Surveyor, Explorer, Early EnvironmentalistVerplanck Colvin (1847-1920) is a rather overlooked character in American history. His work surveying New York State’s Adirondack Mountains led to the establishment of the Adirondack Park in 1892. The Adirondack Park is 6 million acres of forests, streams, lakes and rivers, the largest park in the United States.
Colvin was born in Albany, NY in the 1840’s. He became a real-estate lawyer which introduced him to surveying. He began spending time in the Adirondack Mountains during the late 1860’s, climbing Mt. Marcy in 1869, and recording the first ascent of Seward Mtn in 1870. He conceived of the idea of surveying the area during this time. He applied to the New York Legislature and became Superintendent of the Adirondack Survey in 1872.His surveys over the next 28 years involved adventurous explorations in remote areas of the Adirondacks. Through many physical and financial hardships Colvin and his survey teams persevered. His survey reports and views on deforestation and it’s impacts eventually helped lead to the founding of the New York State Forest Preserve in 1885.
Remnants of Colvins’ Survey’s still remain on mountaintops in the Adirondacks in the form of survey markers and summit clearings. Colvin was responsible for naming many features, one of the Adirondack High Peaks even bears his name Mt. Colvin. His writings and reports are full of adventure and vivid descriptions of the natural environment. Some compilations and biographical works have also been published.
The Adirondack wilderness in Colvin's own words:
"Few fully understand what the Adirondack wilderness really is. It is a mystery even to those who have crossed and recrossed it by boats along its avenues, the lakes; and on foot through its vast and silent recesses, by following the long ghastly lines of blazed or axe-marked trees, which the daring searcher for the fur of the sable or the mink, has chopped in order that he may find his way again in that deep and often desolate forest. In this remote section, filled with the most rugged mountains, where unnamed waterfalls pour in snowy tresses from the dark overhanging cliffs, the horse can find no footing; and the adventurous trapper or explorer must carry upon his back his blankets and heavy stock of food. His rifle, which affords protection against wild beasts, at times replenishes his well-husbanded provisions, and his axe aids him in constructing from bark or bough some temporary shelter from the storm, or hews into logs the huge trees which form the fierce, roaring, comfortable fire of the camp. Yet, though the woodsman may pass his lifetime in some section of the wilderness it is still a mystery to him. Following the line of the axe-marks upon the trees; venturing along the cliff walls the streams which rush leap on leap downward to form haughty rivers; climbing on the steep wooded slopes of lakes which never knew form or name on maps, he clings to the trapping line, and shrouded and shut in by the deep, wonderful forest, emerges at length from its darkness to the daylight of the clearings, like a man who has passed under a great river or arm of the sea through a tunnel, knowing little of the wonders that had surrounded him.
"It is a peculiar region; for though the geographical center of the wilderness may be readily and easily reached in the light canoe-like boats of the guides, by lakes and rivers, which form a labyrinth of passages for boats; the core, or rather cores, of this wilderness extend on either hand from these broad avenues of water, and in their interior remain today spots as untrodden by man, and as unknown and wild, as when the Indian alone paddled his birchen boat upon those streams and lakes. Amid these mountain solitudes are places at this moment where, in all probability, the foot of man never trod; and here the panther has his den among the rocks, and rears his savage kittens undisturbed save by the growl of bear or screech of lynx, or the hoarse croak of raven taking its share of the carcass of slain deer."
External LinksVerplanck Colvin - Wikipeida
The Colvin Crew
Verplanck Colvin - Article
Verplanck Colvin-Amazon Books
Verplanck Colvin-Mountain Visions Blog