December 19, 1936 – Raymond Torrey to Frank Elkins (NY Times)

  • December 19, 1936 – Raymond H. Torrey to Frank Elkins (Sports Department, New York Times; NYC) –

Dear Mr. Elkins:

I read with interest your articles on winter sport, skiing, etc., in the sports section of the Times, and obtain much of interest and information from them. I notice that you sometimes discuss matters of general interest, apart from news events, to the skiing world? May I suggest a phase of the situation, which I have not yet seen discussed in your articles, although it has been covered in news dispatches of such events as the ski meeting in Albany, Dec. 5, which might be worth your attention, through this winter and for months to come. I refer to the point of view expressed by Frederick T. Kelsey, President of the Adirondack Mountain Club, and others, to the effect that Section 7 of Article VII of the State constitution prevents adequate development of winter sports facilities in the state forest preserve in the Adirondacks and Catskills, because it provides that “the lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.” There are following exceptions, which do not affect the main principle, permitting the construction of a number of state highways, by amendments adopted by the people, in recent years.

There is much debate going on now, in outdoor clubs and among conservationists, as to the attitude of those for whom Mr. Kelsey made himself the spokesman. Those who are disturbed by his remarks believe that the Section quoted does not prevent adequate use of the state forest preserve for winter sports in keeping with a wilderness preserve; that it allows, with reasonable widening of ski trails, for ski cruising and a good deal of down hill running, such as on this van Hoevenburg Trail on Mount Marcy, and no reasonable conservationist has objected to the moderate amount of widening, as it curves, necessary to make such cruising trails comfortable and safe. There persons believe that what Mr. Kelsey and those who think like he does want, is something of a spectacular nature, probably wide downhill runs, 100 to 200 feet wide, for competitive events. They believe that private developments, on privately owned land, within the Adirondack park, such as at Ticonderoga, North Creek, Old Forge, and Lake George, provide for public demands for open slope and broad downhill trail ski running. They also believe that Mr. Kelsey and Mr. H. W. Hicks, thought speaking for the Adirondack Mountain Club, really speak for the Lake Placid Club and Lake placid section, where private lands suitable for open field and broad downhill runs do not exist to the extent that they do in the other Adirondack resorts named.           The Lake Placid Club, through Kelsey and Hicks, sought, in 1930, to have a bob sled run built on state land, in Wilmington Notch, near Lake Placid, but were defeated by a suit in restraint brought by the Association for the protection of the Adirondacks, the opinions in which, by Justice Hinman of the Appellate Division and Judge Crane of the Court of Appeals, gave the first definite interpretations of Section 7 of Article VII in support of the wild forest idea in respect to the total forest preserve. They held that bob sledding was a competitive, somewhat dangerous sport, in which few could participate, and that it was inconsistent with the constitutional protection of the preserve. The run was hereafter built, on Van Hoevenburg Mountain. As such it was now subject to the prohibitions of Section 7. Mr. Kelsey, by the way, was counsel for one of the agencies seeking to have the bobsled run built on state land. In fact, projects for amendments permitting more roads I the forest preserve, which were defeated, and the Whiteface Highway, which was enacted, have invariably come from Essex County, in which Lake Placid is located. In other parts of the Adirondacks, where winter sports developments on private lands, as business enterprises, supply public needs, there has been little or no support for projects such as have been inspired and urged from Essex County.

Mr. Kelsey was quoted in the Times and Herald Tribune reports of the Albany ski conference, in the sports sections, on December 6, as saying that there should be a court test of Section 7, to determine how far the Conservation Department may go in developing winter sports facilities in the forest preserve. Now, Many conservationists believe that the Conservation Department has made amply adequate developments for winter sport in the preserve, by moderately liberal interpretation of Section 7 by the Attorney General, to which no material objection has been made by conservation groups. Mr. W. G. Howard, Director of Lands and Forests, Conservation Department, in his talk at the Albany meeting, did not urge any modification of Section 7, but stressed the possibilities of winter sport development on the tracts recently acquired in the central and western parts of the state, under the so-called Hewitt Plan, which tracts are not subject to the prohibitions of Section 7. And the only way in which such a test as Mr. Kelsey proposes could legally be made would be for some one to introduce a bill in the Legislature, authorizing the Conservation Commissioner to construct some sort of new winter sport facility, I the forest preserve, which would meet their ideas. If such a bill became law, any citizen or group of citizens could go into court, and sue to restrain such construction on the ground that it would be contrary to Section 7. But this would involve heavy costs for lawyers, trial expenses, printing briefs, etc., no less than $3,000 to $5,000, and would require concerted efforts to raise the money. Some conservationists have been trying, since Mr. Kelsey made his statement, to find out what it is that he and Hicks and those who think with them, want to have built in the forest preserve, and to learn if they are preparing a bill for introduction at Albany this winter, but so far Mr. Kelsey has not indicated his intentions. Meanwhile he and some other officers and directors of the Adirondack Mountain club are using it in support of their position, although many of its members disagree with them, and criticize their use of the club for their purposes. This will probably be hotly debated at the annual meeting of the club in New York City in January.

I thought that the above might be of interest to you, because of the wide scope of your articles on winter sports, for treatment from time to time. If I can supply any further information I will be glad to do so. In writing as I do here, I am writing simply as a charter member of the Adirondack mountain club, since it was formed in 1932[22?], who feels, with others, that the present President is not carrying out the conservation principles on which the club was originally founded, in seeking to weaken Section 7.

Sincerely yours, Raymond H. Torrey.”