January 29, 1961 – Albany Times Union, article by Barney Fowler

January 29, 1961 – Albany Times Union – article by Barney Fowler –

He Set the Stage for Better Conservation

These words headlined an article by Barnett Fowler which appeared in the Albany Times Union for Jan. 29, 1961. The article described the unusual work of Mr. John S. Apperson, a charter member of the Adirondack Mountain Club, and a founder and president of the Forest Preserve Association of New York State. Mr. Fowler, city editor of the Times Union, is well known in the Capitol District and in the state as a writer and newspaper man. With his kind permission and that of the Times Union, we have reprint extracts from his article.

Years ago, while swimming in a small, sand-bottomed cove in Northwest Harbor on Lake George, we were hailed by a gentleman who, we soon saw, was trying his best to prevent a conked-out inboard from drifting against the nearby shore.

It was a simple matter to swim out and guide the craft into the cove and once done it was a delightful session we had with the owner and pilot, John S. Apperson, a man who at that time was literally one of the most sought-after individuals in outdoor circles.

That simple little scene and the background to it, set against the backdrop of the massive 75 million dollar program now embarked upon by the state in recreation, points to a contrast of past and present that is almost unbelievable. Yet there is a connection, albeit a subtle one.

For Apperson, a modest man, whose life has been spent in a ferocious quest for the public good, is one of those men who represents the hard core of battlers who for years fought to acquaint not only the public with the benefits of the outdoors, but legislature and legislators as well.

Tongue Mountain, at Lake George, once privately owned, is state property today, due to the efforts of Apperson and those with whom he worked.

French Point, once owned by the GE Company, is state land today. Apperson at one time started a subscription campaign to purchase the land from GE as a memorial to George Foster Peabody, a one-time large property owner in the lake area. GE, we understand, sold the land at more than a reasonable cost as part of its public service.

It wasn’t that the state was entirely unwilling. It was just that every time it turned its collective head, there was “Appy” with a thousand suggestions.

He is a giant in his field today, as much as he was in those days.

The day we met him so very unexpectedly, he was moving one jump ahead of a state legislative committee, which had summoned him to appear before it in Albany, along with all of his records on the water level regulation question, a case which involved a mill and a dam at the lake’s outlet. This legal document, Apperson told us with a chuckle, was imposing, fine and proper in all respects save one. It had not date.

“Then you actually don’t know when to appear,” we said.

“That, my friend, is 100 percent correct,” he answered.

Actually, Apperson was taking no chance; with a non-dated document in his pocket, he was “cruising” the lake, spending days and nights on it and at friends’ camps, one jump ahead of servers armed with a corrected [summons ?] to Albany. His home in Schenectady was staked out and searchers were moving over the lake in such numbers that Apperson didn’t dare show up at his own camp on the west side.

“I do not intend,” he declared, “to disclose all my arguments in this question in Albany before I have a chance to show them in court.”

The legislative committee never did catch up with Apperson and he used his records to good effect. Today an eagle eye is kept on the lake’s level and much of this is due to this man and the band of stalwarts he rallied to his cause. While some could say they did not approve entirely of his directness, no one could ever doubt his sincerity of purpose.

We said he is an unusual man. We say this to illustrate the fact that years ago when conservation was not the widely understood issue it is today, such men were needed and needed desperately to fight the battles of the Forest Preserve and wilderness areas, battles which an uneducated public (in this respect at least) did not wholly understand. Not that there was total indifference on the part of the state. There wasn’t; the state had surmounted the onslaught of private interests, of reckless lumbering, of land grabbing and encroachments as early as Jan. 1, 1895, when Art. 7, Section 7, the so-called “forever wild” clause went into effect.

But there didn’t seem to be the sharp public perception in the earlier days that exists today. As a far more recent example one can take the highly controversial Panther Mountain dam on the Moose River – a dam and reservoir voted down in no uncertain terms after a blood and thunder campaign by organized and unorganized groups.

Today a legislator would think twice and explore all possibilities before introducing a bill which would lead to the inundation of even a few thousand of the millions of acres of state-owned lands.

Land acquisition in the earlier days was often a slow and painful thing; when several miles of shoreline on Lake George’s east side were added to state property it was a major news event. And behind that acquisition there were many men like Apperson boring in to such an extent that he received the “thorn” title. Today there is an awareness of the absolute need for more land, for better recreational facilities, and the state now moves as a leader. Which is as it should be.

One of the most striking examples of Apperson’s devotion to the public welfare was his outright gift of Dome Island in Lake George, a fourteen-acre island of striking formation just south of the Narrows. This island was given to the Nature Conservancy of Washington, D.C., the Eastern New York State Chapter of which is headed by Dr. Fraser P. Price of Rosendale Road, Niskayuna. The gift received a considerable mention in a Reader’s Digest article in January, 1960, in which Apperson was mentioned as a “devoted conservationist,” but was not identified by name. Dome Island is not open to camping or to picnicking with fires.

Apperson, however, even today represents the symbol of the dedicated conservationist. Islands, many of them, today are a tribute to his astonishing freedom with guests of years ago. In winter he would lead work parties, who would load sleds with rocks and skid them across the lake to various islands where the heavy stones would be used to rib and buttress the shorelines against erosion. Today this type of island saving is an accepted thing.

Apperson did not work alone. The late Dr. Irving Langmuir, GE’s Nobel Prize winner, was a close friend. The late Assembly Speaker Oswald D. Heck of Niskayuna, an enlightened legislator, whose interest in Lake George was doubly profound because of his summer residence there, gave invaluable assistance in the area’s development, even though he once told this writer somewhat wistfully that he wished some of the conservationists would be less aggressive in their approach.

These were the days of many years ago. The story of Apperson, of Dr. Langmuir, of Philip W. Ham of Schenectady, of the late Harry Summerhayes, of Paul Schaefer of Niskayuna, of Dr. Vincent J. Schaefer of Rotterdam, and other hardy and forceful outdoorsmen, many of them active and watchful today, remains to be told in more detail. One of these days it will be.