Adirondacks documentary based on Terrie’s work

The history, culture and environmental preservation of the Adirondack Mountains have been a lifelong passion of Dr. Philip Terrie, professor emeritus of American culture studies, environmental studies and English. This week, public broadcasting viewers can see what makes the region so special to Terrie on “The Adirondacks,” a documentary scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Wednesday (May 14) and again at 1:30 p.m. May 19 nationally and on WBGU-PBS.

Lake George

Organized around the four seasons, the film explores the remarkable history, seasonal landscape and current state of the Adirondacks, the largest state park in the continental United States—bigger than Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon combined. The two-hour production was inspired by and based largely on Terrie’s seminal book Contested Terrain: A New History of Nature and People in the Adirondacks, published in 1997 by Syracuse University Press. An updated, expanded edition of the book is coming out in June.

Terrie, who now spends his summers in the Adirondacks, was contacted by independent producer Tom Simon of Working Dog Productions in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., after Simon was approached by WNED, the Buffalo, N.Y., PBS affiliate. Simon, a seven-time Emmy Award-winning producer, interviewed Terrie onscreen extensively for the film, which was funded and co-produced by WNED.

The John Brown farm in the Adirondacks

“Terrie was a tremendous asset for us in making the film and, in many ways, Contested Terrain served as a historical bible for us,” Simon said. “Phil was not only one of our experts but our historical consultant for the program. He made sure we got the history right, pointed us to the right people and let us know about things we had left out. We couldn’t have made it without him.”

Terrie’s research has explored people’s conception of and relationship to “the wilderness,” and perhaps nowhere has this concept been more vividly played out than in the Adirondacks. “In many ways, the thesis of Contested Terrain is the basis of the film,” Simon said. “Through much of its history, the Adirondack Park has been the object of a contest between those who want to exploit it and those who want to preserve it. We want to raise awareness of the place and understand the kinds of challenges it’s facing, which are unique because of its own unique nature.”

As the background information for the documentary states: “Sprawled across six million acres in upstate New York, Adirondack Park is by far the largest park in the lower 48 states. Yet it is the only one on the continent in which large human populations live and whose land is divided almost evenly between protected wilderness and privately owned tracts. This patchwork pattern of land ownership has created a unique place that maintains, at its very heart, a delicate and dynamic relationship between progress and preservation.”

For more on the production, including video clips of Terrie speaking, visit

May 12, 2008