In my work for the National Park Service I have seen the extrapolation of the Adirondacks’ Blue Line in California and in Great Britain. When the Adirondack Park was created, the State of New York simply drew a line â€” its color was blue on maps then â€” around the area of interest. The strategy would prove to be a boon in the 20th century in areas where it became far too expensive to acquire new parkland by outright purchase.
No matter that the Adirondack area contained as much or more private land than state-owned land in the 1870s. The State was routinely disposing of its lands to timber companies, but the lands kept coming back, after the timber companies denuded them and then quit paying taxes.
The salvation of the Adirondacks was that somebody got the notion to protect the region before railroads had penetrated the interior. Had the railroads gotten in, the timber companies would have been able to go after valuable logs that didn’t readily float. Try to picture logs floating, whooshing wholesale to market down Second Pond Brook in today’s Siamese Ponds Wilderness. Place names like “flow” and “flowed lands” mark where timber companies dammed streams to impound water to float logs to market on the spring freshets.
In 1870, New York State, long an exporter of wood fiber, rudely awakened as a net-importer of wood fiber. Whoa, time for self-examination! The move for an Adirondack park was launched.
In 1978 Congress created Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, in the National Park System, near Los Angeles, CA. To buy land from the likes of Bob Hope, Bob Dylan, etc. was out of the question. Instead, using an idea many members thought came from Europe, Congress drew a line-of-interestâ€”the national recreation area boundaryâ€”around a vast swath of Los Angeles County and some of Ventura County, from the Hollywood Freeway north to Mugu Lagoon.
Within that boundary are state, county, and local parks and beaches; cultural areas like the film industry’s Paramount Ranch; privately operated parklands and cultural areas; a Native American Indian cultural center, and very expensive privately owned real estate.
But the “idea from Europe” that Congress used was really the strategy that Great Britain took from the Adirondacksâ€”to designate “national parks” and other protected areas. Most parks, even national parks, in England, Scotland, and Wales involve little or no public ownership of land. Instead they use negotiated easements to provide public paths and trails across lands that remain privately owned.
If it was too late to use the “best idea America ever had”â€“national parks comprised of all public landâ€“ they could still use the Adirondack approach, a close second.
About the author. Ed Zahniser is a poet and career bureaucrat with the National Park Service Publications Group who has written excellent history and natural history descriptions of national parks for the public. He has vacationed and made a few extended stays in the Adirondacks since 1948. For two high school summers he worked construction for NY State conservationist Paul Schaefer, finally learning to barely cook eggs the way he liked them. On most weekends of one of those summers, Ed went with Schaefer to his “Beaver Hut” near Bakers Mills, meeting many local Adirondackers. Ed’s father, Howard Zahniser, spent ten years writing the federal Wilderness Bill and getting it passed in 1964.