- Historic Sites
August 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 5
The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.
The “forever wild” amendment brought to an abrupt halt most of the forces that had been working to destroy the Adirondack wilderness; and since its passage—by purchase of more land, planting of millions of trees, stocking lakes and streams with millions of fish, and so on—the state has indeed recaptured for the region some of the primitive attractions that had been partly lost. Yet the policy of “forever wild” has not been without outspoken opponents, including many who unquestionably are devoted conservationists. It is argued, for example, that a forest area that must be left alone is bound to deteriorate through disease, liability to forest fires, or the proliferation of undesirable growth. And, the argument continues, is it truly in the public interest to preserve the inviolability of beautiful natural areas to the point where they can be enjoyed only by hardy hikers and climbers, rather than by the multitudes in their automobiles? Clearly, more state-operated campsites are needed for the thousands of campers who invade the Adirondacks every summer.
Those on the other side of the argument make one central point which they consider overwhelming: once the genuine wilderness—such of it as is left—is tampered with, there will be no end to depredations, and the primitive glory of the Adirondacks will be gone forever.
These and other relevant questions came up for contentious consideration at the 1967 State Constitutional Convention, when a highly publicized proposal for an Adirondack Mountains national park broke upon the scene. There was much vociferous opposition, yet some on both sides of the “forever wild” controversy could see tendencies in such a proposal that seemed to support their respective views of the matter. On one hand it resurrected hopes, possibly impracticable, of reconstituting in some measure the integral wilderness that antedated Murray and Colvin—by stemming, for instance, the current process of minutely subdividing long-wild private lands for private “vacation home” construction. On the other hand those who favor utility, developed recreation, and “managed” forest preserves know that federal operation would certainly mean extensive moves along those lines.
It may well be that in the end Americans will have to settle for what has been called “a woodsy middle landscape,” or “forever somewhat wild”—at least in the Adirondacks, which are under more intense population pressure than any other wilderness area with the possible exception of some in California. What is certain, on this hundredth anniversary of Murray’s Adventures in the Wilderness , is that the ultimate fate of such areas cannot be left to chance or laissez faire . Otherwise there will be nothing remotely resembling wilderness for people to have adventures in.