Abbie Verner’s head-on collision
This is the first in a nine-part series that tells the story of the at-times contentious campaign to create the Adirondack Park Agency, which marks its 50th anniversary in June. Adapted from the new book “A Wild Idea: How the Environmental Movement Tamed the Adirondacks,” the author interviewed more than 50 people who fought for and against the APA, some of whom have since died.
By Brad Edmondson
On June 5, 1971, two days before the New York State Assembly passed the Adirondack Park Agency Act, a group of environmental activists ran into a group of developers in a hall outside the Assembly chamber.
“We all came together in a head-on collision,” remembered Abbie Verner. “Everyone started bellowing, and at one point I almost hit Red Plumadore over the head with my purse.”
Abbie was with her husband, Bill Verner, an activist and museum curator. Bill worked for Harold Hochschild, the chairman of the commission that had recommended strict regulations limiting development inside the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park. Their posse included fellow activists Paul Schaefer, David Newhouse, and Almy Coggeshall, who had been working toward this goal for decades.
Abbie’s opponent, Hayward “Red” Plumadore, was focused on the 3.5 million acres inside the park that were privately owned. He was chair of the Franklin County Republican Party and a big landowner. He had sold 18,500 acres to developer Louis Paparazzo, who wanted to build a 4,000-lot subdivision on marshy land a few miles north of Tupper Lake. Plumadore and Paparazzo were accompanied by Assemblyman Glenn Harris and Essex County legislator James DeZalia, leaders of the opposition to the APA.
“I had taken a telephone poll in Long Lake the week before and had found quite a few people who were in favor of the Agency,” Abbie wrote. “I had typed it up, and Bill shoved it in the faces of Glenn Harris, Plumadore, and DeZalia. At that point DeZalia told me I was a liar, and Bill rushed around Glenn Harris (and believe me, you do have to go around Glenn as he is not a particularly small person) and I panicked, thinking Bill was going to punch DeZalia in the nose. He said, ‘you call my wife a liar, do you?’, and I wished that I could faint on command.
“But Plumadore relieved the whole situation for me by shouting, ‘you people (meaning Bill) have a vociferous, well-organized group that can make all these telephone calls.’ That remark amused me considerably, so I replied, ‘yes he does, and here I am.’ That was a highlight for me. I have always had a secret desire to be known for something, and I never suspected I would be called a ‘vociferous, well-organized group.’”
The environmentalists were on the verge of victory, and not in the mood to compromise with anyone who wanted to despoil 29 square miles of their beloved Adirondack Park. But the developers and pro-business politicians were just as worked up. They believed that private property is private, and that the Adirondacks didn’t need more wilderness. It needed jobs.
This wasn’t a new argument. In 1971, Clarence Petty had been listening to people go back and forth about it for 65 years.
Part 2: Clarence Petty’s big role in the postwar movement to “save” the Adirondacks.
About the author: Journalist Brad Edmondson, of Ithaca, is the author of several books, including “A Wild Idea: How the Environmental Movement Tamed the Adirondacks.”
louis curth says
Brad Edmondson’s story about the Adirondack Park Agency is off to a good start. Bill and Abbie Verner and the others mentioned in this installment are not just names to those of us so long of tooth that we lived through those turbulent times.
The Upper Hudson Environmental Action Committee (UHEAC) had already been formed in the North Creek area after celebrating our first Earth Day in 1970. As strident anti-APA fervor increased, our members became increasingly convinced that unregulated development would destroy the Adirondacks if left unchecked, therefore, our members chose to become became determined to defend and support the need for the APA.
As pro and con positions hardened, the anti-APA side tried to claim that support for the APA came from wealthy elites living outside the Adirondacks and not from Adirondackers. The presence of a bunch of local working stiffs like those of us in the UHEAC, along with guys like Clarence Petty, with his indisputable Adirondack credentials, made such accusations ring pretty hollow.
I thank the Adirondack Explorer for this series, and I look forward to reading future installments of a story lived in my case. It may also shed some light today’s APA and its value or lack thereof.
This looks great! Looking forward to more excerpts and I’ll try to pick the book up at some point 🙂
Brad Edmondson says
Thanks Louis. I’d love to hear more about the formation of the UHEAC. I have been in touch with Evelyn Greene and hope to see her this summer. Please sign up for news at my site, http://www.awildidea.com, so I can get your email.
louis curth says
Brad Edmondson – I’ll make a note of your site for future contact. Evelyn is a great friend and will be an excellent source for you. She and her late husband were longtime active members of UHEAC.
Barbara McMartin also alluded to UHEAC in some of her writings. For another source, if you are interested, I could send you some old editions of the original UHEAC mimeographed newsletter from the 1970s. It was titled “The Duff – News at the Grassroots Level” (our attempt at some humor back then). Many UHEAC activities are recorded in those.
In the meantime, look forward to reading more of your story. LC
Pablo Rodriguez says
Only 492 words. If the other 8 parts are as short it won’t take us long to read this. So this is not an in-depth look but a summary of what happened?
Brad Edmondson says
Correct. The book is 280-plus pages and will be released in a few weeks. You can get a 30% pre-order discount through my site, http://www.awildidea.com.
David Gibson says
Nice to see the photo of Bill and Abbie Verner together, with her on the phone. Classic. Thanks to their daughter for sharing that pic. Bill and Abbie have a special place in my heart; Bill for welcoming me and giving me a desk and phone as the new ED of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks (AfPA) in ’87. Abbie for making me feel welcome in Long Lake, for her sense of humor and her laughter, and for becoming the first female president of the board of the AfPA.
Norbert J ST Pierre says
The truth is that all these posts are from one side of the issue and is all about what the media would choose to post in support of the elite. Gary Randorf told lie after lie to cover his evil motive. His and the Cuomo’s regime cover-up of ” hypocrits Pond” is his real legacy. Of course, you won’t publish this!