Scenic Hudson Honors Land Conservation Groups

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 -- Jason Taylor

HUDSON VALLEY -- Scenic Hudson will honor 13 local, regional and national land trusts at its gala at Listening Rock Farm in Wassaic, Dutchess County, on Saturday, June 21.

Scenic Hudson is saluting the groups for their outstanding work in safeguarding critically important land and scenic wonders throughout the Hudson Valley. Scenic Hudson credits the land trusts with preserving and enhancing the assets that inspired the Hudson River School painters in the 19th century, that earned the region its designation by Congress as a National Heritage Area, and that provide hope for a sustainable future in the 21st century.

"These organizations, their boards, staff and members bring skill, passion and resources to bear to preserve the places that give the Hudson Valley its very identity -- and quality of life. We have partnered with many of these organizations in the past -- to protect scenic vistas, push for crucial environmental legislation and halt sprawling riverfront projects -- and we look forward to many more successes," said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan.

In speaking of future partnerships, Mr. Sullivan stated that the groups are collaborating with Scenic Hudson on its Saving the Land That Matters Most initiative to protect 65,000 threatened acres throughout the Hudson Valley that have been deemed by the state to have the highest scenic and/or biological significance.

The land trusts being honored are:

Audubon New York

Dedicated to protecting birds and their habitats, this state program of the National Audubon Society has been a conservation leader, through advocacy and education, since 1996. The group manages 11 sanctuaries and nature centers, including four in the Hudson Valley -- Constitution Marsh, Garrison (Putnam County); RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary, Catskill (Greene); Rheinstrom Hill, Craryville (Columbia); and Buttercup Farm, near Pine Plains (Dutchess). Local chapters manage additional sanctuaries throughout the region.

Especially noteworthy in its success, Audubon New York secured passage of legislation creating the state's Bird Conservation Area program. The group's current goal is to ensure protection of critical bird habitats threatened by global climate change and other causes. In addition to land protection and stewardship, Audubon New York is promoting smart growth measures and connecting more people to the wonders of nature through education.

Columbia Land Conservancy

For more than two decades, the Columbia Land Conservancy has been devoted to conserving the farmland, forests, wildlife habitat and rural character of Columbia County and to strengthening connections between people and the land. The organization has protected 20,000 acres of privately owned land with conservation agreements, has helped provide 5,300 acres of public lands, and helped secure $6 million in funding to protect some of the county's best farmland.

The Columbia Land Conservancy sees its work as a powerful community-building enterprise, employing outreach and education to deepen people's commitment to conservation, in turn strengthening communities. The group's leading goal is to be a dynamic force in supporting and sustaining a strong and vibrant rural community, where agriculture plays a central role in the economy, where development respects historic traditions and natural resources, and where there are accessible open spaces and abundant, healthy natural lands and wildlife habitats.

Dutchess Land Conservancy

Having preserved over 27,000 acres of land since 1985, the Dutchess Land Conservancy protects the scenic, agricultural and environmental resources of Dutchess County and the surrounding area. The group's land conservation focuses on farmland, open spaces, forests, water resources and wildlife habitats.

Highlights include protecting 305 properties with conservation easements, working with local and state partners and private citizens to raise more than $15.4 million to buy development rights on over 2,500 acres of working farmland in 11 Dutchess County towns, and working with Dover, the county and a private citizens group to preserve the Dover Stone Church property for passive recreational use. This land includes a historic cavern and waterfall with documented Native American presence in the 1600s, noted as significant by FDR and visited by New York City tourists in the 1800s. Emerging strategies include working with communities to acquire municipal conservation areas that provide recreational opportunities for the public and also helping towns foster sound decisions about strategic land conservation and well-planned growth.

Esopus Creek Conservancy

Conserving significant natural landscapes in the Lower Esopus Creek watershed and the Saugerties area has been the mission of the Esopus Creek Conservancy since its founding in 2003. The organization accomplishes its work through a strong belief in involvement of the local community along with forming partnerships with other environmental organizations in Ulster County and in the wider Hudson Valley.

