America's First Wilderness: New York State's Forest Preserves - Purple Mountain Press

New York State's Forest Preserves

by Norman J. Van Valkenburgh

From the beginning of the new book:

Today's New Yorkers may not realize the debt they owe to a few men of vision of an earlier time. Without their efforts water taps might run dry; the mountains of the Adirondacks and the Catskills might not be covered with forests; the woods and fields of the hillsides might be empty of wildlife and woodland plants and flowers. Who were these men and why did they speak out?

In July of 1776, Britain's thirteen North American colonies declared their independence. The State of New York then became the owner of seven-million acres of lands and waters extending from the Canadian border on the north to the Mohawk River on the south and from Lake Ontario on the west to Lake Champlain and Vermont on the east and including all of the Adirondack Mountains. The law that made it official said these lands "for ever after shall be vested in the people of this State. . . ." But "for ever" didn't last long.

In the years that followed, New York State enacted a series of laws to dispose of what were called "waste" lands. By 1820, nearly all of the Adirondack lands had been sold to private owners.

The new owners of the former public lands were not interested in the future. They wanted the quick profit they could make from the natural resources on those lands. Loggers stripped away the trees and left behind eroded hillsides and muddy streams. Timber thieves cut the forests on what state land was left. Forest fires followed and destroyed the remaining natural cover. Settlements and farms further cleared the land. In the Catskills, tanners cut the hemlocks taking only the bark and leaving behind the skeletons of these once-majestic trees.

In spite of all this, deer and other animals roamed the mountains. Fish swam the streams, lakes, and ponds. The so-called "sportsmen" of the day soon arrived. Stories of catching 120 pounds of trout in two hours, of shooting five deer in a month, of catching a nineteen-pound trout came to be told. The stories were true. Like the forests, the numbers of animals and fish declined. Some, like the lynx, the wolf, and the panther disappeared, never to return. By 1850, the vast wilderness was nearly gone. People of vision were needed and their voices began to be heard.

What is the New York State Forest Preserve?
What is the Adirondack Park?
What is the Catskill Park?
What does "Forever Wild Mean?" mean
What does "Constitutionally Protected" mean?

The author provides answers to these while tracing the history of the preserves to the present day. Though designed for fourth and fifth graders, this booklet is a good primer for anyone wishing to know about the largest protected area east of the Mississippi.

Norm Van Valkenburgh, a licensed surveyor, is a 32-year veteran of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and has written ten books, including four mysteries and one for children about the fire tower on Hunter Mountain in the Catskills.

44 pages, full color, 5.5 x 8.5, booklet, 6.50
A Purple Mountain Press original

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