The Adirondack Park has always had its strong women, from 46er Grace Hudowalski to author Anne Labastille to historian Barbara McMartin.
But for much of the region’s history, the big political leaders — the figures shaping decisions large and small about the Park’s fate — have been men.
In his book “The Great Experiment in Conservation,” former APA chair Ross Whaley described creation of the Park as the product of a circle great men who wielded a lot of power.
“You had the Hochschilds, the Rockefellers and Louis Marshall,” Whaley told me, a few months after the book came out. “Just really interesting visionaries that knew how to pull something off.”
The Temporary Study Commission appointed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in the 1960s to shape the Adirondack Park Agency was made up entirely of men.
And later, the Park’s fate was largely shaped by influential figures like state Senator Ron Stafford and Governor George Pataki.
Which is why it’s so interesting to see the Park now being led primarily by a group of powerful women.
The Adirondack Park Agency is now led by Chairwoman Lani Ulrich and executive director Terry Martino. The two are the first women to hold those posts.
But it’s also noteworthy that both Adirondack regions of the Department of Environmental Conservation are now led by women, Betsy Lowe in Region 5 and Judy Drabicki in Region 6.
The three leaders in the state legislature who shape the Park’s fate are also now all women: state Senator Betty Little, Assemblywoman Janet Duprey and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward.
If that doesn’t convince you, consider this list of less visible but still hugely influential women, who shape much of the Park’s behind-the-scenes conversation.
Kate Fish leads the influential Adirondack North Country Association. Cali Brooks runs the Adirondack Community Trust. Catherine Moore is publisher at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, long an opinion maker for the Park.
Betsy Folwell now leads Adirondack Life magazine, which shapes much of the public’s perception of the Park beyond the blue line.
Chandler Ralph is president and CEO of the Adirondack Medical Center, the Park’s biggest single employer.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ellen Rocco, general manager of North Country Public Radio, who shaped the vision that extended NCPR’s broadcast signal into most of the Park — I would argue, an important development for the region.
Obviously, there are still a lot of influential men in the Park, but the trend seems fairly dramatic. So dramatic that it begs a question: What will it mean?
Will it matter that women are leading the discussion, shaping the compromises, and looking for new solutions to the Park’s thorny problems? Do women have different styles, different approaches, that might produce different results?
Ross Whaley used to say that leaders in the Adirondacks would often rather fight than win. But maybe that’s a guy thing. Maybe we’re about to get a fresh look at the Park and its future.
Your thoughts about these questions, as always, are welcome below.