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Ten Events That Shaped the Adirondacks

The history of this region is as vast and bewildering as the landscape itself. So here’s a handy cheat sheet: my picks for the 10 most ground-shaking events around these parts. And since there isn’t anything about this place that isn’t worth a prolonged debate, feel free to take issue.

The Big Ice-Out  8,988 B.C.E, give or take a millennium or two

After a grinding on-again, off-again relationship, the last giant glacial sheet finally ran out on the region for good about 11,000 years ago, leaving more than 1.5 million years of memories, plus a breathtaking landscape of peaks, valleys and about 3,000 puddles.

Fools Rush In  1869

William H. H. Murray’s Adventures in the Wilderness hit the shelves and the railroad stations (Delaware & Hudson gave out free copies with a roundtrip ticket to the region) and a flood of “Murray’s Fools” cascaded into the woods, bringing both cash and conflict.

Making Tracks  1871

When the New York Times pointed to the Adirondacks as a potential Central Park for the World in 1864, railroad mogul Thomas C. Durant was already plotting the trail in, with a proposed track from Saratoga to Ogdensburg. Although the line never made it all the way, Durant’s train was the first to chug into the Adirondack backcountry, arriving in North Creek in 1871.

On the Map  1872

Verplanck Colvin, a self-taught surveyor, began his state-funded topographical survey of the Adirondack Mountains; he spent decades exploring, mapping and advocating for the land that would become the Adirondack Park.

Thin Blue Line  1892

The state legislature established the Adirondack Park, a 2,800,000-acre parcel set off by a blue line on maps. The boundary was expanded several times over the next century, topping out just shy of six million acres.

Wild at Heart  1895

“Forever Wild” was inked into the New York State constitution: “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.”

Burn Out  1908

Sparks from a passing train destroyed the town of Long Lake West, capping off months of devastating blazes that leveled 300,000 acres. Coupled with fires that burned more than 600,000 acres in 1903, this disastrous season brought new regulations for railroads and logging companies. In 1909 the first Adirondack fire tower went up on Mount Morris near Tupper Lake.

Long and Winding Road  1958

Construction began on the Adirondack Northway; the last stretch of this 200-mile mass-conveyance from Albany, through the eastern Adirondacks, to the Canadian border was completed a decade later. The faster, easier access fueled fears of unchecked development and, in 1968, Governor Rockefeller appointed a commission to consider the future of public and private lands within the park.

Control Group  1971

The state legislature created the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to classify and oversee public and private land inside the Blue Line. The organization quickly became a source of controversy, drawing protests, threats and even loads of manure from irate landowners.

Let’s Make a Mega-Deal  2007

After centuries of colossal Adirondack real-estate grabs, by 2007 only one huge privately owned timberland remained: 161,000 acres in the heart of the park owned by lumber giant Finch, Pruyn and Company. When it changed hands that year, the deal was pure Adirondack (read: convoluted). Of the original tract, the initial purchaser, the Nature Conservancy, still holds 65,000 acres in trust for New York State. A Danish pension fund owns another 92,000 acres, with a conservation easement, now held by the state, covering 89,000 of those acres.

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