Small Marker, Big Impact


On many hikes, I never truly feel like I have reached the summit of a peak until I’ve found a tiny metal disc drilled into the rock – as seen in the photo at the summit of Pharaoh Mountain.

These small plates of metal are called survey markers and they are put in place by surveyors to mark important points on the Earth’s surface. A mountain summit is a great location to place a marker as it allows a surveyor to have a panoramic view of the land around them and thus serves as a great reference point. You can learn a lot about where you are by spending a few minutes examining these small disks. Common information found on survey markers includes the name of the place, who installed the marker, and when it was installed, and elevation. These markers play an important role both locally and nationally as they laid the groundwork for creating accurate maps that we still depend upon today.

Here in the Adirondacks, many of the first survey markers were installed by Verplanck Colvin (1847-1920), the namesake of Mount Colvin, High Peak #39, and his surveying assistant Mills Blake, who is the namesake of Mount Colvin’s neighboring peak, Blake, High Peak #43. Born in Albany, Colvin spent many summers traveling north to explore the Adirondacks.

During this time, he witnessed many threats facing this beautiful area. His love for the land and his understanding that the Adirondacks would be destroyed without protection led him to become one of the first advocates for the Park. He lobbied for the funds to survey the lands he explored, and with those surveys he measured some of the first, accurate elevations of many High Peaks, including Marcy. Colvin also helped to determine the boundaries of state land which laid the foundation for the formation of the Adirondack Park. There are still a few of Colvin’s original markers out there (picture inset). Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find one on your next adventure!

This month’s Conservation Minute was written by Carolyn Koestner, LPLC’s Strategic Conservation Planner and GIS professional.