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Verplanck Colvin

Verplanck Colvin (1847–1920) was a lawyer and topographical engineer whose understanding and appreciation for the environment of the Adirondack Mountains lead to the creation of New York's Forest Preserve and the Adirondack Park.

Born in Albany, New York to a wealthy family, he was educated at private schools where he excelled in the sciences. In 1864, he joined his father's law office in Albany and was later admitted to the bar.

In 1865, at the age of 18, he started exploring the Adirondack wilderness and thereafter spent his summers in exploration. During the summer of 1869 he climbed Mount Marcy, and in 1870 made the first recorded ascent of Mount Seward. In 1872 he applied to the New York state legislature for a stipend to institute a survey of the Adirondacks. During the first year he discovered Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds, the source of the Hudson river. He directed surveying parties throughout the Adirondacks and determined the altitudes of most of the highest peaks.

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Mount Marcy

In 1873 he wrote a report arguing that if the Adirondack watershed was allowed to deteriorate, it would threaten the viability of the Erie Canal, which was then vital to New York's economy, and that the entire Adirondack region should therefore be protected by the creation of a state forest preserve. He was subsequently appointed superintendent of the New York state land survey, which led to the creation of the Adirondack Forest Preserve in 1885. His work ended in 1900 when then Governor Theodore Roosevelt transferred his duties to the state engineer.

He was a member of numerous scientific societies and was president of the department of physical science at the Albany Institute. In about 1881, at Hamilton College, he delivered a series of lectures of geodesy, surveying, and topographical engineering. His maps, reports, illustrations and notes form a large part of the archives of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in Albany and are often referred to by present day surveyors.

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For almost thirty years, beginning in 1872, Colvin crisscrossed the Adirondack wilderness, supervising a state survey of the region. He used his annual reports to the legislature to call for the creation of an Adirondack Forest Preserve: "Unless the region be preserved essentially in its present wilderness condition, the ruthless burning and destruction of the forest will slowly, year after year, creep onward ... and vast areas of naked rock, arid sand and gravel will alone remain to receive the bounty of the clouds, unable to retain it." -- Verplanck Colvin 1874 Annual Report to the Legislature

Persuaded by such testimony, the legislature established a Forest Preserve in 1885, stating that the Preserve

Information thanks to: NYS APA