Should environmentalists name chunks of the Adirondacks after their leaders?

Paul Schaefer shaped the Adirondack landscape.  Should a chunk of it be named after him?  (Photo by Paul Grondahl, courtesy of Adirondack Wild)

Paul Schaefer shaped the Adirondack landscape. Should a chunk of it be named after him? (Photo by Paul Grondahl, courtesy of Adirondack Wild)

UPDATE:  No environmental activist has suggested that a wilderness or Adirondack land parcel be named after themselves personally.  The text below has been corrected to clarify this point.

This week, a group called Adirondack Wild unveiled a proposal to name a big chunk of the former Finch Pruyn timberlands after celebrated environmentalist Paul Schaefer.

“There is no one so closely associated with protection of the wild Upper Hudson River, and the Park’s wild river system as Paul Schaefer,” said Dan Plumley, co-founder of the group.

“With these magnificent new acquisitions watered and bordered by wild, free flowing rivers, the time has come to name a substantial wilderness in Paul’s honor.”

Schaefer was a ground-breaking environmental activist, who fought against plans to construct a major complex of dams that would have reshaped the Adirondacks, taming some of its wildest rivers and likely displacing some communities.

He passed away in 1996.

This idea of honoring a Park environmentalist with a chunk of wilderness named after him isn’t new.

The Adirondack Council and others have proposed naming a big swath of the western and northern Adirondacks after Bob Marshall.

Marshall was a seasonal resident of the Park who helped to popularize the idea of the 46 High Peaks and he co-founded the Wilderness Society.  He passed away in 1939.

The group has even taken to calling the area The Bob Marshall Wild Lands Complex and issued a map that gathers towns, villages, chunks of public and private land under the moniker that they decided unilaterally that it should bear.

“Now is the opportunity to honor the legacy of Bob Marshall by preserving this wilderness jewel as a gift from our generation to posterity,” the group argued.

I think it’s fair to say that no one can question the impact of these two men, or of a number of other prominent environmentalists who have devoted their lives to protecting land and ecosystems inside the blue line.

But I wonder about the optics of green groups trying to protect these chunks of land, lobbying for the most restrictive land-use classification (in opposition to the views of many locals) and then lobbying to hang  the names of their mentors and inspirations above the door.

In this case, members of Adirondack Wild are proposing to name a wilderness area after an individual with whom they have had longstanding personal and professional ties.

“[Schaefer] was my early mentor in all things Adirondack. In 1987 I was fortunate to have been selected executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, the organization Paul served as a Vice-President,” Adirondack Wild co-founder Dave Gibson wrote in the Adirondack Almanack in 2010.

Is there just a slight whiff of Mount Rushmorism here?

The simple truth is that the goals and ideals of these men have often run contrary to the values of local residents and community leaders who live in the areas most directly affected by these proposed wilderness designations.

It’s one thing to lose a bitter political fight over how the land in your back yard should be managed.  But then to have “your” area named after one of the leaders of the opposing faction?  That’s tough medicine.

I also wonder if there aren’t other folks, including elected officials, who might be in line before Schaefer and Marshall — men who had an arguably much larger and more lasting impact on the Park and its history.

Teddy Roosevelt?  Nelson Rockefeller?  George Pataki?  All three are former state governors who either learned from or reshaped the Adirondacks in profound ways, while leaving an unquestionably important environmental legacy.

Or how about naming an Adirondack wild lands parcel after William Wheeler, the famously honest Malone attorney and congressman who later served as Franklin County prosecutor and then as vice president of the United States?

What about naming a chunk of land after a powerfully influential local leader?  A Ron Stafford Wild Forest?  A George Canon Intensive Use Area?

Finally, what about the guys whose names are already identified with a big chunk of this property?  Jeremiah and Daniel Finch and Samuel Pruyn had a particularly long and historical impact on the Park lands that they owned and stewarded.

They created some of the most interesting works of architecture in the North Country, bankrolled landmark institutions that endure today, and set an early standard for environmentally sound forestry.

I’m not suggesting that no wild lands in the Park should ever be named after a green activist.  And my comments here don’t reflect my personal views about these men or their contributions.

(Having grown up in Alaska, and trekked in the Brooks Range, a well-worn copy of Marshall’s “Exploring the Central Brooks Range” has a place of pride on my book shelf.)

But names and the process of naming are important things.

It seems like before people start hanging their banners or putting names on maps, maybe a conversation is in order between environmental groups, state officials, and the folks who live in these areas.

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37 Comments on “Should environmentalists name chunks of the Adirondacks after their leaders?”

