The Other America

Europeans see the USA through a metropolitan prism. Hollywood emphasizes its cities, its cars and its politics. But there is another America that needs to be championed: its great natural parks. For five weeks I have been beside a lake in the Adirondacks in the northern wilderness of upstate New York. Detach yourself from the daily news cycle, and this is a timeless paradise.

But there is a more important point to make.

Trails weave through these forests to lakes and ponds. All are well marked with good maps at trailheads. Many of the lakes boasts lean-to camping huts. Some even have discrete latrines. One thing is more than apparent. The world may seem to be falling apart, but the trails are maintained. Fallen trees are removed. Marsh and waterlogged sections are made accessible with corduroy logs. Bridges are kept in good repair in extraordinarily remote places. And on the wider trails, I met a team of young workers refurbishing drainage channels ahead of autumn rain and the onset of winter ice.

The trail around Moss Lake

This summer the Adirondacks have drawn tourists that in other years would have travelled further afield. They are discovering a wilderness that in the 1970s was hugely damaged by acid rain that swept across these forests from the unfettered factories to the east and now, with environmental protection, has experienced a rebirth. Not just the trees in the forests, but the fish in the lakes that draw the loons here. This is a success story. Humans can repair their environment as they can destroy it.

Trail head at Moss Lake

The Adirondack story began when camps were made here at the end of the Gilded Age. Since the 1970s tourist numbers have declined and the great camps are many fewer. Could 2020 mark a new point of inflection? With the pandemic, visitors seeking safety in hundreds of thousands of protected park lands, have been well served by the state’s investment in its simple but well-maintained amenities. The Other America deserves to be better known and for all its discrete professionalism is a side of the USA’s cultural life it can be proud of.

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