Creating a Modern Wilderness Playground: The Transformation of the Adirondack State Park, 1920-1980
Anzalone, Jonathan David
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My dissertation examines the ways in which the construction of elaborate recreational facilities and the implementation of urban planning in the Adirondack Park had profound impacts on the region's woodlands and rural communities. Park-making, I argue, was not a nostalgic endeavor to preserve an unchanging wilderness, but rather a collaborative effort by state administrators, caretakers, private developers, residents, and recreation seekers to modernize the Adirondacks. Planners' notion of recreation as a set of wholesome activities pursued by urban and suburban families in an unthreatening environment significantly shaped their approach to park development. After World War I, administrators began offering visitors not only paths to and through the Adirondacks, but also modern facilities to ensure their healthful play. During the 1920s, amenity-rich campsites began to provide vacationers with a large measure of comfort in the state Forest Preserve. As host of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, the tiny Village of Lake Placid simulated a crowded city in which indoor and outdoor play was buttressed by new infrastructure. Beginning in 1935, Whiteface Mountain Highway made an almost-mile-high peak accessible to thousands of motorists, and paved the way for two ski centers on the mountain. Proposals to build massive vacation-home enclaves during the early 1970s highlighted once again the flexibility of modern recreation, as developers searched for new ways to turn a profit from the Adirondack playground. Building recreational facilities that were intended to protect vacationers from the dangers of the wild and to balance competing human demands required intricate land-management schemes which tied the North Country closely to surrounding cities. These plans, and the environmental changes they brought about, created rifts among New Yorkers that, when examined closely, complicate our understanding of 20th-century environmental politics. The dynamics of class, economic self-interest, state power, and environmental consciousness yielded a complex set of responses to developments that transformed Adirondackers' communities and vacationers' leisure-time destinations. The Adirondack Park was not a static wilderness, for its shape was contingent upon the plans of politicians and state administrators, the designs of businesspeople, the whims of residents and recreation seekers, and the environment's ecological dynamism.