3. 1895 to 1970: The Conservation Era
The Wilderness Lobby
Like Theodore Roosevelt, Bob Marshall was raised in a wealthy New York City family that spent its summers in the Adirondacks. He also shared Roosevelts manic quest for physical activity, and his flair for dramatic language. Bob Marshall chose a path Roosevelt might have chosen, had he been born in 1900. His impact might have rivaled Roosevelts if he had reached the age of 40.
Between 1916 and 1925, Bob and his brother George (guided by Herbert Clark) climbed all 46 Adirondack peaks above 4,000 feet. This feat made them heroes in the emerging culture of recreational hikers who lived to tramp through the wild. State officials made the first steps to accommodate hikers in 1917, when the first trailheads were identified and trails marked to fire towers on summits. Tellingly, the trails extended to roadside parking lots. Locals may not have welcomed the automobile traffic, but they needed it: the logging industry on private land in the Adirondacks collapsed in the years just before World War I, and tourism provided much-needed cash in struggling northern towns.
In 1919, the state agency responsible for the Adirondacks reported that tourism promotion would become a major new emphasis of its work. Instead of huge tracts of unused lumber, the state now recognized its forests as "the most important public vacation grounds in the United States." The agency began marking trails and building campsites in the Preserve to match its new role.
New York wilderness enthusiasts soon got organized. Bob Marshall was one of their leaders. Another was Meade Dobson, a real estate developer who was also secretary of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, which built and maintained the New York section of the Appalachian Trail in the 1920s. Another was George Pratt, a former Standard Oil executive who was on New Yorks Conservation Commission. In December 1921, Meade presided at the first meeting of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), held at the Abercrombie & Fitch sporting goods store in New York City. Gifford Pinchot, Louis and Bob Marshall, and Franklin D. Roosevelt were early club members, along with many prominent lumber executives. The club was closely allied with other sporting organizations that had emerged around the state, including the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Camp Fire Club, and the Utica Tramp & Trail Club.
In 1928, the ADK announced that it was opposed to cutting timber on the Forest Preserve, and many members that favored timbering resigned. After that, the ADK evolved along the same lines as the Sierra Club. It became an effective watchdog for the Forest Preserve, opposing legislation that would weaken the Forever Wild clause. It was a recreation group that organized hikes and trips across the state. And it emphasized education, beginning with a "school of the woods" in the 1930s at its Johns Brook Lodge. The school was lead by Dr. Orra Phelps, who directed the Clubs educational efforts for many years.
Bob Marshall went on to earn a Ph.D in plant physiology and a career in the US Forest Service. In 1930, in an article called "The Problem of the Wilderness," he re-stated the pro-wilderness argument in the voice of his generation: "There is just one hope of repulsing the tyrannical ambition of civilization to conquer every niche on the whole earth. That hope is the organization of spirited people who will fight for the freedom of the wilderness."
In 1934, Bob Marshall suggested that the Secretary of the Interior name a "Wilderness Planning Board" to choose areas that ought to be set aside by Congress. In 1935, he organized The Wilderness Society to lobby for the idea. In 1939, he died of a heart attack. Twenty-five years later, Congress passed the Wilderness Act and accepted many of the recommendations Marshall had made in the 1930s. In 2000, the Wilderness Society had 200,000 members and was active around the world.