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  1. John Warren says:


    The title of this post implies that environmentalists are attempting to “name chunks of the Adirondacks after themselves”.

    Who are you referring too? Who is doing that?

    You write “I wonder about the optics of green groups trying to protect these chunks of land, lobbying for the most restrictive land-use classification (in opposition to the views of many locals) and then lobbying to hang their own names — or the names of their mentors and inspirations — above the door.”

    Who is “lobbying to hang their own names”? Please do tell.

    You know for a fact that no one is lobbying to have state lands named after them.

    It’s wrong of you to misinform your readers in such a way.


  2. @tourpro says:

    “George Canon Intensive Use Area?”

    That line is ironic on so many levels. Good one!

  3. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Personally, I think Knuckleheadedliberal Bog has a nice ring to it.

  4. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    And what is with the picture of Brian in the by-line?

  5. Yes, folks shouldn’t name things created with public money after their own kind.

    (Malcolm Wilson Bridge, Warren M. Anderson Highway, Joe Bruno Stadium, etc)

  6. Brian Mann says:

    KHL – I don’t know what’s up with that photo of me in the byline. I’m going viral maybe? Maybe some new innovation from the web folks?

    John – Bosh. Simple and pure bosh.

    It’s arguably fine for an environmental group to try to name a publicly owned wilderness area after one of their mentors and leaders and visionaries, but you can’t then argue that they’re not…doing that very thing.

    And okay, yes, I’ll cop to it: I resent your casual use of the accusation that I’m misinforming someone here.

    Anyone reading this essay understands the facts and the context and can engage the debate in an informed way.

    Anyone who stops reading an article at the headline and claims they’ve been misled by the journalist is welcome to their indignation — but they can’t expect to be taken seriously.

    –Brian, NCPR

  7. John Warren says:


    Are we using the same grammar rules?

    You are clearly saying that environmentalists are “…lobbying to hang their own names… above the door.”

    That is false.

    No one is lobbying to name something after themselves. Period.

    And it’s awful that NCPR has been repeating the headline to this editorial all afternoon – as if it is actually true that some environmentalists are trying to name something after themselves.

    If you’re just writing headlines to attract attention that’s fine – but you are making a false claim in the text of this piece and you should correct it.


  8. Brian Mann says:

    I’ve reviewed the essay again and I feel that you’re correct about one line — not the headlilne. I’ve altered the text above.

    –Brian, NCPR

  9. myown says:

    What could be more fitting than to classify all the Finch Pruyn timberlands as Wilderness and then name it the Fred Monroe Wilderness Area!

  10. Brian Mann says:

    Nope, I’m wrong. The headline should be rewritten – and I have.

    Again, I think a fair-minded reader gets what I was saying – that “themselves” in this case means “members of their own movement.”

    But there is room for misunderstanding here, so I’ve made an edit.

    –Brian, NCPR

  11. Lily says:

    You white men have so little imagination. Not a single woman is suggested here or in the Almanack’s article.Seriously? You are your own best promoters.

  12. Brian says:

    I think Lily’s point is a good one. How about a Barbara McMartin Wild Forest? Or a LaBastille Wilderness? Grace Hudowalski might go on that list?

    Women play a prominent role in Adirondack issues these days (check out this blog post

    for more on that subject.

    But sadly that hasn’t always been the case…

    –Brian, NCPR

  13. mervel says:

    Why do we have to name them at all? Its the Adirondacks, enough said.

  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The current obsession with climbing the 46ers is enough to disqualify Bob Marshall from any naming rights. Pretty soon we will need Temple Grandin to advise us on herd fencing in the High Peaks.

    I would be happy, however, to recognize the contributions of our woman State Senator with the Betty Little Invasive Species Boat Wash Station.

  15. Pete Klein says:

    Knit picking objection. Schaefer died in 1996. If in fact he passed away, please tell me where he passed to so we could get his views on the subject.
    More important than naming, this whole area should be classified (if we really must classify) Wild Forest.
    If we simply must give it a name, name it for its main natural feature.

  16. Kent Gregson says:

    Some good points, Brian. That the environmental forces have wrested control from the locals is apparent. That the locals have resentment is apparent. Is this just the spoils going to the victors or does it speak to the disconnect between the environmental community and life on the ground here in the mountains? It would seem in these emotional times of transfer of power out of the park that a little more sensitivity might be the way to go forward. Great care should be used in the naming of one’s mentor to avoid putting your own words in that mentor’s mouth once he’s gone.

