I saw my first eagle of this Adirondack season yesterday — but, no, not at some remote, romantic backcountry lake. She was circling looking for a parking place near the Price Chopper in busy Lake Placid (the Adirondacks’ answer to Georgetown), finally settling onto the top of a tall birch tree skeleton. She was gone before my camera could focus, heading west to see if traffic was any better in Saranac Lake (marginally).
The eagle at the Price Chopper is a good symbol of the many contradictions in the Adirondacks today. Conservation and development co-exist uneasily, each needing the other, but destesting that need. More than 100 years have passed since New York State declared the forest preserve “forever wild,” and that law and philosophy, ardently maintained and hotly debated at times, made it possible for eagles to reappear not only here but in other places that have attended to endangered species with care and the leverage of law.
But the eagles and herons and loons have had to learn to live with the Price Choppers and tree choppers and other signs of human development, however limited. The very limitations on development that ensure only relatively small patches of civilization on the edges of the deep wilderness also create hardship for the humans who are the year-round residents, the stewards of the North Country who are increasingly worried about the state of the economy up here. Too many storefronts are closed in Tupper Lake, once a bustling commercial center. Too many young people leave upstate New York never to return. The Price Chopper is the only fully-stocked supermarket for many miles. Those of us who come here for a few weeks in the summer delight in the faux-rustic sensibilities and comfy waterfront cottages. The year-round residents live more modestly back from the lakes through the long winters and cold springs.
“Forever wild” is essential for the health of not only this region but the planet as well. But economic development is also necessary to support human advancement. Finding the balance all over the globe is one of the great environmental, scientific and moral challenges of this era in civilization. The eagle at the Price Chopper should be a rare curiosity for both.