Remembering John Collins and George Canon

Wednesday, June 21, 2017
By: John Sheehan - Adirondack Council Director of Communications

The Adirondack Park lost two outstanding advocates in mid-June when conservationists John Collins of Blue Mountain Lake and community activist George Canon died.  Both men were natives of the Adirondack Park’s Hamilton County.  Both served the park they loved until they were too sick to continue.  Both were in their late 70s.

John Collins

John Collins, 1938-2017. Photo: Adirondack Experience

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John Collins, 1938-2017
Photo Courtesy of Adirondack Experience

John Collins, age 79, grew up in Blue Mountain Lake, attending school in a one-room schoolhouse in this quiet hamlet with a population of 130.

Collins was a kind and soft-spoken man, whom North Country Public Radio described as “one of the Adirondack Park's most influential cultural and environmental leaders over the last half-century.” 

He was a lifelong conservationist who served with distinction as chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency from 1992 to 1995, and as a member of the APA board for more than a decade.  He was first appointed by Gov. Mario Cuomo, who chose him to serve as chair.  He was a trustee of the Northern Forest Center.

His wish upon retirement from the APA was that state government would improve the park agency’s land-use and development plan.  Collins noted that while the plan was the first of its kind in the United States, it was now badly outdated and had become “a feeble instrument for the protection of this great park.”

In the early 1990s, Collins had helped to found the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks, where he served as board president.  The group later was melded with the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and became a new not-for-profit organization called Protect the Adirondacks.

Collins taught 5th grade at the Long Lake Elementary school for 26 years. He was a board member for of the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts. He worked at the Adirondack Museum -- now Adirondack Experience — in Blue Mountain Lake, serving a stint as executive director.  

He also served as a local government official, sitting on the town planning board in Indian Lake for nearly a decade and on the school board at Indian Lake Central School for five years.

Collins passed after a battle with cancer at his home in Blue Mountain Lake.

"I have had a very good life," Collins wrote in a letter sent to friends earlier this month.  "Great parents and family, great wife, great children, jobs that I liked and a wonderful environment to live in.  I have no regrets. 

George Canon

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George Canon
Photo Courtesy of Sun Community News

George Canon was born in Indian Lake 77 years ago and later moved with his family to the mining communities of Tahawus and Adirondac – now ghost towns -- in the Town of Newcomb.  Canon served as Newcomb’s Town Supervisor for nearly 27 years, retiring in 2016.

His family lived modestly in what George described as a tar-paper shack with no electricity or running water and a dirt floor.  When the mines closed in 1989, Canon moved into the hamlet of Newcomb and ran for town supervisor.  That remained his full-time job until last year, when he retired.

Canon was an outspoken critic of state land acquisition and state land-use controls when he first ran for office in 1989, saying he feared that state land acquisition would eliminate timber jobs in his town.  For a time, he stood alongside firebrand anti-conservationists who led public protests over new Forest Preserve purchases or regulations.  When those activists started trying to intimidate conservationists into leaving the park with threats, or acts, of violence, Canon went in another direction.

Canon helped to found the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, served on the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, and pressed state officials in Albany to pay more attention for the park’s communities.  Rather than fight every new acquisition of park lands, he worked to ensure there would be access to it for visitors to his town. 

In one famous incident from the stormy early 1990s, representatives from the Northern Forest Lands Council had met in Newcomb to discuss plans for conservation of private timberlands from the Adirondacks to Maine.  Fearing a (nonexistent) government conspiracy to seize their lands, some property rights activists slashed the tires of the out-of-state representatives while the meeting proceeded.  Canon was outraged when he learned what had happened and immediately arranged to have new tires delivered and installed on their cars.

In recent years, Canon spoke more fondly of state land ownership, noting that his town of 436 year-round residents benefitted greatly from the $4 million in annual tax revenue paid by the state on more than 70,000 acres of Forest Preserve in his town – about half its total area.

Canon worked to improve the community of Newcomb during his tenure as supervisor.  While he had once hoped mining would return, he knew international competition would prevent that and turned his attention to building a better economy based on outdoor recreation.

Canon’s pride and joy was the nine-hole golf course he built with money the town no longer needed for a landfill after conservationists persuaded the Pataki administration to provide 95-percent reimbursement for landfill closures inside the Adirondack Park. The new course is considered one of the most scenic in the nation. 

Canon also worked to restore historic buildings including Great Camp Santanoni and to improve access to the Upper Hudson River, as well as the dozens of lakes that bejewel Newcomb

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For the past 25 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.  John develops and executes the Council’s public relations and communications programs. 

He works with the media to explain the unique nature of the Adirondack Park and to help the public understand the Council’s efforts to sustain its clean air, wilderness, wildlife, clean water and vibrant communities.  He is the principal author of our annual State of the Park Report and assists with the editing of all Council publications. 

Born in Troy, NY, John Sheehan is a graduate of Catholic Central High School and the State University at Albany.  Today,  John and his wife Deborah live in Albany and have a family camp in the Adirondacks. Their daughter Hannah attends Clarkson University.

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