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Sad reminder to design with nature

August 10, 2011
By Gary Randorf

The slippage disaster in Keene Valley is an unhappy event and also a wake-up call for all who love our Adirondack Park, a region unmatched on our planet. As I write this, houses and roads are being destroyed as a huge landslide continues to work its way down the mountain. How could such a thing happen to such well intentioned people in such a lovely place?

The Gideons place Bibles in motel dresser drawers. All well and good, but in at least one drawer in every Adirondack housing unit, workplace and builder's office should be placed beside the Bible another good book - Ian McHarg's landmark blueprint for the planet, "Design with Nature." It should be a must-read for all who love the Adirondacks and wish to see what's left of our natural world used wisely and properly protected. And if it's out of print, it needs to be republished and widely circulated to every developer and planning board member in the universe. Ian McHarg's message is implicit in the origin and workings of the Adirondack Park Agency.

McHarg would have told us that any home that requires a four-wheel drive to go up one's driveway year-round should never have been built, nor the lot cleared. Why? Because it's an indication that the steepness of the land, or the thinness of the soils, may well spell environmental mayhem. In years past, I visited people who lived or spent considerable time in Adrian's Acres West, the area in Keene Valley, on the side of Little Porter Mountain, affected by the current landslides. These folks would pick up guests (myself included) in a parking lot down below and take them up the steep road to their homes in an all-wheel-drive vehicle. A two-wheel-drive car was not deemed a safe ride - in fact, we might not have even made it in a traditional vehicle. It makes one wonder, or should have.

Article Photos

Removed from its foundation, Jim and Charity Marlatt’s house in Adrian’s Acres, Keene Valley, waits to be moved to a new location after a landslide opened up beneath it due to heavy rain and snowmelt this spring.
(Photo for the Enterprise — Margaret Moran)

Of course, Adrian Edmonds, who subdivided and developed much of that mountainside, had no inkling of what might happen there someday; nor did the happy buyers of his scenic dream houses high on a mountainside. I spent many hours with Adrian when I first arrived in the Adirondacks in the early 1970s, looking for a house to settle in when becoming part of the original staff of the APA. A finer, kinder, more helpful man than Adrian Edmonds you would rarely be lucky enough to meet and spend time with. In all innocence, he truly enjoyed helping people to find their dream homes in that heavenly place, Keene Valley.

Adrian learned his trade well, and if McHarg's "Design with Nature" had been in his bookcase, I'm certain he would have read it and followed its teachings. It is the same Bible that underpins the APA's Land Use and Development Plan, which was enacted after Adrian's Acres had been created and the dream homes had begun to sprout on the mountainside. Designing with nature would also be a good guide for the expensive land development currently being considered for Tupper Lake. This project would cover much of Mount Morris and spread out into 5,000-plus acres of forest, where a major chunk of open space will be carved into huge lots on which so-called "great camps" are intended to go. It's probably too late to give a copy of McHarg's guidebook to the Tupper Lake developers, but the APA will, we hope, continue to be guided by those same principles.

Designing with nature - avoiding steep slopes, thin soils, wetlands and ridgelines, developing unobtrusively and in harmony with the natural Adirondack landscape - will help us to avoid future land-use disasters due to the unpredictable ways and effects of nature.

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Gary Randorf is the author of "Adirondacks: Wild Island of Hope" and now lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 
 

 

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