3. 1895 to 1970: The Conservation Era
Showdown At Moose River
By the time Marshall died, a militant group of wilderness defenders was watching out for the Adirondacks. Many leaders of the wilderness lobby lived in Schenectady. The most respected member was John Apperson, a General Electric engineer and lifelong bachelor who once said, "Lake George is my wife and its islands are my children." In 1932, these forces defeated a proposal that would have allowed highways and state-owned lodges to be built in the Preserve. In 1939, the ADKs Conservation Committee stated positions on 152 bills before the state legislature. In 1950, the lobby fought off a proposal to allow salvage logging in the Preserve after a major storm leveled thousands of acres.
The wilderness lobbys greatest victory was also the first example of a now-familiar story. In the eleventh hour, environmental advocates learned of a damaging proposal and fought a public relations crusade to stop it. The story began in 1919, when the Black River Regulating District was formed to build hydroelectric power for the industrial development of Watertown. Dams along the Black, Moose, and Beaver Rivers were planned, including two that would flood large areas of the Forest Preserve at Panther Mountain and Higley Mountain. After decades on the drawing board, the State Conservation Department approved the Higley dam in 1945. The Panther dam was next in line.
Paul Schaefer and Edmund Richard, two proteges of Appersons, began organizing opposition to the dams in October 1945. Many conservation leaders initially refused to help them, believing that it was a lost cause. But Schaefer wrote eloquently about the lands that would be destroyed by the dam, attended meetings all over the state, and built the opposition steadily. In March 1947, Governor Dewey put the dams on hold and directed a state agency to study the problem. Several months later, the Governor arranged to kill the Higley proposal, but announced his support for the much larger reservoir at Panther Mountain with Richards support. Schaefer fought to bring Richard back into the anti-dam fold, and persuaded him to become President of the Adirondack Moose River Committee. Eventually the Committee persuaded nearly 1,000 clubs and organizations to oppose the Panther dam, along with most of the Easts major newspapers. When the state Supreme Court rejected their case against Panther, Schaefer persuaded legislators to hold public hearings around the state and packed the hearings with anti-dam forces.
In 1950, Governor Dewey bowed to intense public pressure and signed a law that prohibited Panther Dam. The Black River District fought the law to the US Supreme Court, where it finally lost. In 1953, an amendment was added to the state constitution prohibiting future dams in the Forest Preserve, and was ratified by voters with a 59 percent majority. In 1955, a constitutional amendment proposed by the Black River District that would have specifically allowed the dam was defeated by a margin of 72 percent, and the issue was settled. In 1945, there were plans for 38 reservoirs in the Adirondacks. In 1955, thanks to an extraordinary mobilization of citizen opposition, all the plans were scrapped, and none had been built.