Mapping the Adirondacks’ Past, Present and Future

From October 1918 Motordom magazine, map of roads proposed to connect Old Forge to the inner and northern Adirondacks. The amendment passed.

Ninety-five years ago, New York State voters approved a referendum on a constitutional amendment to allow construction of roads connecting Saranac Lake to Old Forge. The Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks did not contest building state highways through Forest Preserve, even though the sections of Routes 3, 30 and 28 eliminated the possibility of a large wilderness in the center of the Adirondack Park, charting its destiny arguably more than any amendment passed since.

Today the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks is defunct, but its offspring, Adirondack Wild and Protect the Adirondacks!, this year campaigned against a constitutional amendment to trade 200 Essex County acres for mining, which on face value has only a limited local impact. The map at left (click for a larger view), from a 1918 issue of Motordom, shows the parkwide scale of the road amendment. It makes me wonder: Why do people here still debate the repercussions of the Northway (I-87) a half century since its inception but take for granted the presence of state routes through the heart of the Adirondacks?

Environmental groups fought the Northway amendment in 1959 as well as a 1927 amendment that allowed construction of a road up Whiteface Mountain. Maybe their predecessors were as annoyed as anyone at having to drive out of the park and back into it to get from Lake Placid to Old Forge. Or, in 1918 perhaps no one could yet conceive how highways would determine how logs get out and tourists get in, or how car culture would open the woods to new plants and animals, and erect barriers to some already here.

Words rarely pack information (or raise questions) as succinctly as a map. Last week’s post about locating the geographic center of the Adirondack Park set me to staring at more maps that call into question what the Adirondacks will look like a century from now. Some links are embedded below.

What’s not in the Adirondacks (yet): Verizon 4G LTE coverage, hemlock wooly adelgid, or many McDonalds.

Land cover

From the rocket scientists at NASA: the Adirondacks has more trees than most of the U.S.

Want a closer look? More-detailed land-cover imagery from the Adirondack Park Agency.

Or to zoom out, NASA offers a global view.

Data visualization

Steve Signell’s company, Frontier Spatial, of Schenectady and Long Lake, presents data in map form. For example, he mapped Adirondack communities by the amount of Forest Preserve within a ten-mile radius. The result is some simple myth-busting: proximity to Forest Preserve does not appear to hamper the relative prosperity of Adirondack economies, and the sub-classification of Wild Forest does not appear to be more economically stimulating than Wilderness. As state officials decide how to classify several new tracts of Forest Preserve, there will undoubtedly be more discussion about what these maps tell us.

Signell is a contributor to Adirondack Almanack, where he wrote an essay on the progress of Adirondack mapping, Parts But Little Known.

APA Map Room

If you haven’t visited the Adirondack Park Agency’s map page lately, here are some quick links to current offerings:

Bird’s-eye illustrated 1880s maps created by L.R. Burleigh, of Troy, for Warrensburgh, Keeseville, Port Henry, Ticonderoga, Luzerne and Hadley, Corinth. This is a downloadable file to view in Google Earth over current imagery.

Adirondack Park broadband wireless availability (showing mobile wireless).

Population within a day’s drive of the Adirondack Park? 84 million.

Adirondack lands under conservation easement.

Air National Guard Adirondack military training routes.

Lakes and ponds surrounded entirely by Forest Preserve


Finally, in anticipation of the first big snow of the season, NOAA’s snow depth map, and Saranac Lake area ski trails (circa 1937, when people skied up as well as down).

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