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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Clarence Petty dies at 104

I awoke this morning to learn some sad news: Clarence Petty died yesterday at his son’s home in Canton. He was 104.

Readers of the Explorer got to know Clarence well through the magazine’s “Questions for Clarence” column. He was a passionate advocate of protecting the Adirondack Park’s natural resources.

Clarence Petty was a voice for the wilderness.

Clarence Petty was a voice for the wilderness. Photo courtesy of the Wild Center.

For the first few years of his childhood, Clarence lived in a cabin on Forest Preserve land on Upper Saranac Lake. His family later moved into a house in Coreys, a tiny settlement on Stony Creek Ponds. As a boy, he hunted and trapped in the neighboring woods.

Clarence graduated from Saranac Lake High School and the state College of Forestry (now the College of Environmental Science and Forestry) in Syracuse. During the Depression, he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Later, he went to work for the state Conservation Department and the Adirondack Park Agency.

The APA relied on Clarence’s field work to decide which tracts in the Park should be classified as Wilderness, where motorized use is banned. Clarence also helped conduct the studies that led to the classification of rivers in the Park as Wild, Scenic, or Recreational.

In environmental circles, Clarence was a hero for his defense of wilderness–a philosophy that often put him at odds with other Adirondackers.

Clarence also was a pilot. During World War II, he flew transport missions. Later, he served as the state pilot for  Governor Averell Harriman. He gave flying lessons in Canton until he was 94.

You can read about Clarence’s fascinating and productive life in The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty, a biography written by Christopher Angus and published by Syracuse University Press.

Clarence never lost his sense of humor. When he turned 104, I asked him if he celebrated. “Sure, I went to sleep,” he replied. “There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep.”

Sleep well, Clarence.

Phil Brown

Contributor Phil Brown was editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important.

6 Responses

  1. Ned says:

    Hey Phil, Nice post about Clarence. Amazing to think that he was, what, just 13 years younger than the Adirondack Park? Think you guys will compile your “Questions for Clarence” columns, or make a Best Of…? I’d love to read them again (and I don’t have my complete stack of Explorers handy). Hope you’re well, Ned.

  2. Phil says:

    Thanks, Ned. We will be running a selection of Questions for Clarence in our next issue, along with a story about him. I hope music and work are going well in NYC.

  3. Bob Meyer says:

    Along with meeting Noah John Rondeau, when i was a kid in the 1950s, meeting Clarence Petty was one of the most memorable human to human moments in my long Adirondack experience. He was a truly great man whose imprint on the Park will live on for many generations. His memory is a blessing.

  4. ADK Today Dec 2nd « Adirondack Mountain Club says:

    […] Clarence Petty dies at 104 […]

  5. Peter W says:

    What a life.

    Especially like the concluding quote in the Times obit:

    “If things go bad and everything seems to go wrong, the best place to go is right into the remote wilderness, and everything’s in balance there.”

    And nice to see you, Phil B, quoted in that obit!

  6. More on Clarence Petty @ says:

    […] next issue of the Adirondack Explorer will feature a tribute to Clarence Petty, who died last week at 104. Dick Beamish, the Explorer founder, wrote a long article summarizing […]

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