Excerpt from William Almon Wheeler - Political Star of the North Country by Herbert C. Hallas
The year was 1873 ...
In July, the Adirondack Park study commission issued its report. For more than a year, the commission had examined and analyzed environmental and economic information about the Adirondacks. Each of the body’s seven members brought their own frame of reference to the discussion about what the commission's report should say but in the end, it primarily reflected the viewpoints of Verplanck Colvin, Franklin B. Hough and Wheeler.
Colvin, a twenty-five-year-old lawyer from Albany who was now serving as the superintendent of the State topographical survey of the Adirondacks, had been calling for the creation of an Adirondack Park since 1868. Colvin’s primary concern was watershed protection. St. Lawrence County's Franklin B. Hough was a country doctor and a historian as well as one of the nation's first native-born scientific foresters. Hough was primarily concerned with timber preservation. Wheeler loved the wild beauty of the Adirondacks and respected the concerns for protecting the watershed and preserving timber but his primary interest was economic. As a conservative businessman, Bill wanted to protect jobs and industry located in the Adirondacks.
The findings contained in the Adirondack Park study commission's report were highly significant. The report served as the first official government building block on which subsequent calls for the creation of a state Adirondack Park would rest. For the first time in New York State history, a commission created by the State legislature endorsed the absolute and immediate need for state government protection of the Adirondack forests from “wanton destruction.”
Colvin’s influence in the report was reflected in its emphasis on the importance of the watershed for both the Erie Canal and the state's mills and factories. In addition, the report highlighted the importance of the forests to hold back floodwaters of the Hudson and the Mohawk rivers from melting snow.
Hough’s influence was seen in the report’s recommendation that the Adirondack forests be managed by professional foresters as they were in Germany, France, England and Ireland with trees being cut only when they reached a certain age and the area replanted to provide a harvest for future generations.
Wheeler's influence could be found in the economic concerns expressed in the report. It refused to suggest modeling an Adirondack Park after Yellowstone Park, which the report said was created “simply in order to preserve it, as a pleasure ground for the people.” The report condemned the “creation of an expensive and exclusive park for mere purposes of recreation” and “utterly and entirely” repudiated the idea of “an unproductive and useless park.” The Adirondacks, according to the report, should be open to careful forestry and mining. The report added that the little settlements in the Adirondacks would be “indispensable” to the completeness of the park because they could provide for the needs of tourists and lumbermen. The local inhabitants could work as guides for tourists and hunters and “protect the game and timber from unlawful destruction.” The report warned that it would be “improper” to think of enclosing or fencing in the park because “it should be a common unto the people of the State.”
The tension between Colvin and Hough’s viewpoints, which emphasized the priority of preserving and protecting the forests of the Adirondacks from destructive forces, and Wheeler's viewpoint, which emphasized the priority of preserving and protecting private property rights and the economic benefits that flow from them, can be felt in the North Country to this day whenever issues concerning the Park arise.
Excerpt from William Almon Wheeler - Political Star of the North Country
(pages 130-132) by Herbert C. Hallas.
© 2013 State University of New York Press.