A Political History of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve
Threats to Forever Wild

Since the adoption of the "Forever Wild" clause of the New York State Constitution by New York's voters on November 6, 1894, it has undergone many threats. The first came immediately after adoption from the Delaware and Hudson Railroad: they went to the Forest Commission hoping to be granted a right-of-way from North Creek to Long Lake, through the Forest Preserve, before the new Constitution went into effect on January 1, 1895. On December 27, with only 3 of 5 members present (enough for a quorum), all 3 of which supported the right-of-way, it appeared that the preservationists were to suffer their first loss. The railroad was granted the land, but soon thereafter a judge, at the request of the railroad's opposition, issued an injunction. January 1st passed, the Constitution went into effect, and the railroad never happened.

Other threats were far more serious. In 1895, less than a year after Forever Wild had been in existence, a new amendment to the Constitution was introduced that would allow the sale and exchance of Forest Preserve land, and also would allow for the lease of individual five-acre sites for private camps. The amendment passed two successive legislatures, in 1895 and 1896, but was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin in the general vote.

By 1900 the area of the Forest Preserve was over 1.2 million acres, less than half of what it is today. An 1897 bill appropriating $1 million to acquiring land definitely was helpful to the increase in state lands.

In 1912, the state acquired 25 acres at Lake George for the purpose of a Revolutionary War memorial. Since the area where the land was purchased was within the Forest Preserve counties, technically it should have become part of the Preserve, which would preclude development of a memorial. The New York Attorney General said that the intended use was constitutional, since it was "acquired by the State under a law authorizing its purchase for a definite and proper governmental purpose inconsistent with its use as a wild forest land." In the eyes of many, this was a threat to Forever Wild because if the state could decide to use 25 acres for a memorial, could they use 1,000 acres for a racetrack or the like using the same reasoning?

In 1915, another Constitutional Convention was held. The lumber industry proposed several changes in the Forest Preserve law. The most significant was to divide the Preserve into two different classifications: (1) mountaintops and streams and rivers, and (2) everything else. The lumbermen wanted to keep all present restrictions on logging in the first area, but allow timber to be cut in the second. This was defeated in Convention. Other changes were approved in the Convention, such as a road between Saranac Lake and Old Forge. However, in the end it didn't matter: the entire proposed Constitution was rejected by New York's voters.

In 1927, the amendment to build the Whiteface Memorial Highway was approved. In the same vein, in 1941 an amendment was passed (by the extremely narrow margin of 10,000 votes) to build ski slopes on Whiteface Mt. The Conservation Department supported the latter amendment, saying that Whiteface had already been ruined by the highway, so what more could a ski slope do?

In 1929, a heated controversy arose over where to place the bobsled run for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. The original plan was to place the run in the Sentinel Range, on Forest Preserve land. An Appellate Court defeated the proposition, and the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision in the beginning of 1930. In his decision, Judge Frederick C. Crane said that "The Adirondack Park was to be preserved, not destroyed." In the end, the state purchased an easement on Lake Placid Club land on Mt. Van Hoevenberg, where the bobsled and luge runs still exist today.

Another very controversial amendment was proposed in 1930: the "Closed-Cabin" Amendment. This proposal would allow the State to clear Forest Preserve land in order to build various buildings, mostly to be used for recreation: ski lodges, warming huts, anything that was deemed appropriate. It was during the fight of the Closed-Cabin Amendment that John S. Apperson, or Appie for short, became well-known in the fight for preservation of the Adirondacks. Appie and the Association for Preservation of the Adirondacks sent out hundreds of pamphlets, talked to the press, and enlisted the support of sportsmen's groups and other conservation-minded organizations to fight the Closed-Cabin Amendment. When it came time for the state's populous to vote on the measure in 1932, the proposal was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin.

Definitely one of the biggest threats to the Forest Preserve came in 1913, when the state's voters approved the Burd Amendment, which stated that 3% of the Forest Preserve could be flooded for the purpose of creating reservoirs. It was of no major immediate consequence, but the repurcussions of this amendment would be violently felt towards the middle half of the 20th Century. In the words of Paul Schaefer, "In 1945 before we started to fight we were faced with thirty-eight different reservoirs in the Forest Preserve. We didn't get any of them."

Going hand in hand with the Burd Amendment was the 1915 passage of the Machold Storage Law, which enabled anyone to petition the Conservation Department for the creation of a river regulating district. If the Department approved the district, it effectively became a state agency, with the purpose of creating a plan to regulate river flow and building dams and reservoirs to execute that plan. The District could issue bonds, levy taxes on beneficiaries of the project, etc. The board of directors was appointed by the Governor. Two such river regulating districts were formed: the Hudson River Regulating District, which build Great Sacandaga Lake, and the Black River Regulating District, which throughout its existence was much more controversial. Therefore, we will concentrate on the history of the Black River Regulating District.

