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‘Woodswoman’ Anne LaBastille dies at 75

As guide, writer, APA commissioner and environmentalist, she helped change the image of women, the Adirondacks and outdoor recreation

July 4, 2011
By JOE HACKETT - Special to the Enterprise (tahawus@northnet.org) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Anne LaBastille, author, photographer and renowned Adirondack guide, passed away on Friday, July 1, 2011, in Plattsburgh. She was 75.

Born in Montclair, N.J. on Nov. 20, 1935, she achieved a Bachelor of Science degree in conservation of natural resources from Cornell University in 1955, and a Master of Science degree in wildlife management from Colorado State University in 1961. She earned a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology in 1969 at Cornell and was later awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Ripon College in Wisconsin.

In the early 1970s, after building a small log cabin on a remote lake near Old Forge, she became a licensed guide and began offering backpacking and canoe trips throughout the Adirondacks. Her efforts as a guide and outdoor writer served to popularize and reinvigorate a nearly defunct occupation.

Article Photos

Anne LaBastille
(Photo — Ken Rimany)

On the pages of national magazines, LaBastille's stories and photographs helped reinvent and revive the guiding profession. She reshaped the image by offering activities such as hiking, climbing, paddling and birding, and modernized the industry by offering experiences that went beyond the traditional bait-and-bullet adventures. She portrayed a softer side of "roughing it" and later became a charter member of the New York State Outdoor Guides Association.

LaBastille was also an accomplished outdoor educator, a dedicated conservationist and an outspoken ecologist. She loved the woods and waters of the Adirondacks and fought to protect them. She was an unrepentant environmentalist and called her home "a place with a big backyard." Over the years, she shared her space with a long lineage of protective German shepherds that were her constant companions.

LaBastille was also one of the Adirondack region's most prolific writers, with more than a dozen books to her credit in addition to hundreds of magazine articles and more than 25 scientific papers.

She wrote articles for a variety of national magazines ranging from National Geographic to Outdoor Life, Backpacker to Ranger Rick. Her work covered a wide variety of environmental topics and was usually tinged with a fair share of her omnipresent environmental fervor.

As a photojournalist, she amassed a huge portfolio of images that helped put a fresh, modern face on outdoor recreation, with nylon tents, frame packs and Kevlar canoes. No longer were packbaskets, canvas tents and aluminum canoes the standard. However, she always wore the traditional buffalo plaid shirt and topped her blonde mane with a green felt crusher.

In 1976 she published "Woodswoman," her first book, which chronicled her life in a small cabin on a remote Adirondack lake, where she had traded the comforts of modern living for the privacy and seclusion of a backwoods retreat.

Following the publication, LaBastille became an instant role model for thousands of young women all across the country. Her story offered evidence that a lonely life in the forest can foster great confidence.

Her story proved to be an inspiration for a generation of female outdoor enthusiasts, and it empowered them to be more independent and self-reliant in their enjoyment of the outdoors.

In the process of paddling, hiking and camping throughout the Adirondacks, she became an icon of the mountains she wandered. Undoubtedly she cultivated her image, and it didn't hurt matters that she had blonde hair, a fit figure, a bright smile and a tangible sense of independence. She exuded an air of confidence, and whether she was walking into a diner or paddling across a pond, her presence turned heads. She recognized it and enjoyed it.

LaBastille was also a woman of tremendous contrasts, and she was equally heralded and reviled for her outspoken environmental opinions. Her voice was among the first to sound the alarm and attract the attention of the national media to the plight of acid rain deposition on the fragile Adirondack watershed.

Although she clearly appreciated a lonely life on a remote Adirondack lake, she also enjoyed the adulation of her legions of followers. She loved the attention and praise they heaped on her, and at book-signing events her booth always drew the largest crowds.

She loved the Park dearly and was willing to fight for it when necessary. Her 17-year reign as a state Adirondack Park Agency commissioner may never be matched. Few others could put up with such stress.

Her book series continued with "Beyond Black Bear Lake" in 1987, "Woodswoman III" in 1997 and "Woodswoman IIII" in 2003. Eventually the volumes chronicled four decades of her adventures, from the backwoods of the Adirondacks to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and points beyond.

She published other books including "Mama Poc," an account of her efforts to save an indigenous species of giant grebe from extinction in Guatemala, as well as "The Wilderness World of Anne LaBastille" and "Jaguar Totem."

However, the "Woodswoman" series has become both a mantra and an ideal, the enduring legacy of a confident, charismatic and often disarmingly charming Adirondack character.

In 2008, the Adirondack Center for Writing honored LaBastille with a Lifetime Achievement Award. But her work wasn't exclusive to the Park. She served as a director for Smithsonian Institution projects, helped the World Wildlife Fund establish parks in Guatemala and Panama, and acted as staff ecologist and lecturer on environmentally focused cruises to Central America, the Caribbean, Baja California and Alaska.

Over the course of her career she received many awards and honors. She was the first woman to receive a Citation of Merit from The Explorers Club, a venerable institution with a membership list that includes the likes of Admiral Byrd, Theodore Roosevelt and John Glenn. In 1993 LaBastille was awarded a Gold Medal from the Society of Woman Geographers, and in 1994 she was honored with the Roger Tory Peterson Award as a national nature educator. She was also the subject of two documentaries, and in 2010 she was the first woman to receive the Jade of Chiefs Award from the Outdoor Writers Association of America, the organization's most prestigious conservation award.

Eventually LaBastille decided to move from her small cabin on the fictitious Black Bear Lake and purchased a small farmstead off the beaten track near the village of Wadhams. It was within sight of the High Peaks to the west and just a short distance from Lake Champlain to the east, and offered such modern conveniences as electricity and a telephone. However, no computers ever made it through the front door. LaBastille was old school, and the printer on her word processor still required a typewriter ribbon.

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Joe Hackett, a guide and outdoors columnist for the Enterprise, first got to know Anne LaBastille in the early 1980s.

 
 

 

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