The Esopus Creek Conservancy is preserving the property now know as the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve, whose 161 biologically diverse acres are located partially within the village and town of Saugerties, Ulster County. Situated on a dramatic bend in Esopus Creek, the preserve is visible to 10,000 travelers who cross the creek daily on Route 9W. The Esopus Creek Conservancy also has developed a variety of environmental-education programs. The Nature Preserve as Classroom, created in partnership with the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, has meant that over 1,000 children—future stewards of our land—come to the preserve twice a year with their teachers to learn the value of conserving nature. Looking ahead, the group is seeking to increase its capacity to further develop programs and involve the community, in Saugerties and beyond, in the appreciation and protection of our fragile environment.

The Greene Land Trust

Launched in 2004, this group works with a wide range of partners to facilitate a balance between sound development practices and effective protection and preservation of Greene County's natural and cultural resources for future generations. The Greene Land Trust has protected over 350 acres for habitat and watercourse protection, preservation of farmland and/or in mitigation of development.

The group has received kudos for an innovative partnership with the Greene County Industrial Development Agency. Contrary to the oft-adversarial relationship between development and preservation, Greene County leaders have recognized the value of finding common ground—literally and figuratively. Future plans include broadening the organization's scope to include more mountaintop preservation projects while maintaining a rigorous line of protection against imprudent development practices in the Hudson River towns of New Baltimore, Coxsackie, Athens and Catskill.

Hudson Highlands Land Trust

Working to protect the natural resources, rural character and scenic beauty of the iconic Hudson Highlands, this group was founded in 1989. It has directly protected over 1,300 acres in Philipstown and Putnam Valley through conservation-easement donations. Additionally the Hudson Highlands Land Trust can claim a lead role in protecting several thousand more acres through partnerships with other regional land-conservation organizations—including Scenic Hudson—and New York State.

While land conservation continues to be the central tenet of the group's mission, it is extremely proud of the great strides made in the areas of public policy, outreach and education. Partnerships with local municipalities, schools, community groups and other conservation organizations have proven to be of enormous benefit. By 2011 these conservationists are seeking to protect over 2,000 acres.

The Nature Conservancy, Eastern New York Chapter

Founded in 1953 as the first chapter of the The Nature Conservancy, the Eastern New York Chapter is dedicated to preserving the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth. It owns and manages 43 nature preserves encompassing over 15,000 acres throughout the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains. The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 500,000 acres statewide.

The chapter is spearheading Rising Waters, a collaborative planning effort that is helping Hudson River estuary communities adapt to climate change. With a diverse group of partners, Rising Waters is building coalitions and opening new sources of state and federal funding to enable more effective conservation in the Hudson Valley. The goal is to have the estuary's tidal wetlands, shorelines, flowing waters, tributaries and migratory fish seamlessly integrated into an interconnected landscape that is robust against climate change and other threats, benefits people as well as natural systems, and can address challenges originating within and far beyond the watershed.

New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has been developing, building and maintaining hiking trails—as well as preserving the land through which they pass—since 1920. The group has safeguarded 5,200 acres, helping expand Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Sterling Forest State Park and State Forest lands along the Shawangunk Ridge and the Long Path. Trails the group built and maintains stretch 1,700 miles, extending along both sides of the Hudson River and from Long Island to the Delaware Water Gap to north of the Catskills.

The conference is dedicated to boosting its Community Trails Program, which aims to create new trails close to where people live and, where possible, linking them to larger trail networks or greenways; and protecting through strategic land acquisitions or easements three at-risk long-distance Hudson Valley trails—the 36-mile Shawangunk Ridge Trail, 350-mile Long Path and 150-mile Highlands Trail.

Orange County Land Trust

Founded in 1993 by former County Executive Louis V. Mills, the Orange County Land Trust has preserved 3,200 acres of fields, forests, wetlands, ridgelines, river corridors and working farms in Orange and Sullivan counties. It owns and maintains eight preserves open to the public free of charge for passive recreation and nature education. The group recently completed the acquisition of Arrow Park lands in Monroe, adding 254 acres of pristine woodlands to Sterling Forest and creating a greater amount of contiguous open space—crucial for wildlife dependent on a variety of habitats.

