By Dave Gibson
Laura, Toni-Marie, Samantha, Elias, Becky, Dave and Lorie at Zahniser’s cabin. Photo © Dan Plumley
L-R, Evelyn Greene, Rebecca Schubmehl, Toni-Marie Powell, Elias Springer at Beaver House, Schaefer wilderness cabin.
Photo © Dave Gibson
On July 26, student research fellows and Union College personnel involved with the College’s Kelly Adirondack Center and Adirondack Research Library in Schenectady County visited the Adirondack cabin of National Wilderness Act author and chief lobbyist Howard Zahniser, and that of Paul Schaefer, foremost Adirondack Park campaigner for wilderness and wild rivers in the 20th century. The two cabins, and the close friendship that developed between Schaefer and Zahniser help tell the story of where wilderness preservation began and how the Adirondack Park has served as a national and global model of 2.7 million acres of state land and of wilderness preservation so proximate to villages, towns, residents and more than ten million annual visitors to the Adirondack Park. The cabins are located in the Town of Johnsburg, Warren County.
The students and Kelly Adirondack Center staff Rebecca Schubmehl and Lorie Wies were hosted by Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, a nonprofit membership organization devoted to safeguarding and educating people of all ages about the values, relevance and stewardship of wild country today, including New York’s constitutionally protected forest preserve. Adirondack Wild partners Dan Plumley and Dave Gibson were among those in the organization who learned directly from Paul Schaefer to appreciate the meanings of wilderness viewed through his diverse life experience as a builder and restorer of early American homes, outdoor guide, fisherman, hunter, writer, film-maker, coalition leader and influential advocate for wilderness with people both ordinary and extraordinary, including with ten New York governors.
We all sat in the Schaefer cabin to provide an overview of the Zahniser and Schaefer history, and to learn from each other. Dan and Dave spoke of their time with Paul Schaefer, and how it influenced their careers and advocacy for the wild Adirondacks. “When I first met him in 1985, he put me in charge of publicity for the Adirondack Research Center (now the ARL) which he had helped to start at Union College. He inspired you to do more than you ever thought possible,” Dan noted. With Paul’s encouragement, Dan went on to found the Acid Rain Defense Initiative, and other efforts to combat the scourge of acid rain on lakes, streams and fish in the Adirondacks. Dan’s lobbying in Washington helped to influence passage of the Clean Air Act Amendment in 1990 which sharply reduced sulfur dioxide levels emitted from midwestern industry. Dave expressed what it meant to sit and learn from Paul after Gibson was hired to be executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks in 1987. Schaefer founded Friends of the Forest Preserve in 1945, forerunner to today’s organization, Adirondack Wild.
Joining the conversation was Toni-Marie Powell, Adirondack Wild’s summer intern and an environmental science and biology major at SUNY Potsdam. A 21-year old resident of Queens in the metro New York City area, Toni-Marie noted that her summer in the Adirondack Park lit an inner flame she had never before experienced. “I found I want and need time alone in the wilderness, to find solitude and peace in a natural environment. I live in a crowded city, and I cannot find these experiences there. I loved my time in the forest and on the mountains, and these experiences also helped give me the courage to speak publicly and to advocate for the wilderness in public hearings all over the Park and in New York City this summer. My native land is Jamaica, and I understand farming, but this wilderness experience is so utterly different, and I got in touch with another side of me that loves and needs what wilderness offers. I have gained a fresh perspective.”
The three student fellows were selected by Union College for their pursuit of research connected with the Adirondack wilderness and intersections with the Park’s ecology, community development and economies. Laura Johnston of Bard College noted she has been studying tensions between environmental protection and economic development at Bard, and this fellowship provided her a great opportunity to focus in on a particular aspect of that tension that interests her: the use and conservation of watersheds and water resources, including traditional uses by first peoples in the Park, the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations of the Iroquois. Laura was very interested in Dan’s knowledge of acid rain and deposition. Samantha Muratori is entering her senior year at Union College, and “the Adirondacks form a big part of my life.” She grew up in the town of Bolton on Lake George. Samantha is performing a case study of the Adirondack Club and Resort, a controversial subdivision and resort near Tupper Lake which received a permit from the Adirondack Park Agency in 2012.
Joining the group was Evelyn Greene, daughter of Paul Schaefer, and an activist, botanist and writer living in the Park. Evelyn Greene serves on an organizational board which has challenged the resort permit in court and offered her perspective on the situation. Evelyn mentioned the resort’s likely impacts on Mt. Morris’ water resources and on Tupper Lake, and that climate change threatens the resort’s promised re-opening of Big Tupper ski center. “We don’t have real winters anymore,” she said.
Elias Springer is entering his senior year at Vassar College, where he is an economics major. Elias is studying whether microlending can play more of a role in providing capital to grow and sustain business and community development in the Park. He is conducting research at the Adirondack Economic Development Corporation in coming days.
Evelyn Greene was asked about her decision to live and work in the Adirondack Park more than forty years ago. “Don, my husband, made himself indispensable to town government up here, especially in computerization. It was pretty helpful to us that we had access to health insurance, but also to the mountains, lakes, bogs and rivers that I love. People here are for the most part honest, valuable, hardworking people.”
Laura, Toni-Marie, Samantha, Elias, Becky, Dave and Lorie at Zahniser’s cabin. Photo by Dan Plumley
During a tour of the Zahniser cabin, Dave invited discussion about next year’s 50th anniversary of the National Wilderness Preservation Act, which Howard Zahniser had authored and lobbied for over 18 years until his death in 1964 just months before the legislation was signed by President Johnson. During the 25th Anniversary of the Act in 1989 there was a small ceremony here to mark the significance of the occasion, hosted by Howard’s wife Alice Zahniser and son Ed Zahniser.
There are many fruitful paths to explore by which to properly mark the 50th anniversary and links between the Adirondack Park and the Wilderness Act locally, regionally, at Union College and other institutions.
The day ended with a visit to the base of Crane Mountain, a walk up the trail and discussion of the life of literary editor, pioneering World War I journalist, and later poet and social activist Jeanne Robert Foster who grew up on this farm in the late 19th century, and who later befriended Paul Schaefer. She wrote a poem in Paul’s honor titled Shepherd of the Wilderness. Kelly Adirondack Center librarian Lorie Wies has just acquired a new collection of Foster’s letters and other valuable documents.
Return to Top of Page