Through the efforts of a statewide grassroots committee, public and private colleges and universities throughout upstate New York have been spending this fall commemorating the Empire State’s role in inspiring federal wilderness preservation.
These activities are occurring in celebration of the anniversary of the signing by President Lyndon Johnson of the National Wilderness Preservation System Act of 1964, legislation that created the legal definition of “wilderness” in the United States and now makes provisions for wilderness management on more than 109 million acres of federal land.
Unique to New York State, the NYS Wilderness 50th Anniversary Steering Committee is helping participating colleges to commemorate the fact that the Wilderness Act’s author and chief lobbyist, Howard Zahniser, received his inspiration for drafting the federal statute directly from Article XIV, Section 1 of the NYS Constitution, the “Forever Wild” clause.
Zahniser, who took frequent vacations in the Adirondacks, was heavily influenced by Adirondack wilderness advocate and coalition leader Paul Schaefer, and by the legacy of Bob Marshall, whose father, Louis Marshall, helped defend the “Forever Wild” provision in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bob Marshall went on to climb the Adirondack High Peaks, and created The Wilderness Society in 1935.
The NYS Steering Committee consists of representatives of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, a wild lands advocacy and educational not for profit; the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, SUNY’s public policy research organization; the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. This coalition reached out to higher educational institutions located in and around New York’s major forest areas. It was the stated belief of the committee that the anniversary, to be successful, must engage the hearts and minds of New York’s youth, as well as appealing to those of all ages already devoted to the protection of the state’s wilderness.
Through the committee’s efforts, classroom-based activities, outdoor recreational programs, a series of public lectures and cultural activities have been developed and hosted by the following institutions: SUNY New Paltz, Union College, Paul Smith’s College, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Clinton Community College, SUNY Plattsburgh, SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Canton, St. Lawrence University, and Clarkson University. Through the efforts of these institutions, it is expected that New York will be a leading force in the national celebration.
According to organizers, the plans developed by individual campuses and the state committee that have and will occur throughout New York will have a transformative effect that will last long after the end of the “official commemoration.”
“Our focus on developing wilderness stewardship and leadership in the youth of New York State is unique, and promises the enjoyment of wild places for future generations,” says steering committee member Chad P. Dawson, professor emeritus at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
David Gibson of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve noted that “New Yorkers properly feel pride on this anniversary because we had a profound influence on Howard Zahniser and enacting Wilderness by law across the nation. It was especially fitting to gather with the Zahniser family at their Adirondack cabin earlier this month to recognize that location, and to talk about the shared legacy, values and challenges presented by wilderness preservation and stewardship in our time.”
“Watching the state’s young people embrace this commemoration in the forests, on the lakes, in the classrooms, and at public events has been the source of great pride for those of us on the state committee. We feel confident that the lessons learned this year will foster a sense of stewardship of the environment within them that will serve them all their days,” stated Robert E. Bullock, deputy director for operations for the Rockefeller Institute.
More information can be found online. , see www.adirondackwild.org/wilderness50/index.html.