Working in partnership with the county and its many municipalities, the land trust is committed to doubling existing preserved land to 6,000 acres over the next three years. This work is crucial because Orange County remains the fastest-growing county in New York State, and development pressure continues to threaten its scenically important and biologically sensitive lands.

Trust for Public Land, New York State

Since its 1972 launch, the Trust for Public Land has completed more than 3,500 land-conservation projects in 47 states, protecting more than two million acres that define America's communities and are central to its ecosystems. Its projects range from expansive recreation areas and historic homesteads to vest-pocket city parks. Since 1994 the trust also has helped states and communities craft and pass more than 330 ballot measures generating almost $25 billion in new conservation-related funding.

In New York the organization is dedicated to delivering more "on the ground" conservation locally; expanding and creating linkages between parks at the state, county and local levels; and, through conservation transactions and visioning, building support for land conservation as a forward-looking treatment for sprawl.

Wallkill Valley Land Trust

The Wallkill Valley Land Trust has been working with landowners to protect the rural character of southern Ulster County since 1988. It has preserved 24 parcels encompassing approximately 1,500 acres, including eight farms and the 12-mile Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. Among its notable recent accomplishments was the successful completion of the Two Farms Campaign in 2007. This initiative, achieved in partnership with the Open Space Institute, safeguarded 181 acres and nearly a mile of Wallkill River shoreline on adjoining working farms.

The organization now is working on 29 additional conservation projects. It also is collaborating with other grassroots, community-based land trusts to hold the second annual Ulster County land preservation conference in November, and to improve the rate, quality and permanence of land protection throughout the county.

Westchester Land Trust

Founded in 1988, Westchester Land Trust partners with private property owners to conserve land, helps communities create new parks and preserves, and fosters sound land-use planning. It has protected over 5,700 acres, including almost 3,800 acres on 163 conservation easements, 547 acres on 27 preserves it owns and 1,385 acres on 12 preserves and farms for which it helped negotiate preservation agreements. Overall it has safeguarded land in 25 of Westchester's 42 municipalities.

In an effort to halt sprawling development in the county, the land trust has set a goal of protecting a total of 10,000 acres by 2012.

Winnakee Land Trust

Recognizing that the identity of northern Dutchess County is deeply tied to its agricultural and forested landscapes dotted with compact villages, the Winnakee Land Trust has been protecting the natural, scenic, recreational, historic and cultural resources of this region since 1989. It holds conservation easements on more than 2,000 acres, owns two public parks -- including Burger Hill Park in Rhinebeck, originally protected by Scenic Hudson -- and has established miles of hiking trails.

Through partnerships with other land trusts and municipalities, the group is committed to strengthening its stewardship of the environment by protecting additional acreage and creating new trails for the public to enjoy.

Galas honor partners crucial to land-preservation campaign

The gala is one of three events Scenic Hudson is hosting in May and June to celebrate the partnerships that will enable the organization to complete its campaign to Save the Land that Matters Most.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, which is providing Scenic Hudson with support for its land-saving campaign, recognizes the need for collaboration in protecting the Hudson Valley's iconic landscapes and unique history. "For the region and the nation, it's critically important that future generations have an opportunity to enjoy this valley's special places," said Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts. "At Pew, we work with conservation-minded individuals and institutions who share our commitment to preserving our natural resources, and we're delighted to be part of this undertaking."

A May 20 event in Irvington, Westchester County, honored three "smart growth" developers -- Bridge Street Properties, LeylandAlliance and the Jonathan Rose Companies -- that have revitalized downtowns, bringing economic prosperity to former industrial waterfronts and connecting people to the Hudson River while protecting historic and ecological resources. Their work epitomizes Scenic Hudson's strategy to steer development to municipal centers, protecting working farms and other open space on their outskirts.

On June 25 Scenic Hudson will honor State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash and the organization Parks & Trails New York for spearheading efforts to restore our magnificent state parks.