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Wilderness Act Turns 45 - Movement Began in NY

September 4, 2009

Albany, NY - A wilderness movement that began in New York has led to a birthday celebrated nationwide this week. Forty-five years ago, President Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act. Since then, it's ensured that more than 109 million acres have stayed wild nationwide. New York's two largest wilderness areas, the Adirondacks and the Catskills, fall under state protection.

Paul Ertelt of the Adirondack Mountain Club, says it was a New Yorker who loved to hike and climb - Bob Marshall - who laid the groundwork for the federal law.

"Bob was one of the founders of the Wilderness Society and he became the nation's leading voice for wilderness protection. Although he died in 1939, the Wilderness Act really was his legacy."

Another New Yorker, David McClure, drafted what became known as the "forever wild" clause in the state's constitution that protected forest areas in the Adirondacks and Catskills, adds Etelt.

"That really was a forerunner, in many ways, to the Wilderness Act and the wilderness idea in law."

John Sheehan, of the Adirondack Council, says the Wilderness Act itself was written, for the most part, in New York by a Pennsylvanian, Howard Zahniser, who had bought a cabin in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

"The entire time he was writing the Wilderness Act, he was essentially sitting within view of Eleventh Mountain, up in Bakers Mills in Warren County, not too far from the backside of the Gore Mountain Ski Area."

So if you're heading for the hills this holiday weekend, camping or hiking in the New York state parks, sing a chorus of "Happy Birthday" to the Wilderness Act.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY