Origins of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve
The first official action taken by New York State was the establishment of the Forest Preserve through statute in 1885. Previously the state had been disposing of its Adirondack lands at tax auctions. It was not unusual for cut-and-run logging companies to buy land cheaply, log what they could, and then default on the property taxes. Ownership would then revert back to the state, and the cycle would begin anew. This law declared state-owned lands within the Adirondack counties—most of it acquired for non-payment of taxes—to be “forever wild” and withdrew them from the possibility of being logged or resold, making them instead public parklands.
The second state action was the establishment of the Adirondack Park in 1892. The original boundaries enclosed a much smaller area than they do today, “only” 2.8 million acres, with a noticeable shift southwest of the modern park's center—excluding the more developed eastern and northern regions. This map with its blue boundary line (a blue line is still the traditional representation of the park's boundary) provided the state with a focus on where to acquire lands for the Forest Preserve. The founders may have envisioned a park in complete public ownership, like the fledgling Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, but ironically the establishment of the Adirondack Park and the Forest Preserve sparked a buying spree among large lumber companies and wealthy clubs, which established their own empires and preserves within the blue line. Property values have always been so high, and the Adirondack region so vast, that from the very beginning the Adirondack Park was destined to be a checkerboard mix of public and private land.
The Adirondack Forest Preserve therefore enjoys a higher level of legal protection than either the national parks or the National Wilderness Preservation System. However, the forever wild clause did not address the issues that arose in the twentieth century, nor did it provide any protection against unchecked development of the park's private lands. Everyone agreed that the intent of the clause was to maintain the Forest Preserve in a wild state, but the phrase “forever kept as wild forest lands” offered little guidance about the appropriateness—and the legality—of fire roads, public motor vehicle access, campground development, and snowmobile use, among other things.
Thus the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve have survived into the twenty-first century as a wild refuge where people live, work, vacation, and seek refuge from day-to-day travails.