February 23. 1961 – The New York Times – Forest Preserve in Danger

  • February 23, 1961 – The New York Times –

Forest Preserve In Danger

The New York Forest Preserve, covering some 2,400,000 acres in the Adirondacks and the Catskills, is without question one of the finest publicly owned scenic and recreational areas in the eastern part of the United States. It is still that way seventy-six years after its establishment by act of the Legislature because in 1896 the voters of this state wrote into the Constitution a provision that the lands of the Forest Preserve must be kept “forever wild,”

That is why in large parts of the Adirondacks and in smaller parts of the Catskills there still remain some of the most unspoiled, untouched natural beauty in the Northeast. It is why the Forest Preserve has in fact been preserved for the use and enjoyment of future generations. Will this generation be the one to throw away that heritage and invite into the Forest Preserve the commercial interests, the highway builders, the professional mass recreationists, the people who would make the publicly owned lands of the preserve indistinguishable from the privately owned properties with which it is surrounded and interspersed?

The answer must clearly be “no”; yet the growing frequency and intensity of attack on the Forest Preserve should alert the citizens of this state to the danger of their losing it in its present form. Two separate problems are involved. One is the pressure to open the preserve to commercial exploitation, especially lumbering. The other is the pressure to open the preserve to greater mass-recreational developments. This is the kind of invasion that Robert Moses, chairman of the State Council of Parks, would invite by the incredibly bad Forest Preserve amendment he is proposing.

Mr. Moses suggests, as one alternative, opening up the Forest Preserve to any highway construction approved by the Legislature, which is the same as signing a death warrant for the Preserve. In more moderate mood, he suggests mere `construction of “campsites and recreational facilities,” or “enclosed buildings” for recreational purposes as far as 1½ miles from existing highways. Such sweeping proposals could be as destructive as they are unnecessary. There are plenty of “enclosed buildings” within easy access of Forest Preserve lands; private and commercial properties are already scattered throughout the entire area.

We do not say that there must be no change in the Forest Preserve whatsoever. We do say that each road, each campsite, each ski development, each intrusion on natural beauty and tranquility must be carefully scrutinized at leisure and in detail before irrevocable decisions are made. We think construction of the Northway through the preserve was a mistake, but at least it was fully debated and the issues partially understood before it was voted. We think the proposed private ski development on Forest Preserve land at Hunter Mountain in the Catskills will be outrageous, and we hope it will be defeated.

But the essential thing, as former Conservation Commissioner Lithgow Osborne has pointed out, is to move with extreme caution – which is not the way in which the Moses amendments to the Constitution would move against the Forest Preserve.