December – 1936 Proposal of the Wilderness Society


  • December – 1936 – Proposal of the Wilderness Society –

Proposed Ski Trails in the Adirondack Park, by James A. Foote

            This hearing today is of vital significance not only to the people of the State of New York but also to thousands of “out-of-doors loving public throughout the entire Nation. To the Adirondack Park each summer come citizens from every corner of America to climb its mountains and to camp beside its lakes and streams. These people come to see and enjoy. When they leave they carry with them the feeling that, for a time at least, they were a part of the living wilderness.

            As the representative of the Wilderness Society, my job here today is not to condemn, nor is it to criticize. Rather, in fact, do I bring the hope of this national organization that a spirit of friendly cooperation and mutual understanding will be born among those primarily interested in the recreational development of the Adirondack Park for the benefit and use of the skier. But, I do point out to you at this time that the attitude of the Wilderness Society requires that any such development be carried out only where it may prove consistent with requirements defined in Article VII, Section 7 of the State constitution.

            We do not object to the Van Hoevenburg trail being made reasonably safe for skiers to enjoy in ascending and descending Mt. Marcy, but we do object to the cutting that would be necessary to make this trail suitable for competitive skiing such as downhill racing which would also inevitably result in the establishment of first aid stations and the opening up of a road into the base of a mountain. Ur feeling about this particular trail applies to all similar mountains in the high peak region of the state, and we strongly recommend that any policy of ski trail construction take into account these important factors.

            The question then as the Wilderness Society sees it, is to develop a plan or requirement that will prove a happy medium between the needs of the winter skier and the demands of the summer hiker. I fail to see why such a plan as this cannot be worked out and developed within the restrictions of the state constitution. Less than 8% of the land in our state is protected by Article VII, Section 7, and more than half of the land in the Adirondack Park proper is not affected by these constitutional restrictions. Therefore, these lands which are not state owned, which are scattered throughout the Adirondacks, are available for all kinds of recreation and commercial use. They are ample for the developments which may necessitate material cutting of trees without encroaching on the state lands. We have examples of this procedure in the successful ski trails of North Creek, Lake Placid, and many other similar places throughout the Adirondacks. The Society also points to the pleasure in the high peak sectors, utilizing the present foot trails. While such skiing is more exacting that that conducted along wide, open trails, the very character of the wilderness itself adds to the enjoyment and the appreciation of the sport. The skiing public will be quick to appreciate this and the novice will strive to attain the necessary ability to tackle the steep and narrow trails around Marcy and Colden. Yet there will be no defacement of the area such as would being sorrow to the summer hiker and wrath to the breast of the wilderness lover.

            There has been set forth as an argument for the erection and maintenance of closed lodges equipped with dog teams and other accessories, the ever-present danger of accidents while skiing on the present foot-trails. We admit the truth of this argument is such trails are to be used for competitive skiing. And if they are used for competitive skiing, the results of such a program will find the skier soon deserting the area made safe by such developments for the thrills and danger of the more remote and inaccessible. Such over-development will soon defeat its own end. Any program that admits of huts, lodges, dog-teams and what not will cost the Adirondacks that great appeal which they presently hold for the summer and winter sportsman. But let us not forsake for the moment the thought of personal conveniences or inconveniences to consider the Adirondacks themselves.

            What gives the Adirondacks their great charm and tremendous appeal? The answer is apparent – their wilderness character. And what is wilderness? The Society defines it as “the environment of solitude,” and our platform classifies it as “a natural mental resource having the same basic relation to man’s ultimate thought and culture as coal, timber, and other physical resources have to his material needs.” The widening of present trails and the construction of new trails sufficiently wide to permit competitive skiing will, in itself, destroy the balance of moisture, encourage erosion, increase the hazard of fire, and completely forestall primeval succession. And once its continuity is severed, primeval succession can never return. Because it knows these facts to be true and because it has seen the pitiful results of over-development in other regions, the Wilderness Society sincerely believes “that outing areas in which people may enjoy the non-primitive forest are highly desirable for many pent-up city people who have no desire for solitude, but that such areas should not be confused in mental conception or administration with those reserved for the wilderness.

            Is it really selfish to seek to preserve wilderness conditions in an area less than 8% of the whole state? Do we not owe this much to future generations? Indeed, this seems more than reasonable.

            Before I leave may I say again that the spirit of my message is based on the fond hope for friendly cooperation and mutual understanding among sportsman, hiker, and skier alike, to the end that those who follow us may be able to see and enjoy the primeval beauty and majesty of Adirondack’s living wilderness.

The above address was delivered at a conference on skiing held in Albany December 5. Mr. Foote presented the same statement to the New York Trails Conference, Inc., on December 6.

Article VII, Section 7, of the New York State Constitution:

“The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constitution 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.”