On August 5, Brad gave an online presentation to the monthly book club of The Preservation League of New York State. His 30-minute slideshow based on the book begins at 3:50; a lively interview by Erin Tobin, PLNYS’s VP for Policy and Preservation and incoming executive director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage, begins at 43:25.
On July 17, Brad was interviewed by Pat Bradley, veteran correspondent for WAMC. The 15-minute interview covers the long process of gathering interviews for the book, reactions in the North Country, and Brad’s plans for Volume 2:
On July 8, Brad was interviewed online by Jim Hotaling, a planner who began his 30-year career at the Adirondack Park Agency in 1977. Hotaling’s job was persuading local officials to pass zoning plans that met APA standards, despite overwhelming opposition. He succeeded, slowly, by asking locals about their hopes and dreams. He said that for all of its conceptual brilliance, the original plan had a significant flaw because it was “all brains and no heart.”
Several APA alumni and scholars tuned in to the online session, producing an unusually in-depth session. Brad’s comments start at 4:00, and Hotaling’s questions are at 25:45.
“A Wild Idea is essential reading for anyone interested in how human beings can co-exist in reasonable harmony with our natural world.” From the print edition of Adirondack Explorer:
This week I started a nine-part series on the website of Adirondack Explorer magazine that tells the story in 3,000 words. It will run every other weekday until April 16. Here’s the lede from post #1:
On June 5, 1971, two days before the New York State Assembly passed the Adirondack Park Agency Act, a group of environmental activists ran into a group of developers in a hall outside the Assembly chamber.
“We all came together in a head-on collision,” remembered Abbie Verner. “Everyone started bellowing, and at one point I almost hit Red Plumadore over the head with my purse.” Keep reading.From Ch. 7 of A Wild Idea: How the Environmental Movement Tamed The Adirondacks (published May 2021)
The project is based on 50 oral history interviews I did over the last 18 years. The book is based on those interviews, and I will also release highlights from the audio and video as we prepare a one-hour PBS documentary for the fall. Here’s the first video clip:
Watch this space for news and notices about events we’re planning in 2021. You can also sign up here for automatic email notifications:
New York’s Adirondack Park is bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Great Smokies National Parks combined. It also might be the world’s best protected wilderness, even though 85 million people live within a day’s drive. How did that happen?
I wanted to know, so I spent years talking to the people who fought for and against the Park’s 50-year-old land-use plan. What they told me was so dramatic and surprising that I had to write A Wild Idea.
The book is an 18-year labor of love. I collected dozens of interviews and hundreds of photographs and documents. The material is so good that it was impossible to stop. When I finished the book, I had a lot of fascinating stuff left over, and that is the reason for this website. Share your email to get updates and find out about events that will commemorate the APA’s 50th anniversary.
I did not sleep well before the 2021 AIDS Ride, which happened on September 11, 2021. Self-doubt kept me awake, as it often does before a challenging journey. And the doubts often come back around mile 70, when my butt hurts and my legs are rubbery and I need to pedal uphill yet again. But every year I am grateful that I pushed through it and finished, for several reasons. Here are a few of them.
The volunteers. There are six food stops along the 100-mile route, and the brief interactions we have with the volunteers can be joyful. Dehydration is one reason, of course, but the feeling is also real: it’s great to receive comfort and praise from a random stranger who gets nothing from the exchange except your gratitude. My favorite part is the cheerleaders. People grin and say “whoo-hoo” at you as you ride past, and every so often there are children with pom-poms bouncing up and down. This year, the best moment came from two shy teenagers at the Union Springs stop.
The cause. The Southern Tier AIDS Program (STAP) raised $160,000 from the ride this year so far, with money still coming in (you can donate here). That is a decrease from the last ride in 2019, but it is also a victory because the ride didn’t happen at all in 2020, and we were worried that people wouldn’t come back. But 275 riders registered. Most of them signed up to do part of the 102-mile route: 14, 25, 42, or 90-mile routes are offered. Each rider raises a minimum of $300, which is surprisingly easy to do. At this writing, my team, the Cats of Short Street, has raised $2,788 from friends like you.
I think it’s easy to raise money for STAP because the need is acute and easy to understand. One of many awful things about the pandemic is how it has widened and deepened the gulf between the haves (you and I, relatively speaking) and the have-nots. In 2020, STAP coordinated care for 1,121 clients with AIDS and other chronic illnesses in the region centered around Binghamton and Ithaca, including 175 men and women returning after incarceration. Their food pantry served 1,592 people, their needle exchange program served 1,975, and their overdose medication saved 286 lives.
