The Adirondack Park: Progress and Preservation

As controversy between progress and protection persist in the Adirondack Park, the unmistakable beauty and majesty of the region endures. Comprised of over six million acres of public and private lands, it is the largest park in the United States mainland. Created and defined in an effort to protect the forest preserve and restore the woods previously depleted by the lumber trade, the Adirondack Park has its “official” origin in 1802.

Approximately the size of Massachesettes and Rhode Island combined, the Adirondacks are made of ancient rocks more than 1,000 Million years old. There are more than 100 peaks higher than 3,500 feet above sea level, and over 40 which exceed 4,000 feet, with Mt. Marcy, the highest point in the state, rising to 5,344 feet. More than 2,000 miles of hiking trails wind their way throughout the park. Nearly 30,000 miles of streams and brooks combine to form 1,000 miles of Adirondack rivers, while over 2,700 lakes and ponds dot the landscape.

Today, over one hundred years after the establishment of the Adirondack Park, residents and vacationers alike continue to enjoy the inherently peaceful environment of the region. Historically, the sport of mountain climbing has been the province of visitors rather than residents. Since no arrowheads or other relics have been found on the area’s mountaintops, it appears that the Indians did not climb the peaks; nor did the early settlers, who were primarily concerned with surviving life in the wilderness. It wasn’t until 1837 when it was discovered that Mt. Marcy was the highest peak in the state that mountain climbing as a sport increased in popularity. A magnificent system of trails challenge both the novice and expert climber. Indeed, one long-standing goal of dedicated climbers has been to scale everyone of the 46 Adirondack peaks over 4,000 feet. Another has been to see how many peaks, what total elevation, and what mileage could be accomplished in one day.

For those who desire a panoramic view without the arduous climb, both Prospect Mountain in Lake George and Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington provide access to their summits via automobile.

A view from almost any peak will provide a glimpse of the vast number of the area’s glittering lakes and ponds. Most of the lakes are spring-fed, with clear, clean water and rock, craggy shores. The water temperature remains cold throughout the summer months while winter brings a covering of unusually thick ice. Since most of the lakes are owned by the state, access is available to the public at various points. And although the lakes at first my seem very similar, surrounded by the deep forests reflecting quietly on their water, most residents and many returning visitors have their favorites. Lake George, known as the Queen of the American Lakes, is the largest in the Adirondacks. Both Lake George and Blue Mountain Lake are peppered with numerous islands. Lakeshore property, while exceedingly desireable today, was of less value in the early years unless there was a connection to rivers which would provide the means to float timber from the lumber trade. Today, the automobile ensures convenient access to the region, a sharp contrast to the primitive means of transportion employed by the pioneers. Around the turn of the century, the railroad industry was vital, but with it came an increase in the number of forest fires. Nearly one-third of the fires investigated in 1903 orginated from sparks emitted by passing locomotives. In September of 1903, more than 450,000 acres were destroyed by fire from this source. In 1909, fire towers were erected on several peaks, and by the 1940’s, there were almost four dozen fire towers. As of 1985, the number was reduced to 19 manned towers, the decrease attributable to the use of airplane observation and a generally reduced threat of fire.

In a continuing effort to protect the park and develop long-range plans, the Adirondack Park Agency was established in 1971. Since then, numerous conflicts have erupted regarding use of the lands, but the Agency remains both a strong and controversial presence.

Perhaps the Adirondack Park can best be described as a unique prototype for the co-existence of progress and preservation of man and nature.