Related: Adirondack Chronicles

Adirondack Chronicles, Part IV


Forever Wild. That’s the shorthand phrase for the century-old public policy in New York that safeguards the remarkable Adirondack wilderness. In 1894, at the apex of the first stage of the Industrial Revolution, conservationists expressed increasingly strong concerns about the chronic clear-cutting of the great northern forests by logging, mining and other commercial interests (and summit-stripping forest fires caused in part by sparks from trains making inroads into the wilderness). Inspired at least partially by fear for the contamination and deterioration of the water supply for New York City (the mighty Hudson River watershed arises high in the Adirondacks on Mt. Marcy), the New York State Legislature amended the state constitution to add Section XIV that states, “The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired,constituting 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.”

The “Forever Wild” law remains as one of the boldest, most far-reaching environmental conservation measures in the nation. Today, nearly half of the Adirondacks’ six million acres are in the Forest Preserve, a wilderness where there are no roads, no vehicles, no development of any sort. Humans can go deep into this forest in much the same way as other wildlife: on foot or on water. While the other half of the Adirondack Park does include private property and commercial businesses, all are tightly regulated and every so often the state and a private landowner are able to conclude a deal to add thousands of acres to the Forest Preserve.

I have had a first-hand opportunity to observe what “forever wild” means in terms of the regeneration of the forest. In 1995, I was there when a derecho, a violent windstorm, blew through at 5 am one hot July morning. The destruction of the forest was breathtaking. Hundreds of thousands of acres lost millions and millions of trees. On a stretch of Rte. 30 near Long Lake, where the great Whitney landholdings stretch for miles on either side of the road, the trees were down, bent over entirely to the ground, as if crushed under a giant steamroller. There was talk at that time of waiving the “forever wild” clause so that logging companies could go into the forest to salvage the downed trees. But “forever wild” means just that, and the trees remained down where the wind pushed them over. This year, driving past the Whitney tract, I marveled at the new forest that is clearly rising above the rubble, the seeds of these new trees sown from the acorns and pinecones of the downed giants. A visitor not knowing of the derecho a decade ago would have little idea that this new young forest was just recently a scene of devastation.

Witnessing the forest regenerate itself is a marvelous lesson in the importance of good environmental stewardhip — and, as well, respect for the timetable of nature which is significantly longer than the human attention span. Destroying a forest takes minutes; regeneration takes generations.

I’m back at the office now, two weeks of blissful communing with nature gone in a blink. But I always bring a bit of the “Forever Wild” spirit with me to go through the year. At times when the press of appointments and meetings and phone calls and emails seems too much, I think of that wonderful new forest growing patiently, giving shelter and food to the wildlife on the ground and high perches with long views to the lakes for the hawks and osprey and eagles. I imagine the place where I go in my kayak called Big Brook, a stream that feeds the Raquette River at Long Lake, where I can sit for hours among the reeds just watching the loons and heron and occasional deer feeding along the banks of the lake.

“Forever Wild” is not just for the wilderness creatures — preservation of the trees and green canopy contributes the most basic ingredients of human life: clean air, fresh water, sustaining ecosystems of animals and plants. Concern for environmental stewardship is not a political issue, but a moral imperative. In fact, Catholic Social Justice Teachings include care for the environment because it is God’s Creation. “Forever Wild” ensures the health and vitality of human civilization even as it preserves the wilderness.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: