Died: November 30, 2009
Married: Ferne Hastings
Children: Edward, Richard, Donald
Clarence Adelbert Petty was a forest ranger, pilot and environmentalist who was instrumental in the protection of the Adirondack Park. He died at 104, having been active into his nineties. His surveys of the remote Adirondack wilderness from 1959 to 1962, and again in the 1970s, helped form the basis for the classification of the park into Wilderness and Wild Forest areas. He was one of the first employees of the Adirondack Park Agency.
He grew up in the remote community of Coreys, initially in a cabin without electricity on state land, the son of guide Ellsworth Petty. Starting at age 11, he walked weekly 16 miles to Saranac Lake, where he stayed during the week to attend school. He graduated from Saranac Lake High School in 1926, and then attended the State College of Forestry, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. As a teenager he and his brother William worked frequently as guides.
In 1931, Petty took a flight training course and earned his pilot's license. By the late 1930s, he was giving tourist rides in the tri-lakes region: "A surprising number of people took their first airplane rides. On Lake Flower at Saranac Lake I often flew from early in the morning until dark with only time to stop for fuel." 1
He worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps during the depression years. In World War II, he joined the U.S. Navy, where he became a pilot. After the war, he became a New York Conservation Department Forest Ranger, employing his flying skills in spotting and fighting wild fires. He later ran a flying school in Potsdam, training hundreds of pilots before getting out of the business at age 95.
He moved from Canton, New York back to the Petty home in Coreys in 1999 and stayed until the fall of 2005 where he started to stay the winters at the Saranac Village at Will Rogers. He lived his final years at Will Rogers, where he continued to write letters in support of the Adirondack wilderness. The Adirondack Explorer had a regular column based on editor Phil Brown's interviews with Petty.
Source: Angus, Christopher, The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty, Syracuse University Press, 2002
- ''New York Times'', December 5, 2009
- ''Adirondack Daily Enterprise'', "Wild at Heart", December 5, 2009
- ''Adirondack Daily Enterprise'', "Clarence Petty, an Adirondack classic, dies at 104", December 1, 2009
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Adirondack Inspiration: Clarence Petty
- Adirondack Explorer - Recollections of Clarence Petty
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, October 26, 2001
By Randy Lewis
…This same week, on Thursday, at noon, I attended the Brown Bag Lunch held at the Saranac Lake Free Library, downstairs in the Cantwell Room…
The guest speaker was another true Adirondack native, born and raised in these woods and mountains, just like little Rosemary will be, only 96 years earlier. His name is Clarence Petty, and I was delighted to listen as he began talking. He started by joking that most of his future was behind him, after all, 96 years is quite a long haul for anybody, even true Adirondackers.
He carries those years well. He is a handsome man, bright and quick witted, and blessed with an excellent memory. His stories poured out, and the room full of friendly strangers drank it all in.
Starting at the turn of the last century
His earliest years were spent in the woods on Upper Saranac, on forest preserve land, at a spot he calls "Rustic Lodge." His father was a guide, and the family — at that time, a wife and two boys - lived year-round in a big tent, with a stove in the middle to keep them warm during the cold time. A third son was born later.
In 1908, when guides were no longer allowed to live on the preserve land, the family had to move. The boys' mother then ran the post office at Corey's - but Petty was quick to point out that they called it Indian Carry, not Corey's, at that time. He told us what it was like being youngsters, running free every day through the woods. They learned those places in the forest, the deer paths, streams and ponds. It was their entire world. These forest kids would run for cover at the sight of people, hiding "like Indians" safe behind trees, and able to peer out to make their observations, unseen. This was the time before automobiles had found their way to the woods, and roads and people were scarce…
The boys' mother insisted that her sons receive a high school education, no matter how difficult that might be. So they had to walk from Corey's to Saranac Lake every Sunday night, to board at Brannock's boarding house, near what is now the Medical Associate's building in Saranac Lake. The high school was located at the site of the current Hotel Saranac. On Friday nights, they would make the hike home. In the winter, the boys would walk the 16 miles each way on snowshoes. And on the weekends, they would check their trap lines, adding another 42 miles to their weekly "walking workout."
The Petty family was recognized for their skills in the woods; the famous Trudeau family would ask the boys, while they boarded in town, to take their kids for walks in the nearby forests to show them some of what they knew…
1. Angus, Christopher, The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty, Syracuse University Press, 2002, p. 97