  17. Dan Plumley says:


    Thanks for your thoughts, Kent. Your message overdramatizes and stigmatizes. Paul Schaefer’s lifelong work at protecting the park’s wild rivers and wild lands involved hundreds of local sportsmen and women and leaders over decades who were fortunate to have called the Park home. As does the work of countless environmentalists who are both native, resident and non-native throughout the life of the Adirondack Park up to today.

    Trying to keep the canard of “local vs. outsider” alive creates anachronistic, unreal and inaccurate divisions with little value. I would encourage you to learn of Paul’s history with these lands and rivers; much less the generations of his family and relations resident in the park still today.

    Paul Schaefer’s conservation legacy in the Adirondacks serves to mentor all the citizens of our great state and the Wild Rivers lands of the former Finch Pruyn properties were protected truly by his actions over decades and his advocacy direct with Finch leaders and state leaders and those of us who live in the park and beyond who were fortunate enough to have worked with him.

    Local government on the Region 5 Open Space Committee voted unanimously to include Finch lands in the plan for open space protection, following Schaefer’s decades long leadership and all towns supported and adopted resolutions in support. Your suggestion that vague “environmental forces have wrested control from the locals” is an old saw and completely inaccurate in reflection on Paul Schaefer’s life and legacy.

    More important than naming will be the actual classification and management of the wild lands and waters in these tracts. That is the foremost task ahead of us. Recognizing Paul Schaefer is important, as well, and just in our view given his long history as a New York activist who did so much with his indefatigable organizing of so many to protect the Park, wilderness and Forest Preserve and as an active Adirondack landowner with multi-generations of family in the region.

    The recognition for achieving a Paul A. Schaefer Wild Rivers Wilderness is not putting “words in a mentor’s mouth” – whatever that implies. It would simply be apt and leading recognition for the New York State citizen and Adirondack activist who ultimately and unequivocally did the most to see these very specific wild lands and waters protected for “the youths of distant tomorrows.” If it were not for Paul Schaefer working with local sportsmen and women and the Upper Hudson Environmental Action Committee, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion — much of these lands would be 40 feet under dam waters.

    Let me encourage you neighbor to neighbor to see Paul’s films, “Adirondack: Land Nobody Knows” and “Of Rivers and Men,” or read his books, “Saving the Wilderness,” and “Cabin Country,” that covers well your own neck o’ the woods as it were and you might see the proposal in a less jaundiced light.


  18. Peter Bauer says:


    Please fix another mistake in this post.

    You wrote:

    “In this case, members of Protect the Adirondacks are proposing to name a wilderness area after an individual with whom they have had longstanding personal and professional ties.”

    PROTECT has nothing to do with this proposal. We were never consulted about it, never knew anything about it. We read about it online just like everybody else.

    PROTECT has endorsed a Wilderness area for these lands called the Hudson Headwaters Wilderness Area:

    The Schaefer proposal is authored solely by another group — Adirondack Wild.

    Please correct this post.

    Thank you.

  19. Kent Gregson says:

    Hi Dan,
    Nice to hear from you. Paul Schaefer was well respected by all. He’s remembered a bit differently by different folks, especially in the Baker’s Mills, Edwards Hill area. There is still a dichotomy of understanding between the conservationists and the preservationists that I hear regularly. Indeed that “old canard” should deminish, but work remains to be done there. Both sides came together to stop the dam project. It would be nice to have both sides come together more frequently since their desires are so similar.

  20. Peter Hahn says:

    Naming rights is a great suggestion. How about leasing the names of all the high peaks like they do with stadiums. Im not sure what to do with the money though.

  21. Paul says:

    there is a hope to “market” these lands on an international scale. very few people will have any idea who this person is. I have also read that he would not have wanted something like this named after him. why do it if he would not want it?

  22. Paul says:

    I agree with Dan the classification is the important thing. this has been sold by all parties as a good economic move. whatever will have the best economic impact must be considered. there are no numbers tied to these proposals. what are the costs of each. what are the potential revenues? if the best thing is wilderness go for it. but prove it with the data.

  23. mervel says:

    So who decides this “naming”? What is the process?

    Public review and input, debate, accusations of insider deals and on and on, over a name for something really that does not need a name. Frankly if you want to name it after someone it should probably be Andrew Cuomo or one of the preceding govs who actually made the purchases happen or leave it as is; Finch Pruyn timberlands, which in the end is probably what most people will end up calling them anyway.

    The whole thing seems like unneeded controversy.

  24. dave says:


    “this has been sold by all parties as a good economic move.”

    does not necessarily mean this

    “whatever will have the best economic impact must be considered.”

    No one ever “sold” this as a way to maximize revenue.

