The Conservancy’s Board of Directors recognized 100 years of service and dedication by the Harriman Family. Elbridge Gerry Jr. accepted the Palisades Founders Award on behalf of more than sixty family members. A former Harriman camper, NY State Senator Jose M. Serrano, chair of the Senate Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, and Parks and Recreation, was the keynote speaker. In addition, Samuel F. Pryor III, PIPC President and Carol Ash, Commissioner of the NYS Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation shared remarks.
A century ago, railroad executive Edward Henry (E.H.) and Mary Williamson Averell Harriman joined other Gilded Age families to reclaim our nation’s scenic and cultural treasures. Since then, the Harrimans have been at the forefront of every Palisades Interstate Park initiative. From the conservation of land and creation of parks, lakes, and beaches, to their unwavering support for nature education and relief camps, their dedication to the preservation of our traditions and environment serves as a model for us all.
After railroad magnate E.H. Harriman’s sudden death, his wife Mary carried on his vision to establish a grand park. Their gift of ten thousand acres and one million dollars safeguarded the scenic beauty of present-day Bear Mountain and the park that bears the family name. At the 1910 dedication ceremony, Mary and E.H.’s son, William Averell, presented the deed of land to the PIPC and thus started more than a century of family service on behalf of these 28 parks and historic sites.
W. Averell Harriman, the longest serving Palisades Commissioner, played an important role in the advancement of the Interstate Park. Always viewing himself as a volunteer to the PIPC and champion of nature, Harriman valued his service during his fifty-three year tenure (1915-1954, 1959-1973). To ensure access for all, Averell, with his brother Roland, himself a Commissioner for four years (1955-1958) contributed to the creation of transportation networks throughout the Palisades enabling millions the ability to easily travel deep into the wilderness and to connect with nature and our history via railroads, bridges, trails, and scenic byways.
In collaboration with the PIPC, Mary Harriman, who persistently encouraged education, suggested the creation of relief camps to aid underprivileged and homeless children and teach them about the power of nature. The family’s charitable foundations continue to assist today’s 32 camps allowing thousands of children the opportunity to learn lifelong skills each summer. Carrying on her grandmother’s legacy, Mary Harriman Fisk, a Commissioner from 1974-1996, sponsored the Tiorati Workshop for Environmental Learning, a program that trains NYC’s public schools to teach inner-city students the wonders of nature.
Photo: Edward Henry Harriman in his office 1899.