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Adirondack Explorer

January, 2009

America’s First Wilderness
Author: Norman J. Van Valkenburgh

Review by: NICHOLAS MANN

Purple Mountain Press, 2008 Softcover, 44 pages, $6.50

Purple Mountain Press,
2008
Softcover, 44 pages,
$6.50

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the Adirondack Park? Have you ever found yourself guessing at the difference between the Park and the Forest Preserve?

Well, your guessing is at an end, because America’s First Wilderness by Norman Van Valkenburgh answers all those questions and more about the origins, history and development of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.

This book, written for young readers, will fill you in on the forefathers of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, such as George Perkins Marsh and Verplanck Colvin.

Colvin was a student of law in his father’s office in Albany, but while working with deeds, he became interested in surveying, boundaries and parcels of land. He was curious about the large grants of land in the Adirondacks, and in 1865, he went to the mountains to survey the terrain firsthand, creating the first dependable maps of the region.

Men like Colvin guided the creation of what would become a 6 million-acre park in the Adirondacks and the 700,000- acre park in the Catskills. Such a monumental achievement as this did not happen without struggle. There were scandals and troubles from the start.

This book will clear up the old-fashioned writing used in the laws that created the parks and will make understandable their transition from merely protecting the Hudson headwaters and the state’s canals to protecting the Forest Preserve we have today for the sake of people, plants and animals.

Nicholas Mann

Nicholas Mann

And what does “Forest Preserve” even mean? The Adirondack Forest Preserve is the state-owned land that has to remain “forever kept as wild,” according to Article 14 of the state constitution. All of us who live inside the “Blue Line” live inside the Adirondack Park, which includes private land too. In 1924, the “sign board” law was passed, preventing roadside signs from spoiling the Adirondacks’ beauty. That was the first of many rules affecting private land. The Adirondack Park Agency wasn’t created until the 1970s.

This book made all of the complicated history very enjoyable, interlaced with great maps and cool pictures dating all the way back to the late 1800s. This book is definitely a musthave for anyone interested in the politics or the natural world of the Adirondacks. It tells the story of how the Park came to be and what might have been different if the brave men who spoke out and explored the wonders of the Adirondacks hadn’t succeeded.

The book will probably be best enjoyed by children (it’s only 44 pages), but grown-ups will find it interesting, too. If you read this book thoroughly, you will never have to be caught wrong with an answer.

Mr.Van Valkenburgh has written 10 other books, is a licensed surveyor and worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as head of lands and forests, which makes this book all the more reliable.

NICHOLAS MANN is a seventh-grader at Saranac Lake Middle School.