The limestone buttes, granite steppes and near-permanent icecap that make up the urban expanse known as Rockefeller Center constitute the best-known landscape connected to the famous family’s name.
But those 12 acres in Midtown Manhattan are far from the only vista that owes its existence to Rockefeller philanthropy.
Over the last century, five generations of Rockefellers have used the family wealth to reshape the American horizon, creating a magnificent panorama of open spaces and more than 20 national parks from the rocky coast of Maine to the icecapped mountains of Wyoming.
These natural oases are not always linked to the Rockefeller name, but tonight they will be. As part of the yearlong celebration of its 100th anniversary, the National Audubon Society, one of the nation’s largest and oldest conservation organizations, is honoring the family for a record of conservation that matches the society’s century-long existence.
”Cumulatively, no other family in America has made the contribution to conservation that the Rockefeller family has made,” said John Flicker, the society’s president.
The towering Palisades that guard the west bank of the Hudson River were preserved with Rockefeller money. So was Colonial Williamsburg. The family created exquisite miniatures like Greenacre Park, tucked between two buildings on East 51st Street in Manhattan, and it donated 35,000 acres to help form Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Part of the family’s Pocantico estate in Westchester County has become a beloved forest preserve, and an educational center known as the Stone Barns.
The Cloisters, Acadia National Park, Forest Hill Park, Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy — the list of the family’s efforts to conserve and protect the environment goes on and on.
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Many of the family’s most spectacular conservation efforts began with a family camping trip. ”As Father traveled, if he saw things that needed to be done, he took steps and did something about them,” David Rockefeller said.
He recalls accompanying his father to California in the 1920’s to see the giant redwood trees. When the elder Rockefeller found out that the trees were in danger of being clear-cut by a timber company, he helped buy 9,400 acres that he then donated to the state. That grove of ancient redwoods, including one that is more than 2,000 years old, is considered the largest old-growth redwood forest in the world.
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More than 30 members of the Rockefeller family — ranging in age from 17 to 90 — will be honored by the Audubon Society at tonight’s ceremony, each one involved with the environment. Most times, though, the support is low key and the family tries to shun the spotlight.
”The important part for us is not having our name on it,” said Gail O’Neill Caulkins, 52, a fifth-generation Rockefeller who is president of the Greenacre Foundation, which assists in the maintenance of city parks and supports dozens of community gardens, ”it’s seeing that something gets done.”
For the full story, see:
ANTHONY DEPALMA. “Praising Rockefellers for Land They Saved.” The New York Times (Tues., November 15, 2005): A25.
(The online version has a somewhat different title.)