Wild at Heart: The Education of Paul Schaefer

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Our entire system of government is founded upon the theory that the citizens of the State shall inform themselves accurately regarding the conduct of public affairs and if they do not approve of them, will take proper action to change their course. We are living not in an era of the divine right of kings but rather in one of referendum and recall.

-John S. Apperson Jr.1

To understand the story of Paul Schaefer, it is necessary to review the activities of his mentor, John Apperson Jr, around the time they met. By the 1930s, Apperson was firmly in his activist stride. In the 1920s his “weird genius of marked Machiavellian tendency, and unbounded perseverance and energy”2 became well known, and his achievements were impressive. In 1922, Apperson and Warwick Carpenter exposed presale timbering by the state within the Adirondack Park. In 1923, Apperson briefly ‘kidnapped’ Governor Al Smith, taking him on a lengthy boat ride in order to convince him to stop construction of the Tongue Mountain Highway proposed by the powerful urban planner, Robert Moses. It worked. That same year, Smith appointed Apperson to the New York State Committee on State Park Planning. Apperson advanced a crusade to protect the privately owned land in the Adirondack region of Lake George from commercial exploitation. Throughout the ’20s, he convinced property owners to sell or donate lands to the Forest Preserve. By 1930, Apperson’s effort had added thousands of acres in the Lake George area. After repeated disappointments in the compromises made by existing conservationist organizations, in 1930 Apperson founded and presided over his own Forest Preserve Association. In 1931, Apperson persuaded Governor Franklin Roosevelt to expand the Adirondack State Park’s ‘blue line’ to include Lake George, the Sacandaga Reservoir, and parts of Lake Champlain. Apperson was in his full activist stride.

Apperson was convinced that if more people were physically and emotionally connected to the beauty the Adirondacks, they would flock to the preservationist cause. In 1914, Apperson began leading winter expeditions with college students.

Four years later, he persuaded the executives at General Electric to establish a free camp for the company’s female employees and family members in French Point on Lake George.

In 1922, Apperson and fellow conservationists founded the Adirondack Mountain Club. He also embraced the power of documentary photography. He mailed copies of his photographs far and wide, utilized slides at increasingly more frequent speaking engagements, and lent copies of his visual materials to any ally in need. Apperson and Irving Langmuir expanded this effort to motion picture films around 1920.

During this time, documentary photography and filmmaking were becoming increasingly effective tools for shaping public opinion. Apperson embraced this new media, launching visual campaigns that allowed him to communicate his vision to the masses. These efforts were successful, and countless new members joined the cause, including Paul Schaefer, the man who would take up Apperson’s mantle, help revolutionize wilderness political theory, and lead thousands in protecting the Adirondacks through the 20th century.

1 Speech, John S. Apperson Jr. to the Adirondack Mountain Club Conservation Committee, 1922.

2 Essay to Apperson, R. H. Doherty, August 28, 1918.