A range of mountains in northeastern New York, containing Mt. Marcy (5,344 ft; 1,644 m), the state's highest point. Bounded by the Mohawk Valley on the south, the St. Lawrence Valley on the northeast, and by the Hudson River and Lake Champlain on the east, the Adirondack Mountains form the core of Adirondack Park. This park is one of the earliest and most comprehensive examples of regional planning in the United States. The regional plan attempts to balance conflicting interests of many users at the same time as it controls environmentally destructive development. Although the plan remains controversial, it has succeeded in largely preserving one of the last and greatest wilderness areas in the East.
The Adirondacks serve a number of important purposes for surrounding populations. Vacationers, hikers, canoeists, and anglers use the area's 2,300 wilderness lakes and extensive river systems. The state's greatest remaining forests stand in the Adirondacks, providing animal habitat and serving recreational visitors. Timber and mining companies, employing much of the area's resident population, also rely on the forests, some of which contain the East's most ancient old-growth groves. Containing the headwaters of numerous rivers, including the Hudson, Adirondack Park is an essential source of clean water for farms and cities at lower elevations.
Adirondack Park was established by the New York State Constitution of 1892, which mandates that the region shall remain "forever wild." Encompassing six million acres (2.4 million ha), this park is the largest wilderness area in the eastern United States—nearly three times the size of Yellowstone National Park . Only a third of the land within park boundaries, however, is owned by the state of New York. Private mining and timber concerns, public agencies, several towns, thousands of private cabins, and 107 units of local government occupy the remaining property.
Because the development interests of various user groups and visitors conflict with the state constitution, a comprehensive regional land use plan was developed in 1972–1973. The novelty of the plan lay in the large area it covered and in its jurisdiction over land uses on private land as well as public land . According to the regional plan, all major development within park boundaries must meet an extensive set of environmental safeguards drawn up by the state's Adirondack Park Agency. Stringent rules and extensive regulation frustrate local residents and commercial interests, who complain about the plan's complexity and resent "outsiders" ruling on what Adirondackers are allowed to do. Nevertheless, this plan has been a milestone for other regions trying to balance the interests of multiple users. By controlling extensive development, the park agency has preserved a wilderness resource that has become extremely rare in the eastern United States. The survival of this century-old park, surrounded by extensive development, demonstrates the value of preserving wilderness in spite of ongoing controversy.
In recent years forestry and recreation interests in the Adirondacks have encountered a new environmental problem in acid precipitation. Evidence of deleterious effects of acid rain and snow on aquatic and terrestrial vegetation began to accumulate in the early 1970s. Studies revealed that about half of the Adirondack lakes situated above 3,300 ft (1,000 m) have pH levels so low that all fish have disappeared. Prevailing winds put these mountains directly downstream of urban and industrial regions of western New York and southern Ontario. Because they form an elevated obstacle to weather patterns, these mountains capture a great deal of precipitation carrying acidic sulfur and nitrogen oxides from upwind industrial cities.
[Mary Ann Cunningham ]
Ciroff, R. A., and G. Davis. Protecting Open Space: Land Use Control in the Adirondack Park. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1981.
Davis, G., and T. Duffus. Developing a Land Conservation Strategy. Elizabethtown, NY: Adirondack Land Trust, 1987.
Graham, F. J. The Adirondack Park: A Political History. New York: Knopf, 1978.
Popper, F. J. The Politics of Land Use Reform. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981.