The entire point of the existence of the Black River Regulating District was to build hydro-electric dams to power industry in Watertown, located well outside the park. In 1920 a plan was approved for the establishment of 12 reservoirs on Forest Preserve land. At the time, three of these already existed: there was a dam at Stillwater Reservoir on the Beaver River, which was enlarged in 1925 under the plan (3000 acres of Forest Preserve were flooded). There were also dams at Old Forge, on the head of the Fulton Chain, and at Sixth Lake, also in the Fulton Chain. Neither of these Fulton Chain dams were to be enlarged under the plan. Most of the remaining nine planned dams were dropped for various reasons along the way, but two very controversial reservoirs were still in the works: one at Higley Mountain, and the other at Panther Mountain, both on the South Branch of the Moose River, a tributary to the Black River. The stakes were huge: if these dams were built, the largest deer wintering ground in the Adirondacks, the Moose River Plains, would have been destroyed. The Adirondack League Club (ALC) was the first to voice opposition, mainly due to the fact that much of the planned reservoir was located on their land. When the Regulating District decided to temporarily forego plans for the Panther Mt dam and concentrate on Higley Mt, which would not have flooded any ALC land, the ALC's voice quieted. There was very little opposition to Higley Mt. dam initially. The Conservation Department approved the project in 1945, which was around the time that John Apperson and Paul Schaefer learned of the project and began their passionate struggle against it.

Apperson and Schaefer first went to the Conservation Department; they were told they were too late. So in 1946, they organized the Adirondack Moose River Committee to fight the dams. They printed fliers, distributed movies of the Moose River Plains and other areas that were to be flooded, and basically did everything they could to make the public aware of what was about to take place in the Forest Preserve. Eventually, as awareness and opposition amongst sportsmen's groups and the general public grew, the state began to think twice about the project. An advisor to Governor Thomas Dewey made a study criticizing the proposed dam. Dewey took the advice and packed the board of the Black River Regulating District with opposers to the dam, who voted the project down. A short time later, it was found out that Governor Dewey had struck a deal with the District: in exchange for nixing the Higley project, Dewey agreed to support the reservoir at Panther, which in comparison was a much larger project. Also, one of the leaders of the opposition, Ed Richard, agreed not to fight Panther if Higley was killed. Eventually, however, after much convincing, Richard did return to the side of the preservationists.

The opposition to the Panther Mt. project was far more widespread than that of the Higley dam. Hundreds of organizations across the country, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, voiced their negative opinion on the proposal. The case was taken to the State Supreme Court, which rejected the Panther project in 1949 on the basis that the taking of public property for private purposes was unconstitutional, and building a reservoir for hydro-electric power was a private purpose. To make sure such a struggle would never have to happen again, legislation was introduced to outlaw the building of more dams. The Stokes Act stated that no reservoirs could be built in Herkimer or Hamilton Counties on the South Branch of the Moose River for any reason except to supply drinking water. It was signed by Governor Dewey in 1950. The Black River Regulating District fought the Stokes Act, bringing it all the way to the US Supreme Court, where they lost their case. In 1951, the Ostrander Amendment was introduced to permanently undo the Burd Amendment. It stated that no river regulating reservoir could be built on Forest Preserve land. In 1953, the voters of the state ratified the amendment. However, the fight wasn't over yet. In 1954, the Regulating District introduced an amendment specifically allowing the Panther Mt dam to be built. The bill somehow passed two successive legislatures, but was annihilated by the state's populous by a 3 to 1 margin.

There were some other (mostly minor) threats to the Forest Preserve in the middle and late 20th century. In 1942, the Federal Government took an easement on 220 acres of Forest Preserve land to extend a railroad from North Creek to the McIntyre Mine at Tahawus in order to facilitate the extraction of titanium from that location. In 1946, the easement was extended for 21 years, and in 1962, it was extended again for 100 years. The state government doesn't totally lose out on the arrangement, however. The US government pays the state the whopping sum of $63.50 per year (which, incidentally, was paid in one lump sum of $6350). At the 1962 Constitutional Convention, Charles Froessel proposed the legalization of public campgrounds in the Forest Preserve. Determination of where these campgrounds should be placed was left up to the Conservation Department. The fear was that this was a re-iteration of the Closed Cabin amendment. However, nothing ever came of the amendment; the entire proposed constitution was rejected by the state's voters for other reasons. In 1967, a National Park was proposed in the Adirondacks. This was met with immediate and widespread resistance, due to the fact that it would take control of the wilderness out of the voters' hands and give it to the federal government, and the idea was soon dropped.

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