build reservoirs in the Forest Preserve, even though the governor, Thomas E. Dewey, a two-time Republican candidate for the presidency, led the battle for the reservoirs. In 1959 the voters narrowly approved construction of the Northway, the superhighway that will take many spectators to Lake Placid for the Olympics, but this amendment passed only because conservation groups were divided on the issue.
Division is not unusual, and this never became more apparent than in 1968 when Laurance Rockefeller, the chairman of the State Council on Parks and the brother of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, proposed that the Adirondacks be turned into a national park. National-park status could never afford the measure of constitutional protection provided by the state, but in the uproar that followed it became obvious that something had to be done. The constitution protected state lands, but the rest of the Adirondack Park was a park in name only, except for the Blue Line on the map and an obscure law that prohibited the erection of advertising signs except at a private owner's place of business. This eliminated miles of billboards, but there were newer threats to be faced.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State Water Resources Commission were talking of impounding the wild waters of the upper Hudson with two dams for reservoirs, and second-home developers were casting a covetous eye on huge tracts of land. Governor Rockefeller appointed a Temporary Study Commission which did not issue any vague, bureaucratic-style report. Instead, it urgently recommended the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency and a strict land-use plan. Prodded by the governor, the legislature established the APA in 1971. In the next two years the APA devised two major master plans for the park. The first classified the state lands, which are administered by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, into five main categories based on their characteristics and capacity to withstand use. The most strictly controlled lands, which total more than one million acres, are designated as Wilderness, Primitive and Canoe areas. The emphasis is on maintaining these areas as primeval, "where man is a visitor who does not remain." Hiking, cross-country skiing, canoeing, hunting and fishing are permitted, but motorized vehicles and equipment and aircraft are barred.
Another million acres are classified as Wild Forest. Although these lands retain their essentially wild character—the Forever Wild clause still applies—a higher degree of human use is allowed. For example, snowmobiles are permitted, but their use is restricted to marked trails. Finally, there are Intensive Use areas which include existing boat-launching sites, beaches and campgrounds. Inasmuch as the master plan for the state lands did not require approval by the legislature, Governor Rockefeller simply proclaimed the plan to be state policy.
The second plan devised by the APA is called the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan and applies to private land. After a lot of in-fighting and politicking, the legislature adopted it in good part, and it became law in 1973. The plan is complicated, but in essence it is designed to control development, not thwart it, by funneling growth in and around existing hamlets that have roads, services and utilities. Hamlet boundaries were drawn well beyond established settlements to provide room for expansion, and local government has charge of zoning. Private holdings in the Adirondack Park are divided into six categories ranging from hamlet to Resource Management Area.
The establishment of the Adirondack Park Agency and adoption of the two master plans did not mean that the park would automatically become the Garden of Eden. The year-round population is 110,000, and historically the Adirondacks have been cursed with seasonal employment. At present, Franklin and Essex counties in the northern Adirondacks have an unemployment rate of 18%, the highest in the state. The basic resource of the park is the out-of-doors, but there are still people who don't recognize this, and development in the hamlets, which is not controlled by the APA, is sometimes garish. One tourist attraction sure to throb in the cerebrum of anyone who sees it is the Sterling Alaska Fur and Game Farm, "Home of 1,000 Animals," on the road to Saranac just outside Lake Placid. Affixed with turrets and minarets and painted a Day-Glo red, white and blue, it vandalizes the view of Whiteface in the distance. In The Adirondack Park, Frank Graham Jr. notes that when Harold Hochschild was chairman of the Temporary Study Commission, he sought to warn Adirondackers of what might be in the offing by exhibiting a collection of photographs at the Adirondack Museum of the grotesque strip development in the Lake George area. Some staff members feared the museum would be attacked for showing this architectural chamber of horrors. Not to worry. Most of the folks from Lake George delighted in the pictures showing their hometown, and people from other hamlets hoped they could get the same kind of development.
Similarly, when the legislature was debating the APA bill, Marge Lamy, who is now the public relations officer for the agency, got into a shouting match in a stairwell with Bob Purdy, the supervisor of the town of Keene. As a final point in her argument Mrs. Lamy yelled at Purdy, "Do you want to see this area turned into another Lake George?" Purdy answered quietly, "Yeah."