Good News for My First Environmental Love

In the midst of grim financial news and bitter energy battles, I found a brilliant ray of hope. The Nature Conservancy announced it is securing 14,600 acres of prized Adirondack forests and wetlands that will be added to the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Yes, even in this season of turmoil, people are safeguarding the enduring values of wilderness, beauty, and refuge.

My First Love

The Adirondacks were my first environmental love--that special kind of love that ties you to a place and transforms you from a casual visitor into a lifelong champion.

It began when I was in college and still uncertain what I wanted to do. My family bought a home in the Adirondacks, and after I graduated, I became immersed in a battle to protect the forest from overdevelopment. As my commitment to the place deepened, I realized that conservation called to me far more than anything I had experienced.

Almost four decades later, the Adirondacks and the values they taught me remain constants in my life.

The place has a quiet beauty that I find deeply serene. Of course I love the drama of America's Western landscapes--the towering peaks and redrock canyons. But I feel most at home in the Adirondacks' maple and birch forests, the moss covered brooks, the grassy glades, the chain of clear, still lakes.

My daughters grew up swimming in those lakes, and now the woods around them are burnished with memories and family traditions. This, I have come to realize, is what it means to be rooted in a place.

The Inspiration for that Beautiful Phrase "Forever Wild"

Those roots inspire me. The Adirondacks was the first great wilderness to be preserved by law. In 1885, the New York State Legislature declared that "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."

Nine years later, New Yorkers voted to include that phrase-what was known as the "forever wild" clause"-in the state constitution.

Today, the park covers 6 million acres. It is larger than Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite combined. It is roughly the same size as the state of Vermont.

Balancing Wilderness and Development for 100 Years

But what makes it even more remarkable is that within the preserve are islands of private and developed land. Back when my family bought our place in the region, people were beginning to hash out a land use plan that would preserve the wild character of the park, while also allowing for reasonable development on privately held land.

The fact that for generations, New Yorkers have been achieving that tricky balance between preservation and growth is heartening.

Cause for Hope

Wallace Stegner wrote that you do not have to travel to a wilderness area to understand that it is worth saving. Simply knowing such a wild sanctuary exists is enough to create what he called "a geography of hope."

You may never go to the Adirondacks. But now you know that even in the middle of the credit crisis, the energy crisis, and the national security crisis, fellow American gathered together to protect a piece of our wilderness heritage.

Surely that is cause for hope.