Those are just the numbers. STAP’s most important service may be the support and prevention it provides to young adults, especially LGBTQ teens who are often ostracized by family and friends. Supporting STAP is a nod to a wise teacher who said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)
The Route. When you’re going 60 miles an hour or faster on Routes 34B, 90, 31, and 89 in Tompkins, Cayuga and Seneca counties, it’s easy to forget how beautiful this place is. At 12 miles an hour, you notice. And the weather last Saturday was perfect. A light tailwind made the first half of the ride speed by, leaving plenty of time to look. The lake was bright blue, reflecting the sky. The fields were bright green, reflecting the recent rain that mercifully stayed away all day. For me, the best part of the route is the 17 miles you get to see only if you ride the full 102.
Tania elected to do only the second half of the loop this year — a bus took her 42 miles from Ithaca to Seneca Falls, and she rode back to Ithaca with us. But Hank and I had to see the county roads that wind through the vast marshes and muckland fields of Montezuma and Tyre. We puffed past a historical marker pointing out that the Cayuga Nation’s name for the Seneca River is “Squagonna,” which means Paradise of Mosquitoes. We climbed out of the swamp to tidy Mennonite homes with long strings of laundry drying in the breeze. Hank, an enthusiastic birder, kept a sharp eye out for the Roseate Spoonbill that had been recently spotted in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. We didn’t see her, but we did see lots of her friends.
The Training. Once you’re over the age of 60, it’s important to stick to your goals. The prospect of this ride remains daunting, even as it becomes familiar, because the last 30 miles are a challenge. Training is the way to make them easier, but for me it always comes down to mind over matter, plus about a gallon of fluid and 600 milligrams of ibuprofen every six hours. When it’s finally done, though, the shower feels amazing, dinner never tasted so good, and you sleep like a rock.
Thanks again, everybody. We’ll see you next year. And if you haven’t donated to the Cats yet, you want to join our team, or you’re inspired to give again, click here.
On Sunday, June 15, 2014, Tania and I got into a van with a driver and 10 other people and headed north from Flagstaff. We followed a five-ton truck that carried four others from our party, plus enough food and gear to sustain 16 people for 16 days. We were leaving behind grocery stores, air conditioning, e-mail, and cell phones. We were expecting rattlesnakes, scorpions, extreme heat, high cliffs, and world-famous rapids. But it would all be worth the trouble, because we were rowing the Grand Canyon.
I don’t want to over-sell this. We didn’t live on flour, coffee, bacon, and wild game, as John Wesley Powell’s party did when it went down the river in the summer of 1869. Unlike Powell, we carried generous amounts of beer and wine, a four-burner propane stove, and coolers that could keep fresh vegetables edible for two weeks. We had Dutch ovens for baking bread and cake, sleeping cots, camp chairs, and a
But still. Most of those 35,000 don’t go on the full 226-mile trip from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek, and most of the 226-milers rely on professional guides, paying upwards of $4,000 for a seat on a 30-foot motorized raft. Only about one-fifth of rafters go on “noncommercial” trips like ours, and we weren’t using motors, either. Our trip was cheaper but also harder because we did the work ourselves.
The trip leader, Pete Kirchner, won a permit in the National Park Service’s (NPS) annual weighted lottery in February, 2013. He and his wife, Christie Kroll, contracted with Professional River Outfitters (PRO) in Flagstaff to rent the rafts and equipment, buy and pack the food, and drive everything (and us) to and from the river. Pete and Christie recruited a great crew. And Pete also cloistered himself at home in the weeks leading up to the trip, forsaking outdoor exercise and washing his hands compulsively, because if he was injured or ill and unable to make it to Lee’s Ferry on June 16, the strict NPS rules would probably not allow the trip to happen. I think we all felt that getting to Lee’s Ferry was a milestone, but for Pete and Christie, it was an especially big one.
US Highway 89 north of Flagstaff cuts through an arid plain with mountains in the far distance, and after an hour of looking at that kind of scenery, my mind started to wander. I grew up in a small town in south Florida, which is as flat as Nebraska. There was not much for a kid to do in the summer, so I would check out huge stacks of books from the library to amuse myself. One day I brought home a book about geology, and I opened it to a color photograph of the Grand Canyon.
The book said that the river often flowed more than a mile below the rim. As an eight-year-old, a three-foot drainage ditch seemed deep to me. But a mile? How is this possible? I needed to see this place. And I did – I glimpsed the Canyon from the South Rim on a road trip at age 15. At 26, I hiked down from the South Rim and slept on the river. And over the next three decades, I spent a lot of days blissfully wandering around in desert canyons. Yet I had not done what that eight-year-old had dreamed of doing, until now.
