May 20, 1892 – adirondack day

May 20th, unofficially known as “Adirondack Day”. A birthday of sorts, commemorating the establishment of the Adirondack Park. The day was May 20 and the year was 1892 when NY governor Roswell P Flower signed the law creating the then 2.8 million acre Adirondack Park. May 20 marks the birthday of a park that is not only a sanctuary for wildlife and the wilderness, but a haven for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Whether you’re hiking mountains, scaling rock faces, riding mountain bikes, or paddling rivers, the story of the Adirondack Park is a narrative of foresight, dedication, and a deep commitment to preserving the natural environment for future generations.

The Genesis of the Adirondack Park
The Adirondack Park’s inception wasn’t just an act of legislative authority but it was the culmination of efforts by visionary individuals who saw the urgent need to protect this vast wilderness area from the rampant deforestation and industrial exploitation of the late 19th century. As most of you know, the park spans over six million acres today, making it the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States.

The journey towards its creation however began in the mid-1800s when deforestation had reached alarming levels. The logging industry, driven by the demand for timber, was decimating the forests at an unsustainable rate. This not only threatened the natural habitat but also had a direct impact on the water quality and the overall ecosystem. The repercussions were felt far and wide, prompting action from conservationists and legislators alike. Every drop of juice was being squeezed out of this land for private gain. The logged Forest lands were being often abandoned as-is, without replanting, and with taxes left unpaid. Erosion of the lands was muddying formerly pristine streams and even lowering canal water levels.

In 1884, continuing impoverishment of the Adirondack’s resources for private gain led the Legislature to appoint a four-member Commission, often referred to as the Sargent Commission, headed by Harvard University botanist Charles Sprague Sargent. The Legislature authorized the Sargent Commission to investigate the need for forest preservation in New York State. They submitted a list of recommendations in January 1885 which recommended preserving and protecting state wild lands in the Adirondacks and the creation of a state forestry agency. At the time, no such agencies existed.

The Sargent Commission’s work led to a series of maps based on surveys headed by legendary surveyor Verplanck Colvin, but more on him in a moment.

Following the Commission’s recommendation, Governor David B. Hill signed the law, on May 15, 1885, creating both the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves. The law required that all state lands in eleven Adirondack and three Catskill counties “be forever kept as wild forest lands.” This law also authorized the creation of a new Forest Commission to administer the law.

The Pioneers of the Park are many, but one of the pivotal figures in the creation of the Adirondack Park was a Surveyor named Verplanck Colvin. An attorney by training, Colvin was a naturalist who led the great adirondack survey during the later part of the 19th century. His reports, detailing the ecological importance of the region and the detrimental effects of unchecked logging, opened the eyes to the public and gained both their support and, thankfully, political support for the creation of the park.

Colvin’s advocacy was instrumental in highlighting the need to protect the Adirondacks. His eloquent writings and speeches laid the groundwork for recognizing the area’s value beyond economic exploitation. He was a trailblazer in advocating for state intervention in the conservation of wilderness areas, a relatively novel idea at the time.

Another significant contributor was George Perkins Marsh, whose seminal work, Man and Nature, published in 1864, underscored the critical impact of human activity on the environment. Marsh’s influence reached policymakers and played a crucial role in shaping early environmental thinking in the United States.

Legislative Milestones and the Creation of the Park
The actual creation of the Adirondack Park in 1892 was facilitated by the New York State Legislature, which eventually recognized the need to establish a protected area to preserve and restore the environment. The legislation was a response to the growing conservation movement and the public outcry over the degradation of one of the state’s most valuable natural resources.

The park was initially established as a Forest Preserve, meaning that the land was to be maintained as “forever wild,” a concept that was revolutionary at the time. This designation prohibits any development or extraction activities, ensuring that the natural state of the forest is preserved indefinitely.

A Constitutional Commitment to Conservation
The commitment to preserving the Adirondack Park was further solidified with its inclusion in the New York State Constitution. Article XIV of the NY constitution, ratified two years later in 1894, known as the “forever wild” clause, which prevented logging on state lands in the forest preserve. The article states:

“The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold, or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed, or destroyed.”

This passage is a testament to the enduring legacy of the individuals who fought for the park’s creation. It reflects a deep-seated recognition of the intrinsic value of nature and a commitment to protecting it at all costs. Over the years, the state has expanded the Adirondack  park and is almost triple the size encompassing more than six million acres, resulting in a park larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountain national parks combined.

New York State continues the practice of purchasing land to protect natural resources and provide public recreation to this very day.

The Legacy Continues
Today, the Adirondack Park legacy continues. It’s more than just a preserve; it is a vibrant community. A place that transforms people inside and out. It’s a community of over 100,000 residents, and a destination for millions of visitors all searching to experience the mystery of the Adirondacks. It serves as a living example of sustainable coexistence between human and natural environments, offering endless recreational opportunities and continuing to inspire and set the standard for conservation efforts worldwide.

As we celebrate Adirondack Day today and every May 20, we not only reflect on our individual love for this park, the park’s rich history, and the visionary legends like Verplanck Colvin and countless others, but also recommit ourselves to the principles of conservation and stewardship that led to its creation. The Adirondack Park remains a symbol of what can be achieved when communities, policymakers, and conservationists come together for a common, noble cause.

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