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FIERCE | New York’s Ferociously Inspiring Wild Spaces

FIERCE | New York’s Ferociously Inspiring Wild Spaces

Magnets by Lionheart Graphics

New York is a fierce, wild place. And no, we’re not just talking about Wall Street right before the stock market closes, or the #mood at bars on the Lower East Side at midnight on Fridays. (Though those places can be both savage, and worthy of exploration from an anthropological standpoint). We’re also talking about the woodlands that overspread the Empire State.

New York’s population in and around the city may be dense, but overall, about 63% of the land is still forested, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. Of our 30 million acres, 18.9 million are treed, though much of that is private land managed for wood and pulp. (And those businesses contribute about $4.6 billion to the state’s economy each year.)

The DEC itself oversees about five million acres of forested land, including the Adirondack and Catskills Forest Preserve, State Forests, and several other pockets of green, most of which are open to the public. 

Forests and wild spaces help strengthen our economy, store carbon, produce oxygen and protect untold quantities of weird insects, cute fauna, and untamed predators. But they also inspire writers (Susan Fenimore Cooper, John Burroughs, Peter Matthiessen) and artists (Susie M. Barstow, Julie Hart Beers, Thomas Cole, Fredric Church) with their raw, pristine beauty, who, in turn, process those impressions into something tangible we can read, or see, that helps us understand the world around us in a totally new way.

One of our favorite current nature artists here at New York Makers is Catherine LaPointe Vollmer. She knows New York intimately, having been born and raised in the “North Country,” the frontier lands between the Adirondack Mountains and the Canadian border. LaPointe Vollmer studied illustration at Syracuse University, then returned to her stomping grounds in the North Country to make art in her home studio. 

LaPointe Vollmer plein air painting on the Red Barn Forest Preserve Trail, Morristown, NY, Thousand Islands region. Photo: Lionheart Graphics

Many of her pieces draw direct inspiration from her most treasured areas in New York. Her method of inspiration-synthesis is unique: she attempts to distill the aura of several places at once into each piece, even when they focus on a region like the Finger Lakes or Lake Erie. 

“I’m working on a series of travel posters focused on outdoor activities, rather than destinations,” LaPointe Vollmer explains. “I try to keep these from looking like any specific place, so that wherever you like to hike, or fish, or go boating or diving, it will feel familiar.”

We asked her where she went most often to be inspired, and what she wishes people who don't live here knew about New York’s wildest zone. 

“The Adirondack Park is one of the largest state parks in the country, with some of the best hiking on the East Coast,” she says. “There are trail systems and lean-tos for hiking year-round. Outside of the Adirondacks, there are numerous smaller state parks with a huge variety of natural features.” 

LaPointe Vollmer’s favorite untamed places for inspiration include:

1. High Peaks Area of the Adirondacks: Hiking the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks is a rite of passage for many serious hikers (for the best reward ever, check out New York Makers’ Adirondack 46er Topo Quilt) and for the rest of us, a majestic way to take in the Empire State’s glory like no other. Each peak in the ADK Mountains, save four, are located in central and northern Essex County, the vast majority being below Lake Placid and Keene Valley. All are in New York State’s Forest Preserve, and all, save four, are within the 300,000-acre High Peaks Wilderness Area. LaPointe Vollmer’s perspective: “I love heading out for the day, getting lost and hiking to my heart's content, but being able to head to Lake Placid for a nice dinner!”

Shop Adirondacks travel print by Lionheart Graphics, $26

2. Thousand Islands: The Thousand Islands actually comprise 1,864 islands dotting the Canadian-U.S. border in the Saint Lawrence River as it emerges from the northeast corner of Lake Ontario. Ranging in size from 40+ square miles to virtual postage stamps of soil in the water (to qualify as an “island,”a piece of land must support a minimum of two living trees), they harbor ruined forts, great blue heron rookeries, or, perhaps, a “castle” style manse. One, Deer Island, is purportedly owned by the secret Yale society Skull and Bones. It’s a great region to boat, get lost, get found, wander, and pretend you’re a pirate. LaPointe Vollmer’s perspective: “I grew up near the St. Lawrence River. I can't imagine not living close to water.”

An original painting of Old Man's Island, Thousand Islands by LaPointe Vollmer 

3. Finger Lakes: Eleven long, narrow, fingerlike,wiggly-shaped lakes run north-south in Central New York below between Rochester and Syracuse. It’s not just a poetic description to call them “Finger Lakes”; it’s a geological term referring to lakes in deep glacial valleys. The region, in addition to offering the kind of water sports one would expect, has become one of the most celebrated winemaking regions in North America. And, as with other winemaking regions, you can find amazing restaurants there, along with a thriving art scene. LaPointe Vollmer’s perspective: “No one particular place, but I love the remote feel paired with easy access to great wineries.”

Shop Finger Lakes travel print by Lionheart Graphics, $26

4. The Erie Canal: A manmade 363-mile waterway completed in 1825, it connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River. In parts, it’s almost abandoned, aside from commercial traffic; but many find the less frequented stretches of the Canal the most strangely soulful. LaPointe Vollmer’s perspective: “When you're miles away from the nearest town, and you stumble upon an overgrown, forgotten part of the canal, it feels like finding a clue to a long-ago mystery.”

5. Taughannock Falls: The falls plunge 215 feet and carve a 400-foot deep gorge through sandstone, shale, and limestone -- remnants of the ancient sea that covered the region. The falls themselves are part of a 750-acre park in Tompkins County, northwest of Ithaca. Comparisons can be odious...but...it’s three stories taller than Niagara Falls. LaPointe Vollmer’s perspective: “There's just something about waterfalls that draws us in...”

There’s something about wild places that draws us all. Where do you go when you want to draw inspiration and sustenance from nature?