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Palisades Park Commission

By Karina | January 9, 2012

We’ve been enjoying the unseasonably warm weather with some nice weekend hikes lately – we’ve been finding spots of nature and taking advantage of it wherever we can!. This weekend, we went for a ramble through the Palisades Park – and stumbled upon some ruins called “Millionaires Row” which really piqued our interest. One of the Ringling Brothers used to have a summer home! Giant hotel resorts! There were bunches of big mansions all along the cliffs – until they made the park and knocked them all down.

What’s really interesting is the history of the Palisades Park – after large quarries were found destroying the cliffs of the Palisades citizens and regulators banded together to stop them – lead by women’s clubs.

To respond to this threat, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC) was formed in 1900 by the New York and New Jersey state legislatures “to provide for the selection, location, appropriation and management of the certain lands along the Palisades of the Hudson River for an interstate park”. The park stretched along the cliffs for 14 miles between Fort Lee, New Jersey and Piermont, New York. The first step in this preservation effort was the acquisition of the Carpenter Brothers trap rock quarry in Fort Lee, New Jersey for $132,500, most of which was donated by J.P. Morgan.

The Palisades were cobbled together through a bunch of (generally rich) conservationists who bought up land and donated it to the Commission:

The unwavering backing of benefactors has been critical in almost every major Park undertaking since then: the first 10,000 acres of today’s Harriman State Park were donated (along with $1 million) by Mary Harriman in 1910; the Palisades Interstate Parkway became possible when the Rockefeller family, in the 1930s, donated key parcels for the project; dozens of citizens’ groups raised the funds necessary to purchase High Tor in 1943; Archer Huntington donated land adjacent to Little Tor the same year; in 1998, the lands that form Sterling Forest State Park were purchased, in part, with funds from private land trusts such as Scenic Hudson and the Open Space Institute; the visitor center at Sterling Forest was completed in 2003 thanks to a generous gift from U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey.

Of course, the Palisades Park was also created, in part, because of the Palisades Interstate Parkway. This highway was designed and built by Robert Moses – who was kind of the highway constructor of rich guys who wanted to get their way by knocking down everything in their path. So as much as the Palisades Interstate Parkway was created with a seed grant of land from John D. Rockefeller (700 acres over a 13 mile stretch of land along the tops of the cliffs) – that was probably acquired through generally acceptable land sales (like this one) — much of the parkway was “paved,” so to speak, with condemnation of properties that people actually didn’t want to turn over. (Like this compelling story of the Elephant house – and this kind of less compelling story of the Riviera. And the families who lived at Cape Fly-Away.)

The Palisades Park is an interesting look into US History – a time when a group of people had kind of the right idea, but then, it was kind of steamrolled through by the “right people,” and if you weren’t with them, you were kicked out. But now we all have access to a beautiful park that celebrates a section of the Hudson River that really shouldn’t be blocked off for the use of those with special access. These days, when issues of eminent domain has been bolstered to support the rights of corporations over the individuals – these questions are still present. So not to be a downer, but how do we watch for this kind of thing? How do we make sure that all of the stakeholders are properly represented, and somehow build consensus to protect land and open access to all?

I got no ideas, but I would love to hear some! Do you have any examples of this in your own area?

[[Photo from flickr user ladymay79 via creative commons license.]]

Topics: Favorite Green Places, Transportation | 2 Comments »

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Comment by Pipp
2012-01-09 12:21:13

Living in Sweden when it comes to access they have the Swedish Allemansr├Ątten. Which means that everyone has the right by law to enjoy nature (even private property in a way). It does come with some repsonsiblities for the enjoyer, but they are pretty simple (basic leave it as you found it sort of rule). Here is a link to see what it is in english

Comment by Snufkin
2012-01-13 03:43:18

If you’d had more time in Reno, I would’ve taken you over to the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. The Nevada side of the lake is held in trust by the Forest Service with the stipulation that it stay wild and never be developed. Originally the land was all privately owned by one dude, George Whittel, who inherited the money his parents made off of the Gold Rush. He was a bit of a hermit, about as rich as Warren Buffet and preferred the company of animals to people. So he set up the land as a trust to benefit nature, not other people, plus keep anybody else from owning it. He was a bit crazy, but the end result is that it’s public land open to everybody and the least developed/most wild part of the lake.


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