A Political History of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve
Prior to 1894 Constitutional Convention

When Europeans first set foot on this continent, their attitudes towards wilderness were nothing near what ours are today. For hundreds of years afterwards, into the 17th, 18th centuries, and even into the 19th century, the woods were viewed on as a dark and evil place. In the early 1800's, in the case of the Adirondacks at least, many people began looking at the wilderness in a different light. For the most part, it was at first a purely utilitarian view. Two of the first major interests in the Adirondacks were in exploiting the plentiful resources of timber and iron. Iron mining, as shown by the McIntyre Mine in the Central Adirondacks, amongst many others, never was able to turn much of a profit. The timber industry, however, flourished. By the middle of the 19th Century, New York led the nation's timber industry. In 1851 the "Big Boom" was erected across the Hudson River at Glens Falls to catch the logs being driven down that river to the sawmills. That year, 130,000 thirteen-foot logs floated through Glens Falls. The next year, 250,000 made their way down the Hudson. Two decades later, that number would jump to more than a million. Despite the huge number of trees being cut, forests weren't typically clear-cut during this time period. The timber industry only had use for a few selected species of softwoods; hardwoods wouldn't be cut until advances in the paper pulp industry in the 1890's allowed for their use. The major exception to this rule was in the eastern Adirondacks, where the iron mines were located. To make enough charcoal to power their ever-hungry forges, the mining companies simply strip-cut every bit of land they could get their hands on. Unfortunately for the mines and the timber industry, most travellers heading to resorts in the Adirondacks from New York City passed through this eastern section, and therefore witnessed the complete devastation of the forests. Assuming that what they saw exemplified the situation throughout the "Northern Wilderness," it was decided that something had to be done. However, it was something completely different that would finally bring about conservation laws and the "Forever Wild" clause that exists in New York State's Constitution today: the fear of a lack of water.

In 1864, environmentalist George Perkins Marsh published a book called Man and Nature. In it, he details results from experiments he had done in the Mediterranean Basin in Europe. One of the major conclusions that Perkins reached in this book was that the destruction of forests caused major climatic changes. In the years after Marsh's book was published, there was a growing fear that continued cutting of the Adirondack forest would deplete the water in New York's canal system, as well as the amount of water available for downstate cities' drinking water. In 1871, in a report published in the Annual Report on the New York State Museum of Natural History, Verplanck Colvin, at the age of 23, wrote,
"The Adirondack Wilderness contains the springs which are the sources of our principal rivers, and the feeders of the canals. Each summer the water supply for these rivers and canals is lessened, and commerce has suffered...

The immediate cause has been the chopping and burning off of vast tracts of forest in the wilderness, which have hitherto sheltered from the sun's heat and evaporation the deep and lingering snows, [and] the brooks and rivulets ...

Now the winter snows that accumulate on the mountains, unprotected from the sun, melt suddenly and rush down laden with disaster...

The remedy for this is the creation of an Adirondack Park or timber preserve, under charge of a forest warden and deputies. The "burning off" of mountains should be visited with suitable penalties; the cutting of pines under ten inches or one foot in diameter should be prohibited. The officers of the law might be supported per capita tax, upon sportsmen, artists, and tourists visiting the region; a tax which they would willingly pay if the game should be protected from unlawful slaughter, and the grand primeval forest be saved from ruthless desolation.

The interests of commerce and navigation demand that these forests should be preserved; and for posterity should be set aside, this Adirondack region, as a park for New York, as is the Yosemite for California and the Pacific States."
Colvin, like most who urged for a park's creation during the 19th century, held solely utilitarian views, however. He wanted to see the timber resources preserved so they could be exploited later, and he wanted the water resources conserved so commerce, and the state economy, could continue as it had in previous years. In fact, in his First Annual Report of the Commisioners of State Parks of the State of New York, submitted to the State Legislature in May 1873, Colvin writes,
"We do not favor the creation of an expensive and exclusive park for mere purposes of recreation, but condemning such suggestsions, recommend the simple preservation of the timber as a measure of political economy."
Colvin, who fell in love with the Adirondack wilderness at a young age, and who would go on to become the superintendant of the state-funded Topographical Survey of the Adirondacks, was one of the loudest proponents of protection of the wilderness, although it is hard to believe judging by the above statement.

Colvin wasn't the only one pushing for creation of a park, however. The legislature eventually began to heed the cries for protection, and in 1872, two weeks after Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill establishing Yellowstone National Park, the first of its kind in the world, the State Assembly appointed a commission to recommend ways to protect New York's watersheds. In 1883, all lands New York owned in the Adirondacks were pulled from the real estate market, and on May 15, 1885, 681,000 acres of land were set aside to make up the Forest Preserve. Also established at the same time was the much-corrupt Forest Commission. In 1890, Governor David B. Hill urged the Legislature to create an Adirondack park to consolidate lands which the state should focus on acquiring for inclusion in the Forest Preserve; the original hope was that eventually all lands within this future park would be State-owned. The governor conveniently neglected consideration of existing settlements within the Park when he called for 100% state ownership. The Legislature didn't propose any bills establishing a park, but it did appropriate $25,000 for acquiring Forest Preserve land, a meager sum even in those days. Finally, in 1892, the Park passed at a size of rougly 2.8 million acres. However, it was really a symbolic gesture; it didn't accomplish much more than the drawing of a blue line on a large state map in Albany.

In 1893, Governor Roswell P. Flower, the same man who signed into law the Adirondack Park, proposed a bill that became known as the "Cutting Law." The Forest Commission was authorized to sell trees from any part of the Forest Preserve, thus effectively undoing the entire point of the Forest Preserve: to preserve the forest. In 1894, Governor Flower was pleased to announce that the state generated a revenue of $53,400 from the sale of timber on 17,500 acres of Preserve. The outrage of this, combined with rampant fires and drought throughout New England in 1893 and 1894 that had everyone deathly afraid that George Marsh's predictions were about to be proved correct, set the stage for what would happen at the 1894 Constitutional Convention in Albany.

Go on to the 1894 Constitutional Convention.

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