Today marks the 100th anniversary of the gift of land and money that led to the creation of Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks, and that ignited the national land preservation movement.
Without the gift, a new prison may have been built at Bear Mountain, something Mary Averell Harriman and her husband, Edward H. Harriman, deplored.
Instead, in 1910, a year after her husband died, Mary Harriman proposed donating money and land if the prison plans were dropped and others kicked into the overall effort to create a park and facilities.
Here’s a news release with information about the celebration and what’s being done to continue the parks’ mission:
The world-famous Empire State Building will be bathed in green light on the evening of Oct. 29 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Harriman Family gift that led to the creation of Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks. The Palisades Interstate Park Commission has partnered with the Empire State Building Company to mark the historic anniversary.
On Oct. 29, 1910, 18-year-old Averell Harriman, the future governor of the state of New York, represented the Harriman family in donating 10,000 acres of land in the Lower Hudson Valley and $1 million dollars to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. The family’s gift created Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks, which now encompass more than 50,000 acres, more than three times the size of Manhattan.
“The significance of the Harriman Family’s gift toward the formation of a statewide park system is immeasurable,” said Andy Beers, acting commissioner of the New York state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
“From its remarkable land stewardship commitment to its evolution in providing children and families of all means the opportunity to experience the beauty and importance of the natural world, the generosity of a hundred years ago continues to represent the very best of the spirit of giving,” Beers said.
Once the parks were established and open to the public, a defining commitment was made to share the acres of wilderness with all, particularly the underserved populations. Accordingly, the PIPC created a range of social programs for the relief of the urban poor. The essence of these social programs was the group camps—tents and cabins with facilities—to make the outdoors accessible to those who could barely afford to take time off.
“Thanks to the generosity of the Harriman family, the New York state park system boasts some of the most breathtaking public green spaces in the country,” said Senator José M. Serrano, chairman of the Senate Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation.
“Their altruism, and its subsequent positive effects, highlight the importance of parks and their power to strengthen the fabric of society by improving our quality of life,” Serrano said. “Countless families, including my own, have enjoyed the recreational opportunities offered by the Hudson Valley parks, and it will be a joy to see the Empire State Building go green to commemorate this momentous anniversary.”
Saving the Harriman Group Camps
Throughout the last century, more than three million children have experienced the fun of camping, hiking and swimming through the Harriman Group Camps. Camps run by non-profit organizations, including the Henry Street Settlement, the YMCA and Vacamas programs for youth, continue to offer urban and disadvantaged children the opportunity to experience nature first-hand.
Yet over the past decades, the camps have fallen into disrepair, forcing closures of camps from a high of more than 100 in the 1940s to just 32 today.
In recognition of this year’s historic anniversary, PIPC has initiated a fundraising effort to rebuild, repair and restore the Harriman Group Camps, with a goal of $2 million. The effort hopes to build a new generation of philanthropy for the Harriman Group Camps so future generations of children can share in the wilderness experience. A kick-off fundraising event honoring the Harriman family held in June by the Palisades Park Conservancy raised $130,000 for the camps.
Connecting with Harriman Group Camp Graduates
Another initiative coinciding with the anniversary is an effort to connect with the millions of people who have directly benefited from the creation of the Group Camps and the tremendous generosity of the Harriman family.
A Facebook page has been established seeking to connect Harriman Group Camp alumni, share some of the thousands of photographs in PIPC’s archives, and raise funds for camp restorations. In particular, photos and stories are being sought to share from those that attended the Harriman camps.
For many, the time spent at the Harriman Group Camps taught lessons of stewardship, loyalty and teamwork and left lasting impressions.
“We hope that through this new Facebook page, Harriman alumni can join in the celebration of the park, connect with friends from the past, and help guarantee that the experiences which so positively impacted their lives can be repeated by millions yet to come,” said James Hall, executive director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.
In recognition of the Harriman family’s four generations of groundbreaking philanthropy and service to the people of New York, PIPC Media has produced The Harriman Touch, a film which taps the PIPC’s rich archive of more than 100,000 images spanning over 100 years.
Available on Youtube, the film traces the vital role the family’s generosity has played in such diverse fields as transportation, education, recreation, preservation, and the fine arts. Donations for the Harriman Group Camps can be made to the Palisades Parks Conservancy Group Camp Fund at https://palisades.exhibit-e.com/donate/
ABOVE: 100 YEARS AGO TODAY: W. Averell Harriman (right) hands a $1 million check to George W. Perkins Sr. at the dedication of Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks. Harriman went on to become governor of New York. Perkins served as the first president of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. (Photo/PIPC)