Philip Terrie, Professor Emeritus at Bowling Green State University, returned to the Hill for the third time on April 9 to deliver a lecture on the current state of the Adirondack Park. Terrie’s visit to Hamilton came at the invitation of William R. Kenan Professor of Biology Ernest Williams who is currently teaching the college’s interdisciplinary Adirondacks course, Culture and History of the Adirondack Park. Terrie will return to Hamilton in the fall to teach the course as a visiting professor.
Despite the fact that the Adirondack Park is one of the country’s most comprehensively preserved tracts of land, its patchwork composition of public and private ownership presents a variety of challenges for both residents and conservationists. State-owned land in the park is protected by the XIV Amendment of the New York State Constitution, which prohibits the cutting of even a single tree without a constitutional amendment, but the privately owned land within the park bares no such restrictions. While the Adirondack Park Agency does regulate building density on privately owned land, many conservationists feel that these measures are no longer adequate given today’s development challenges.
Recently proposed snowmobile trail-widening plans and a newly approved resort at Tupper Lake have pitted many of the park’s 135,000 residents who are concerned about economic decline against environmentalists and conservationists who see new construction as violating the “forever wild” spirit of the Adirondack Park. While Terrie remarked that the economic decline being experienced by the park’s residents is also occurring in other similarly situated rural towns and villages, strict environmental regulations are nonetheless difficult to face for residents forced to watch their towns’ populations and job supplies dry up.
Despite all of the attention that these local issues attract, not all of the park’s challenges come from within. Invasive species, global warming and acidification pose serious threats to the park’s wildlife, and there is little that the state government or environmental activists can do to combat these larger problems. Invasive plants like purple loosestrife and Eurasian milfoil now grow in nearly every lake in the Adirondacks, crowding out native species and making some lakes unusable for swimming or paddling. Acid rain from Midwestern states has made some Adirondack lakes inhospitable for fish and plant life, and mercury poisoning from polluted rain makes those fish which remain potentially toxic for consumption by both people and other animals.
Finally, global warming threatens to alter the Adirondacks’ uniquely harsh climate – already, ice takes two weeks longer to form and half a week less to recede than it did at the turn of the century. Climate change threatens to alter the very character of the Adirondack forest preserve, opening up entirely new considerations for land management.
While Terrie lamented the scale of the challenges that now face the unique experiment in land management that is the Adirondack Park, he chose to end his presentation on a positive note. More pristine wilderness within the forest preserve is now owned by the state of New York than ever before, and the once devastating logging practices that took place on privately owned park land have now ceased. And while the challenges the park faces are certainly daunting, the many concerned individuals, organizations and government bodies will not soon give up fighting for the state of New York’s greatest environmental treasure.