I saw the Vermillion Cliffs when the van was about 25 miles away. Someone in the van said that they were on the far side of the river. They grew closer while I stared at them, their colors changing with the angle of the sun. Then we went around a bend and down an incline, and there was the river, a blue-green streak amid the reds and grays. The van broke into applause as we crossed the Navajo Bridge. A few miles later, we reached the boat ramp at Lee’s Ferry.
Navajo Bridge (Wikipedia)
Most summer visitors to Arizona’s low desert live inside an air-conditioned envelope. The daytime high temperature in the Canyon in June reliably exceeds 100 degrees, and the humidity is usually very low (around 10 percent) before the summer “monsoon season” starts. When we got out of the van around 3pm, it was cloudless with a steady hot wind. It was perfect weather for drying stuff — fruit, skin, eyeballs,what have you. And we had three hours to unload the truck, inflate the rafts, set up their internal frames, pack them with our gear, and launch. The work was so hot and the sun was so strong that long pants and sleeves, a hat, and sunglasses were safety equipment. Wearing artificial fibers instead of cotton was also important, because they made it easier to jump into the river to cool off. With nylon, your clothes would feel like they had been pulled fresh out of the dryer ten minutes after they were soaking wet.
(above) Tania and Christie inflating the rafts; (below) rigging at Lee’s Ferry boat ramp
We were rigging six neoprene rafts — five yellow 18-footers, and a blue one that measured 16 feet. Each raft weighed more than half a ton when it was loaded. The frames had compartments for the coolers and large steel boxes, plus straps for the rest of the stuff. Everything had to be secured, in case the rafts ever flipped (as one eventually did). Clothing, personal items, and other things that needed to be waterproof were loaded into rubbery dry bags or metal ammunition boxes. The work was focused but not frantic, as PRO manager Beth Roeser and the driver, her spouse Bryant, stepped in whenever questions or disagreements came up. PRO has been doing this since 1983, and they lived up to their name.
Each raft had a “boatman” who was in charge of the craft and did most of the rowing. All of the boatmen on our trip had significant whitewater experience. Four had been on the Canyon before, and two were professional river guides on vacation. (This place has a tendency to become an obsession). I was also reassured to know that Christie is a paramedic, that she and Pete volunteer for a search and rescue team, and that the spouse of one of the river guides was a pharmacist (and also a master of Dutch oven cooking). There were also two geologists on the crew. And everyone else was comfortable with the outdoors and willing to learn.
Near the end of the packing, Beth introduced us to a three-ring binder that was the key to meal preparation. The binder listed the menus, recipes, and ingredients for each meal over the 16 days, and it also identified the box where each ingredient was stored. “Neatness counts,” explained Beth. “So put things back where you found them.” Neatness, as in hand-washing, was also the key to escaping from norovirus. This is the highly contagious food-borne illness that makes headlines whenever everyone on a cruise ship starts vomiting and shitting at the same time. It has become a problem on river trips.
I understand now that the difference between a vacation and an expedition is responsibility. This trip was an expedition because everyone had important responsibilities to the group, and anyone who slacked off would make things harder for everyone else – maybe a lot harder. This was abundantly clear to all of us by 6pm, when we were finally loaded and ready to push off. But we were only going 150 feet, down to a private boater’s campsite to spend the night. The next morning, a NPS ranger would check our identification, inspect our boats, and hopefully send us on our way. That’s why today is Day Zero.
Fortunately, there is a restaurant at Lee’s Ferry, so we didn’t have to unpack all the stuff we just packed. It was at the Marble Canyon Lodge, where Beth and Bryant would be spending the night. The original 1926 lodge building had burned to the ground a year earlier, but a back room had been re-done and christened the Resurrection Restaurant. It was packed. The food was basic and the waitresses were stretched to their limits, but who cares. Everyone sat together for the first time at one long table and started to talk. We kept at it for the next two weeks.
Before too long we were back at the campsite on our fabulous new roll-a-cots, under lightweight sleeping bags that became necessary as the night wore on and the temperature dipped into the 50s. Tania and I were both fairly pie-eyed over what we were about to do, but fortunately, we were also exhausted. We were awake just long enough to notice the amazing depth and clarity of the stars. The night sky may be my favorite thing about camping in the desert.
I woke up a few hours later. The moon had come up – it had been full just two days earlier, and it still cast enough light to read a newspaper. The Vermillion Cliffs were a dark mass on my left, and on my right, I could hear the Colorado River. The river seemed loud because there were no other noises. No car engines, no radios, nothing at all. Before I reached over to Tania and fell back asleep, I felt intense gratitude.