This is a continuation of our conservationist series. Each post will detail a conservationist’s life, notable accomplishments and ways the conservationist connects to kids. This post features Verplanck Colvin.
ATTORNEY. ENGINEER. AUTHOR. CONSERVATIONIST.
Where is the largest park in the lower 48 states located? Many outdoor enthusiasts assume it’s Yellowstone or Yosemite National Park. But the park with the largest amount of publically protected land is actually larger than the state of Rhode Island. Located in upstate New York, Adirondack Park has six million acres and is “Forever Wild” thanks to a very forward-thinking attorney and topographical engineer named Verplanck Colvin.
WHO IS VERPLANCK COLVIN?
Verplanck Colvin spent three summers surveying the area that became the Adirondack Park between 1869-1871. He traversed the wilds of the Adirondack Mountains along with his friend, Miles Blake, who composed an illustrated story of their trip for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. One of the most distressing observations Colvin discovered was the impact the foresting industry had on the Adirondack Mountains.
His survey and report on the state of the wildness of the Adirondacks were brought to the attention of the state government, who approved a stipend for a further survey of the area during the summer of 1872. Among the results of the survey was the discovery of what many considered the source of the Hudson River located in Keene, NY, at Lake Tear of the Clouds.
Colvin’s survey data indicated if the watershed in the Adirondacks were not preserved, the Erie Canal, which was vital to the state economy, would be threatened. As a result, Colvin was appointed thereafter as the superintendent of New York state survey.
PRESERVING THE LAND
In 1892, the State Legislature passed a bill to establish the blue lines where “state acquisition of private in-holdings was to be concentrated.” And as a compromise to cordon off such a large area of land, 100,000 square miles to be exact, the state was allowed to sell state lands elsewhere, as well as lease land within the Adirondacks to build camps and cottages. The Constitutional Conventions in 1895 provided further protection of the Adirondacks with the establishment of stronger protections of the Forest Preserve.
Since 1895, there have only been two alterations to the Adirondack Park. Both took place in the 20th century as the area became an increasingly popular source of tourism revenue. The first was to cut ski trails at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid (1940) and the second was to construct the Northway I-87 (1958).
The Adirondack Mountains were a popular vacation home destination for wealthy families from New York City. It was also a summer retreat for state governors, many of whom became U.S. Presidents. For example, the White Pines camp was the “Summer White House” for President Calvin Coolidge.
CONNECTING TO KIDS
Colvin’s preservation efforts taught us to respect the balance between leaving nature to grow wild and using its natural resources for our everyday needs. When we go on HiB hikes, we “leave no trace” and take our litter with. In addition, we avoid disrupting the natural habitat of the plants, insects and wildlife we encounter. While my 2-year-old daughter, Bee, is especially fond of brightly colored berries these days, I remind her the birds need the berries to eat and we need to leave them on the bush. She is also fascinated with watching fish swim in a pond or a stream. Thus, I’m so thankful the Hudson River watershed has various environmental protections in place to keep the water as clean as possible.
Today, it is estimated that the Adirondack Park has 10 million visitors annually. There are mountains of various elevations to hike within the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains. Some of my family’s favorites are Mount Marcy, Tongue Mountain (watch out for snakes!) and Whiteface Mountain.
Here are some great resources to use when planning a family visit to the Adirondacks.
- The Wild Center, Tupper Lake, NY
- Fort Ticonderoga, northern end of Lake George
- Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics
- Lake George Island Campgrounds
The Adirondacks are where I learned to really, truly, deeply fall in love with the outdoors. I hiked with my family many summers during my childhood. I also used boating skills learned at summer camp to explore the northern end of Lake George as well as Osgood Pond in Paul Smiths’. The only time of year I hesitate to recommend is early June when it is peak black fly season. Otherwise, I have been in the ‘Daks during all four seasons of the year.
Because of Colvin’s passion for this special place, I have a love of the outdoors and respect for nature that I can pass on to Bee. The Adirondack Park is “Forever Wild” today and for generations to come thanks to Colvin’s tireless preservation efforts.