In praise of the Environment

Watching the History or Discovery Channel, you might see a program about “the end of human civilization” or some such “what would the world look like if humanity was gone.” Well, we don’t have to speculate. We can observe what happens to the earth after humans vanish. We can look in war zones like the Korean Demilitarized zone, or in the Chernobyl disaster areas. We also have a third option, right here in the USA and New York State. In an effort to save some of the most environmentally sensitive land in New York, and preserve the water supply for New York City, the state’s constitution adopted a “forever wild” provision. (Source: McMartin, Barbara (1994), “Introduction”, in McMartin, Barbara; Long, James McMartin, Celebrating the Constitutional Protection of the Forest Preserve: 1894-1994, Silver Bay, New York: Symposium Celebrating the Constitutional Protection of the Forest Preserve, pp. 9–10)

The constitution stated: 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.

New York- home to industry, slums, immigrants, really poor relations with the Native Americans and minorities developed an environmental haven. Granted, many wealthy NYC residents acquired large palatial camps in the area (Montgomery, 2011) but to a large extent, the area is relatively untouched. There are parts of the ‘dacks where very few humans have ever seen a sun rise or set from the tops of the mountains. The lore of the park, and the natural environment allows for a pretty diverse set of flora and fauna. There are stands of old growth trees and crystal clear lakes. You can hear the call of a loon, or see a beaver dam, almost like it was when the area was first explored.

For residents living inside of the Blue Line, or the boundaries of the park, restrictions may be overbearing. The limitations on economic activity, building activity, and other money-making ventures crimps the growth abilities of some communities. The NYS Rural Schools center has data which indicates the counties within the Adirondacks have loss population (https://pad.human.cornell.edu/counties/maps.cfm). Many of the counties suffer from an unemployment rate around 6%. Six percent of Hamilton Counties 4,000+ residents is equal to 240 people without work. For an area that small, that number is a huge impact.

Tourism, some resource extraction, and education for Hamilton County are the largest employers. For educators and tourists, environmental preservation ranks high. For members of resource extraction, good stewardship of the natural resources ensures continued employment. The largest land owner in the county is the State Government. Most of this land is dedicated to preservation and outdoor recreation. What is unique about the Adirondacks is the previous industrial aspect of the region.

Farrell (1997) wrote about the mining operations within the Park boundaries before the state constitution required the area be preserved. McMartin (1992) examined the tanning industry in the region. Porter, et al, eds (2009) examines in-depth the conservation efforts in the Adirondack mountains. Allen, et al (1990) wrote a magnificent article about the Archaeology of the Bloomery forges in the Adirondacks.   There is scholarship available to readers, historians, environmentalists and people realistically seeking environmental recovery.

After the end of many intensive industries in the Adirondack, the area recovered, except for a brief time when Acid rain from the Midwest began to pollute the lakes. Johnson, et al. (1994) wrote a scientific paper which examined the phenomena. One of the side effects of de-industrialization in the mid-west has been cleaner environments to the east. The decreasing level of pollution has helped the area to self clean, and allowed for the rehabilitation of smaller lakes and streams polluted.

Now, the Adirondacks are facing an invasion of Zebra Mussels. This invasive species is carried by careless boaters who do not realize how destructive practices such as a dirty boat or a filled bilge can ruin ecosystems. As the communities surrounding Lake George are worried about water quality, the state has instituted new mandatory actions for boaters entering the  Park.

On a more personal note, I love the Adks. My enjoyment started when I was young and the family and Uncle Steve went to Lake Placid for a winter vacation. We saw the Olympic park, and Dad and Uncle Steve went on the bobsled run. We saw the ski jumps and the village itself. When we lived in Gloversville, one of our favorite past times as a family involved swimming and picnic lunches at Great Sacandaga Lake (http://www.visitsacandaga.com/). We would explore the CCC planted trees, all in strait rows, and swim and eat on the beach. It was quiet and relaxing. My Godfather, Uncle Steve Kovack was an true mountaineer- and a member of the Adirondack Club. He climbed a number of the 46’ers or highest peaks in the park. Rest in peace Uncle Steve. You are missed.

An amazing place for a family to visit, the region also boasts some of the best tourist destinations. This includes the Six Flags Great Escape in Queensbury/ Lake George. The million dollar beach in Lake George and the islands in the lake are amazing. There are a number of Six Years and Revolutionary forts in the region- including Fort George, Fort William Henry, crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga. In Plattsburgh NY, just outside of the region lies the War of 1812 forts and historic sites. Within the Blue Line lies Enchanted Forest Water Safari and the Fulton chain of lakes. I visited the Old Forge/ Town of Webb central school district when interviewing for a principal position. On the drive up from the Utica side of the area, I passed Woodgate NY, home to Camp Russell, and the site of fond memories from when I was Otahnagon Lodge’s Associate Adviser. On the way home, I drove through Inlet, NY, a small school associated with Webb, but still independent. I passed Raquette lake, a community that has a school, and no children- because they are tuitioned to neighboring schools. I passed Blue Mountain lake. There is the Adirondack Museum and Experience- one of the most amazing small museums in NY. I also saw one of the BIGGEST herd of deer in my life- almost 30 as they ran across NY Route 28. I had no cell phone service, but loved every minute of it.

As I drove south along route 30, I passed Speculator NY, and the only gas station for what seemed forever! Thank god for the people in that region. I passed through Wells and Northville, where a dear friend of mine from Grad School at SUNY Albany started her Administrative career.  As I entered Gloversville and the NYS Thruway, I realized that the park shows the lonely part of a society. It also shows the community side of life. Old Forge reaches some of the lowest temps in North America- yet the community is so well connected. The park shows not only the past in the decaying archaeology regions, and the small towns struggling to survive- but the future. The schools in the region are collaborating as the True North Group- in an effort to offer their students the best any suburban school can. Newcomb CSD, through the creative efforts of its superintendent, brought a school on the brink back to a mecca for international exchange programs (Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/nyregion/tiny-newcomb-ny-recruits-students-worldwide.html).

I challenge you- come visit New York Adirondack, and see the past, present, and future all within a gaze at the mountains.

 

Casey T. Jakubowski is a PhD candidate in the Educational Leadership and Policy Department of the School of Education at State University of New York, Albany. He has written and presented internationally, nationally, state wide and locally on rural education, social studies education, and state policy. Casey can be followed on twitter  @CaseyJ_edu

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