  25. mervel says:

    I agree dave. I think Coumo said it was first and foremost about protecting wilderness forever, I had never heard from the parties involved that this somehow was a deal to help the Adirondack region economically one way or the other.

    In the long run, the Park belongs to NYS, not those living in the North Country or the Park, it is about preserving the largest wilderness left in the East. Economic development is certainly desirable, but it is a secondary concern.

    I mean when TR created Yellowstone it was about this whole country and our protection of wilderness, not about if Wyoming could maintain economic development.

  26. mervel says:

    Personally I think a long run goal should be making the Adriondack Park a National Park and Wilderness area.

  27. Walker says:

    Mervel, our national parks are way less well protected than the Adirondack Park is. Let’s leave it in the hands of the state.

  28. Mervel says:

    Not from what I have seen Walker, but every park is different. Just a thought and I know the Adirondacks are different, I don’t think it is a realistic idea anyway.

    I just think that there is one goal for the Park proper, and that is long term wilderness preservation, everything else in the Park is secondary, including economic development.

  29. Will Doolittle says:

    It’s been done before, as you point out, Brian. But really, it’s the height of hubris to name mountain ranges or glorious wilderness areas after human beings. I would think, and hope, that any of these folks whose names are being pushed would have been appalled by the suggestion when they were alive. If we’re going to name things after people, we should stick to buildings, airports and other temporary creations of our own.

  30. Brian Mann says:

    Mervel –

    Your argument about the “one goal for the Park proper” is fine as an opinion — anyone can argue in favor for whatever use or evolution of the Adirondack Park they like.

    But it’s important to note that your idea is not reflected in state law or in the state constitution.

    The “forever wild” clause of the state constitution envisioned a complex matrix of goals for the Adirondacks, including specific mentions of private businesses, timber harvesting, community needs, etc.

    The constitution outlines human activities that range from highway and reservoir construction to the operation of ski areas, airports and landfills.

    Obviously, the constitution — and subsequent state laws that govern the Park — place a high priority on open space preservation. But there is not “one goal” expressed anywhere.

    Finally, I’ll point out that when Nelson Rockefeller created the Adirondack Park Agency, one of the ideas on the table at the time — put forward by his brother — was a national park of some kind.

    The idea was fiercely opposed by all sides, including many leaders of the region’s environmental community.

    –Brian, NCPR

  31. Paul says:

    ““this has been sold by all parties as a good economic move.”

    does not necessarily mean this

    “whatever will have the best economic impact must be considered.””

    Dave, I simply said “considered”. Seeing the projections is necessary to make an informed decision. It is quite possible that the most restrictive proposal could also me the one that will “maximize revenue”. I am saying just show us the numbers. There isn’t even projections for management costs. Those are clearly going to be highest under the least restrictive. But right now you don’t know any parts of the equation. These are just a bunch of jumbled proposals.

  32. Paul says:

    “I would think, and hope, that any of these folks whose names are being pushed would have been appalled by the suggestion when they were alive.”

    In fact here is what Dave Gibson wrote at the Almanack.

    “We knew Paul well enough to know that he would not want a river or a mountain, or a Wilderness area named for him. But enough time has passed since his death that we wanted to make his deeds – and the lessons which flow from them – better known.”

    Maybe it would be better to just honor his wishes even long after the man has passed?

  33. Sunny Day says:

    Has there ever been any discussion of the process, opportunities, and potential benefits of designation of the entire Adirondack North Country, which is truly the naturally defined geographic entity, not just the “Adirondacks” or Adirondack Park (without the artificially created BlueLIne) as a National Heritage Area?
    Here’s a link about NHAs:

  34. Will Doolittle says:

    On the other hand, what about the state selling naming rights to some of these areas? The Prudential Slide on Mount Colden? Wells Fargo Waterfall on Giant?
    Could be money in it, and why not?

  35. tourpro says:

    Why stop with merely a national park? I think the Adirondacks meets at least 5 of the criteria for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Especially #1: “to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;”

    OK, that example might be a bit sarcastic, but seriously, it would be awesome to be a WHS.

  36. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    When will we change the name of that magnificent Alaskan massif back to the name of the great man it represented so well, McKinley!

  37. mervel says:

    Well if there is no goal for the Park than who cares. I don’t buy that it is as muddled as you make out Brian. The point of this Park, and really any Park IS preservation, the ADK Park is unique in that communities and some business is allowed and even encouraged, but they always will take a second seat to the preservation goals of the constitution. If not just turn the whole thing into an economic development zone and quite torturing residents wit h arbitrary restrictions on what they can build where. No the whole point is preservation, with all other goals subservient. Because it that it is NOT the case there is some serious corruption going on.

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