A fascinating discussion is underway over at the Adirondack Almanack blog about the future of the Park’s vast and sparsely settled core.
In an essay this week, editor John Warren embraced the idea of creating a 400,000-acre wilderness area in the heart of the Park.
“This Bob Marshall or Oswegatchie Great Wilderness Area is a laudable goal,” Warren concluded.
In support of this vision, Warren quotes at length Dan Plumley, co-founder of a new environment group called Adirondack Wild:
“It is all too easy for us to think of our own recreational desires first and forget about the long term goals of gaining, over time, truly wild conditions of relatively intact wilderness protected by law and our state constitution.”
Warren also seems to reject the arguments that many — including myself — have made that the next focus of Park thought and planning should be the human communities inside the blue line.
“Others argue that we are in danger of losing some amorphous “culture” of the Adirondacks,” Warren writes, “as if that culture hasn’t changes dramatically a half dozen times since the human race made it’s first footprints here. Or, for that matter, even in the last 400 years or so.”
Here’s why I disagree, with Plumley and Warren.
The Adirondack experiment isn’t just about protecting trees and ecosystems. If you want to do that, the best approach is simply to clear the decks, remove the people and create a Yellowstone- or a Denali-style park.
The revolutionary thing here is that we are trying to model a much more difficult, grey-zoney approach to open-space conservation, one that nurtures human communities rather than eliminating them.
That “amorphous” Adirondack culture isn’t merely a complication. It’s half the reason that the Park matters.
If you read Article XIV of New York’s constitution — which establishes the “forever wild” Adirondack forest preserve — a huge chunk of the text deals with provisions designed to sustain human communities.
Yes, it sets out strict rules to protect wildlife and open space, but it also mandates preservation of farming, Adirondack history, and recreation, and allows for construction of things like municipal water supplies.
Put simply, this delicate and complicated balance between the human and the wild is written into the DNA of the Park.
Which means that occasionally we will do things (like allow a little more human recreation, or the construction of a new subdivision) that make environmentalists cringe.
I’m hoping we will also find ways to slowly transfer more and more decision-making to local communities — a loss of control which also makes a lot of green leaders uncomfortable.
But if we succeed, we will have accomplished something truly visionary and sustainable.
In the place of a the usual “colonial” model of land conservation — which tends to squeeze out and marginalize local, rural residents — we will have a philosophy of wilderness preservation that is truly grassroots and sustained by an acceptable level of prosperity.
My guess is that if we do have something to contribute to the people who follow us a century or two from now, it will be this kind of idealism, set out from the very beginning in the state constitution, and not narrow debates over where we place mountain bike trails.