A huge, lone pine, which has managed to maintain a presence atop a rocky outcrop, in the middle of Cranberry Lake, despite the rigors of waves, weather and winter, offers a suitable symbol of the hardiness and stubborn nature of Adirondackers.
From an historical prospective, the vast forested lands of the Adirondacks have been in conflict from before the time of recorded time.
The region has been involved in a perpetual mix of natural and political struggles. Minor earthquakes continue to rattle the region, as the earth’s crust rebounds from the weight of glaciers that retreated, thousands of years ago.
Similarly, there continues to be a great political weight placed upon a region, which was once considered a contested land among Native Peoples, with the Algonquin to the North, the Mohawk to the south and the Abanaki to the east.
The territory was once highly valued as a ‘great beaver hunting ground’, until the near depletion of the long toothed, flat tailed, natural resource for which it was named.
Beaver pelts were the original commodity of the New World, as Europeans explorers established trade with the Native People. However, as beaver were eventually trapped to near extinction, the value of the land returned to Couchsaraga, or the ‘dismal wilderness’ it once had been.
Accordingly, beaver were reintroduced into the Adirondacks in the early 1900’s, and in less than a quarter of a century; a trapping season was restored.
This natural rebounding process provides a most appropriate analogy to describe the land, and its inhabitants to this day. Life in these parts continues to mirror an unending cycle of natural rebounds, as civilized societies of man, and the uncivilized societies of nature continue to struggle through cycles of boom and bust.
The wild character of the land has been at the center of the struggle from the very beginning, and it remains so to this day.
Although much of the region was divided into land patents and grants following the various wars, the land remained sparsely settled as settlers largely bypassed it while traveling west on the Erie Canal.
Eventually, the region rebounded as vast stores of natural resources were discovered and lumber, iron ore and a host of other organic products were again exploited.
The quantities of “long horned, whitetail” Adirondack beef that were shipped to urban markets, is startling. By the mid-1800’s, there were tons of Lake Champlain sturgeon, salmon, trout and black bass, salted and barreled for transport to the south. Eventually, they found willing buyers at the Fulton Fish in New York City.
Over time, the ongoing exploitation of the land and its natural resources eventually gave way to such unique concepts as wilderness protection and preservation.
Initially, these efforts were focused on the protection of watersheds necessary to fuel commerce on New York’s growing canal system, which were vital to the state’s economy.
Later, the importance of preserving forested lands was recognized for protecting the fresh water reservoirs necessary for the state’s ever expanding, urban populations.
However, by the late 1880’s, a movement began to preserve wilderness simply for the sake of the land itself. Again, the Adirondacks were on the rebound.
The Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks was one of the original players on the field, but there were also a number of similar “protectionist” organizations established.
By the turn of the century, efforts were underway to protect and restock the depleted populations of moose, beaver, whitetail deer and black bear in the Adirondacks.
There was even ‘The Society to Protect Adirondack Spruce’, which was organized to prevent the over-harvesting of spruce which was used for camp ornamentation. In 1897, the Society’s brochure warned, “One can barely find a spruce tree along an Adirondack lake, larger in diameter than a man’s wrist!”
After enduring nearly centuries of cyclical exploration and cynical exploitation, there came a realization that the wild lands of the Adirondacks provided a unique benefit for human enhancement.
It was determined the forests, lakes and mountains, raging rivers and howling wildlife of the region were of greater human weight, if they remained intact in a natural state, rather than being packed out as industrial freight.
This concept is still easy to grasp, especially when it is considered from atop a mountaintop lookout, or while paddling upon a stillwater pond. However, the focus becomes increasingly fuzzy when there’s a family to feed, a house to heat or land taxes due.
The region’s most contentious challenge will continue to be the ongoing effort to balance a perpetual protection of natural resources, with the preservation of a unique breed of people. Optimistically, I believe we’ll rebound, like the earth’s crust below!
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org