Wild at Heart: The Education of Paul Schaefer

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In 1930, both houses of the New York State legislature passed two of the “worst bills for Forever Wild since 1915”1: the Hewitt Reforestation Amendment and the Porter-Brereton Recreation Amendment. Because the Forest Preserve is protected by the New York State Constitution, the final decision on any alteration to Forever Wild, Article VII, Section 7, is voted on by the people of New York in a general election. The Hewitt Reforestation Amendment, dubbed the “Tree-Cutting Amendment” by Apperson, was strongly opposed by the preservationist crowd. The amendment would have permitted the state to lumber the lands surrounding the Adirondack State Park. The Porter-Brereton Recreation Amendment, better known as the Closed Cabin Amendment (CCA), would have allowed for the “clearin[g] of timber” within the Forest Preserve for the construction of “recreational facilities”.2 New York State was facing pressure from commercial interests to develop the Adirondacks before the upcoming 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

The CCA utilized the intentionally ambiguous language of “recreational facilities” in an attempt to obscure its objectives. Initially, the CCA received mixed opinions; not all conservationists saw the construction of “recreational facilities” as dangerous to the Forest Preserve. Many thought the addition of publicly owned closed cabins or yurts would open the Preserve to wider audiences and enhance the people’s ability to enjoy the Park. Through a close reading of the bill, however, Apperson was able to see that this amendment would allow the State to log in the Forest Preserve under the guise of building “recreational facilities”.

Furthermore, Apperson discovered that this term applied not just to closed cabins and yurts, but concession stands, dance halls, ski lodges, swimming pools, or any other structure associated with recreational activities. Incensed by the threat posed by these bills, Schaefer set out to “find the best man qualified to talk to me about conservation”3 so that he could join the fight. This search led the 23-year-old Schaefer and five other members of the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club to Apperson’s front door.

John Apperson, 53 at the time, had long been mentoring young conservationists. After first gaging the group’s interest and commitment to the cause, Apperson began explaining the complicated history and current state of conservation in both New York and the nation. Fascinated by the “enthusiasm, knowledge, and perception” of the “man who understood conservation and what it took to win a fight”4 Schaefer and his cohorts pledged allegiance to Apperson, stating “we consider it a privilege to walk behind you fighters for the wilderness, ready and eager to carry the torch”.5 Their first task was to distribute Apperson’s pamphlet against the Hewitt Amendment, “Tree Cutting with Your Money,” to as many people as possible. Apperson soon deployed Schaefer and other members of the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club into the park with cameras to document the destruction of the wilderness for use in Apperson’s films and pamphlets.

1 Correspondence, John S. Apperson Jr to Fred Saunders, April 1930.

2 Porter Recreation Amendment,” High Spots, July 1931.

3 Draft forward to proposed book J.S. Apperson: Adventures in the Preservation of Lake George, Paul Schaefer, undated.

4 Ibid.

5 Correspondence, Paul Schaefer to John S. Apperson Jr., September 22, 1931.