On May 20, 1892, Gov. Roswell P. Flower signed the law that created the Adirondack Park, providing a measure of protection to 2.8 million acres of mountains, lakes and forest in Northern New York.
It might not have happened if not for the survey work and advocacy of Verplanck Colvin, who raised some of the earliest alarms about the human threats to the fragile wilderness while he and crews were conducting a years-long state forest survey in the Adirondacks.
The contributions of Colvin in particular are being marked in a new exhibit, “Birth of the Blue Line,” at the state Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters in Albany, celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Adirondack Park.
The exhibit includes replicas of historic maps, antique survey equipment, field notebooks and photographs from the original survey missions that led to the creation of the Adirondack and Catskill state parks.
“The Adirondacks were once threatened by excessive logging and deforestation,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “It took the dedicated efforts of conservationists, local residents, land managers and concerned New Yorkers to protect these vital lands and waters.”
Colvin, who grew up in Albany and began hiking and exploring as a teenager, was talking about the threats to the Adirondacks from clear-cutting logging as early as 1868. In 1884, a state forest commission created the first detailed map of remaining timber resources in Northern New York, and by 1891 a map was created that bore the border of a possible Adirondack park, outlined in blue ink — what would become known as the future park’s “Blue Line” border.
The exhibit includes reproductions of maps that were kept in state conservation department files for 130 years, now brittle but scanned and replicated by the New York State Museum.
The exhibit open to the public on the first floor of DEC’s headquarters at 625 Broadway includes three historic maps showing how the boundary of the Adirondack Park changed, as well as a 1911 map outlining the boundaries of the Catskill Park. Some of the old maps were discovered by Brad Dake, a Saratoga County resident during research in DEC’s files. Editor David Nelson of the department’s Conservationist magazine then pushed for their public display.
An exhibit case includes antique surveying equipment made by Gurley Equipment Co. of Troy, and photographs of Colvin and his survey crew. Some of Colvin’s field log books survive, as do hand-drawn maps and progress reports showing the triangulation methods used to calculate the locations of mountain peaks.
Today, DEC in partnership with the Adirondack Park Agency oversee state lands and land use decisions within the park, which contains a blend of public and private lands.
The 39th-highest peak in the Adirondacks, 4,080-foot Mount Colvin, is named for the surveyor. Flower, a Watertown native who was governor from 1892 to 1894, has also achieved a measure of immortality, with Lake Flower — a 300-acre lake facing the village of Saranac Lake — named in his honor.
The exhibit is open to the public during DEC’s business hours. The maps will be on permanent display, while the artifacts will be on display through the end of July.