Time moves slowly on Follensby Pond. In fact, paddle its waters to a special point thick with hemlock, cedar, maple and beech trees and you’ll come upon the spot dubbed “Camp Maple” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and his band of scholars, over 150 years ago.
Marked only by a moss-capped boulder and the occasional piece of bottle glass, the landing and the surrounding northern hardwood forest seems, in its solitude, nearly unchanged.
Today, thanks to the dedication and foresight of property owner John S. McCormick Jr. and his late wife ‘Bird,’ the 14,600-acre forest, including Follensby Pond, will remain protected for the benefit of current and future generations.
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The deal is part of the Conservancy’s large-scale efforts to protect forestlands around the world. Over the past five years, the Conservancy has protected 3.5 million acres of forestlands — at a time when nearly one-half of Earth’s original forest cover is gone and global deforestation rates continue to rise.
During the summer of 1858, James Stillman, a painter and Schenectady-native, organized a trip to Follensby Pond. With him he brought some of the 19th century’s most eminent thinkers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet James Russell Lowell and scientist Louis Agassiz.
They descended upon the southern end of the pond, setting up in an area that became known as “Camp Maple,” so named for the massive trees that grew there. “Northward the length of Follansbee we rowed,” Emerson writes. “Under low mountains, whose unbroken ridge ponderous with bechen forest sloped the shore. A pause and council: then, where near the head due east a bay makes inward to the land between two rocky arms, we climb the bank…”
Emphasizing the intuitive and spiritual over the empirical, these scholars held nature in high regard; their art and literature transformed America’s relationship with the wild and sparked a preservationist movement that continues today.
A National Symbol
The scholars have come and gone and still, Follensby Pond is more than a symbol of wilderness and relic of Adirondack lore. Bald eagles, too, have come and gone…and, against dismal odds, returned after decades of absence from the Adirondack skies.
In 1950, the pond was one of the last places in the Adirondack Park with nesting bald eagles. By the 1960s, populations had plummeted due to the use of DDT, and only one unproductive pair remained in New York.
Follensby Pond was selected as the only site in the Adirondack Park where bald eagles, which by then were listed as endangered, were reintroduced, a process called “hacking.” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) endangered species unit leader Peter Nye led the effort in the 1980s.
“Follensby was an ideal location for hacking because it had suitable habitat, was free from human disturbance, and good for nesting,” he says. In short, it was “a place where eagles could be eagles.”
In 1981, Nye traveled to Alaska, one of the few places in the nation where eagles were still plentiful, to collect eaglets mature enough to care for themselves, but not yet able to fly. As many as 60 eaglets were released at Follensby Pond over several years. Today, the 12 bald eagle nesting pairs in the Adirondacks are a testament to the success of those efforts, which were made possible through the cooperation and support of John and Bird McCormick.
Conservation Full Circle
Follensby Pond, cradled by the High Peaks Wilderness to the east and Saranac Lakes Wild Forest to the north, is listed in the New York State Open Space Conservation Plan as a priority land acquisition. That listing is consistent with Mr. McCormick’s desires for the future of his property.
In a 2003 interview, he told historian Barbara McMartin that the land ought to be part of the publicly owned Forest Preserve as away to protect the historic and natural treasures of Follensby. By selling the property to The Nature Conservancy, he is placing his trust in the Conservancy work cooperatively with New York State to make that happen.
While The Nature Conservancy forges ahead with its protection plan for Follensby Pond, the property is not open to the public. We look forward to the day when college professors can hold sessions in an outdoor classroom so rich in meaning and history, and families can enjoyed these hallowed grounds. Until then, unauthorized access is considered trespass.