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Searching for the Heart of the Adirondacks

The center of the Adirondack Park. Map by Craig Cheeseman

Where is the center of the Adirondack Park?

Adirondack Life put that question to Craig Cheeseman, GIS manager for the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Using the park’s Blue Line boundary, Craig calculated a point just south of Route 28N, between Newcomb and Long Lake. (See map, left.)

The center point is on private property, a tract of commercial timberland owned since 2009 by Danish pension fund ATP, which purchased it from the Nature Conservancy. The long-term owner had been Finch, Pruyn & Co. (now Finch Paper), a Glens Falls company that has been making paper for more than a century. There is no public access to this tract, so please respect private property and do not trespass.

It looks like a nondescript place anyway, just typical mixed hardwood forest, judging by the land cover visible on Google Earth. Maybe the innermost Adirondacks is just a patch of moss, or a fern, or a lonely rock next to a red maple. It probably looks like much of the woods covering the six-million-acre park.

The landlocked locus is far from what the Adirondack Park’s first surveyor described: “The geographical center of the wilderness may be readily and easily reached in the light canoe-like boats of the guides, by lakes and rivers, which form a labyrinth of passages for boats,” Verplanck Colvin wrote, vaguely.

On an island in Long Lake there is a geological survey marker that identifies a one-time center of the Adirondack Park, accessible only by boat. Then again, as the owner of the property pointed out, guideboat was really the only way to access any place in the Adirondacks in Colvin’s day. The pin was installed circa 1916, according to the owning family’s records, and it is stamped BBAS.* (The owner requested that the island not be named and that readers kindly not trespass in search of the marker.)

Since the Adirondack Park was established in 1892, the center shifted several times as the boundary expanded, most recently in 1972 (see map, right). A 1990 proposal to extend the Blue Line further was met with so much resistance from the towns to be annexed that it seems unlikely the park will grow again.

Frankly, I never thought about where the heart of the Adirondacks lay until a friend from Long Lake emailed, wondering where it moved after leaving Long Lake. When Craig plotted the current point, I called Long Lake town archivist Abbie Verner to relay that it had migrated out of Hamilton County, into a westward-reaching fragment of the Essex County town of Minerva.

Essex and Hamilton are the only counties contained entirely inside the Blue Line. But Essex? Really? It forms much of the park’s eastern boundary. It borders Vermont. A lot of it even looks like Vermont. Hamilton is surrounded only by more Adirondacks. It is a place of superlatives, not just by park standards but for all of the Eastern United States: fewest stoplights (zero), fewest people (three per square mile), most government-owned land (70 percent). You feel deep in the woods there.

I still consider Hamilton County the center of the park, I told Verner.

“So do we all,” she replied. “The center of the Universe.”

Maybe the heart of the Adirondacks is more idea than GPS point. As Herman Melville wrote in Moby Dick, “It is not down on any map; true places never are.”

* If anyone knows the significance of BBAS please contact me via Twitter or my website.

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