A Vital Experiment

Life depends on natural systems.

Around the world those systems are threatened. They are at risk because people have not yet found a way to support thriving human economies and natural systems at the same time. The result is great current and projected human costs.

The Adirondacks, covering more than 20 percent of New York, are bigger than the American state of Massachusetts, and are half the size of Costa Rica, with 800,000 more protected acres. They are a place where actions by people have demonstrably helped nature stage a remarkable comeback over the last 120 years. It is this recovery over such a broad scale that causes many in the scientific community to call the Adirondacks the most enduring experiment where we could create a credible example for people and nature thriving in the same space.

Tom Friedman, in his book “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” describes key elements that he says are needed so the planet’s natural places will continue to function. The elements include a viable local economic base that provides meaningful work without threatening biodiversity, permanent legal protections for some lands, an educational effort so residents and non-residents, especially future generations, can personally appreciate the value of the natural world, and ongoing scientific research to advance understanding of local natural systems. All of those conditions are already being addressed across all six million acres in the Adirondacks. They can be addressed better, and promoted, and that is the present opportunity.

The once over-harvested Adirondack region is blanketed in wild forests that surround more than 100 towns and villages. Moose bugle here in sight of businesses, and it's possible that mountain lions have, or could return. A 10,000-square-mile island in the densely populated northeastern United States, the Adirondacks exist today because scientists, citizens, and conservationists convinced their fellow voters to amend the state constitution to protect the Adirondacks. That groundbreaking stand in 1894 gives us an opportunity to leverage the six million acres of the Adirondacks to save lives around the world by consciously creating an internationally recognized example that will brighten the future of the Adirondacks and ignite similar successes here in the United States and around the globe.

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Example for The World

The Adirondacks are rare. They are arguably the only place on Earth where nature has recovered over such a large area over such a long time. They are also a place where people live.

Some will argue that the Adirondacks are imperfect - that people and nature have not found an ideal way to coexist here. The Wild Center believes that key pieces of the puzzle are in place in the Adirondacks, and that there is a special opportunity here to invent how people and nature can thrive together.

With soaring world population, rapidly increasing resource consumption, degrading ecosystems that we depend on for life, and tensions between nations as competition for resources intensifies, finding that way to thrive is important to people all over the world.

The Wild Center is committed to making the Adirondacks work for people and nature, in particular in addressing these needs:

  • We need better education about the natural world so we can make intelligent choices
  • We need to know more about the current condition of the natural world to measure our success
  • We need economic opportunity in natural places that doesn't conflict with biodiversity
  • The future of life on Earth requires that we find a way for people and the rest of the natural world to thrive in proximity. The Adirondacks offer a rare platform in the wealthiest and most inventive nation on Earth to become an example for the world.

It is the human activities, in harmony with nature, that have made the Adirondacks perhaps the best example on the planet of how the future can work.

— The Wall Street Journal

An Adirondack History

The unusual geology under the Adirondacks made the modern history of this land equally unusual. Imagine the crust of the Earth beneath your feet rising up like a massive rock dome. Most mountain ranges in North America run as north to south ridges that often served as paths of migration. The Adirondack dome was more like a blockade than a path. As the dome cracked and eroded over millions of years, it formed an irregular jumble of mountains, lakes and rivers.

The dome, still visible from space, was difficult to traverse and it was cold. American Indians skirted around its perimeter. They traveled up and down Lake Champlain and the Mohawk and St. Lawrence Rivers, but left the higher ground unsettled.

For more than 10,000 years after the last Ice Age, while other parts of America were populated by thriving communities of American Indians, the Adirondacks were largely untouched by man.

To the European settlers spreading across America the Adirondack dome was equally forbidding. It was an obstacle to people on foot and wagon, and its high elevations and northern latitude meant deep snow and cold. Like the American Indians before them, the Europeans tended to skirt the region, farming around its gentler edges. The interior of the dome remained a wild place long after most of the lands from Boston to the Mississippi were settled and industrialized.

Today the 10,000 square miles of the Adirondacks are wilder in many ways than they were 100 years ago. There may be nowhere else on earth where the same claim can be made for a space of this great scale. The Adirondacks, now a park larger than many nations, is again blanketed in wild forests. Moose bugle here; beavers smack their tails and it's possible that mountain lions growl.

Clarence Petty's Adirondack Childhood

Wilderness guide, pilot, and conservationist Clarence Petty talks about what it was like growing up a little wild in the Adirondacks a century ago. 

The Adirondack story is one of mankind discovering better ways to coexist with nature: it is a badly needed model for the whole world.

— Dr. Peter Raven, President, Missouri Botanical Gardens

Why the Adirondacks Matter Now

President Emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden, author, Time Magazine Hero of the Planet and world-renowned plant taxonomist Peter Raven talks about why the Adirondacks is one of the most important places on the planet. 

The story of the Adirondacks is the most interesting natural history story in the world. It has been shown here that natural systems can restore themselves and recover in remarkable ways in coexistence with man.

— Bill McKibben