WILTON — Larry Gordon, Saratoga County's planner for three decades and the driving force behind the development of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve, passed away Tuesday at age 82, according to friends and community leaders.
A lifetime resident of Wilton, Gordon went from a dedicated Boy Scout to what Saratoga County leaders described as one of the most consequential figures for the development of Saratoga County, after he graduated from Syracuse University's forestry program and served in the Army.
“There’s just nothing he didn’t get involved in, and everything he did get involved in, he did it significantly," Wilton Town Supervisor Art Johnson said. "He’s going to be a significant loss to the community."
Former New York State Sen. Roy McDonald described Gordon as "the unofficial godfather of Wilton," known for his environmental work, but often unsung for his efforts to help those with developmental disabilities.
"He was more than just somebody who liked the park," McDonald said. "He loved the environment. He loved the county, and he loved history. Saratoga County has become a significant county across the state, and they’re leading in so many areas, and he was a big part of that.”
McDonald, who also served as Wilton Town Supervisor for 23 years, became close friends with Gordon through his work on the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and because Gordon was the Saratoga County planner during McDonald's term as Chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors.
Gordon lived right next to the preserve, which he transformed into one of the premier outdoor destinations upstate, starting with his time as a Boy Scout.
“When he was a young man ... the Wilton Wildlife Preserve was basically a Boy Scout park, and there was no Northway back then, so lots of Boy Scout troops used it a lot,” McDonald said.
“His heart and soul is in the Wilton Wildlife Preserve," Johnson said. “He single-handedly built trail systems using volunteers."
Margo Olson, executive director of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve, described Gordon as a pioneer in environmentalism, especially in an era before the movement gained greater traction in the region.
“He was instrumental even before the thought of Karner (blue) butterflies (became popular); he was already doing that with the boy scouts," Olson said. She recently presented Gordon with an award for his work, both within the preserve and throughout the county.
"Gordon significantly influenced the stewardship of our ecological treasures throughout the county," the commemoration states. "As a Boy Scout Council officer for several decades, he is largely responsible for the early identification and habitat support that enabled the Karner blue butterfly to thrive at the scout camp in Wilton, long before Camp Saratoga became the nucleus of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park."
Pending an announcement of memorial services by family, Olson said the preserve will move forward with ways to honor its longtime steward.
Those who knew Gordon all said they will miss the impact he had on the community, but also his gregarious presence.
McDonald laughed when recalling Gordon's typical entrance.
“He would show up in his woodsman’s outfit,” McDonald said, almost no matter the occasion.
Over at Wilton Town Hall, Johnson fondly remembered the reactions of staffers to Gordon's frequent visits to the office.
"He would visit town hall all the time, and people would be like, Oh Christ, here comes Larry, because he would take at least an hour of your time," Johnson said. "But they loved him."
Even in his older years, Gordon kept making an impact on both an institutional and personal level, McDonald said. He recalled Gordon showing his grandchildren the park, and making time in his continuously busy schedule to have lunch with the former senator.
More than anything, McDonald said, he will remember Gordon for his ethos of service and selflessness.
“He was a good man, and he was part of Saratoga County’s history," McDonald said. "There are a lot of people who go through life caring about nothing but themselves, and Larry wasn’t one them.”