Meet An MHLC Supporter: Suzette Tanis-Plant and a Family Legacy of Conservation Along the Bozen Kill

In 2018, MHLC is introducing you to some of our incredible community members: volunteers, easement holders, donors, and more. This month, we speak with Suzette Tanis-Plant, a long-time supporter of and advocate for conservation in the Capital Region (even from her home of France, Suzette plays a role in conservation work here!). Read on to learn more about Suzette, her family history of caring for the land, and the family’s special dedication to the Bozen Kill Conservation Corridor.

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Repairing the Christman Sanctuary Lean-to and Preserving a Piece of History

Suzette repairs the Christman Sanctuary Lean-to. Photo by Bill Little.

This May, Suzette spearheaded a collaborative effort to restore the historic lean-to at The Nature Conservancy’s Christman Sanctuary. The Christman Sanctuary, as well as MHLC’s Bozen Kill Preserve and Wolf Creek Falls Preserve, is within the Bozen Kill Conservation Corridor, one of MHLC’s Conservation Priority Areas. The Bozen Kill (Dutch for “raging stream”) runs through the Towns of Knox and Guilderland and is a significant tributary to the Watervliet Reservoir and watershed. The Bozen Kill ravine itself is recognized in The Nature Conservancy’s Resilient and Connected Lands mapping project as a resilient area.

The Christman lean-to is a historic structure dating back to 1930. It was built by the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club under the leadership of its president, local conservationist Paul Schaefer. This lean-to was part of his plan to envision a route connecting the southern New York trails with the Adirondack trail system. That route is now known as “The Long Path,” and the initials MVHC and LP remain engraved on the side of the lean-to as a reminder of this history. The Mohawk Valley Hiking Club, of which Suzette’s parents were members, has been gathering every year for a Thanksgiving breakfast at the lean-to so beautifully situated at the foot of the falls. It is also a popular destination for hikers and park visitors. After years of use, the lean-to was in need of repair. A hole had developed in the roof, and after further inspection, it became evident that the entire roof needed repairing: at least half of the support beams needed to be replaced, and all the tar shingles needed to be removed in order to reroof with metal sheets, which are better for the environment. From France, Suzette planned the project and then flew back to Albany from across the big pond to work until the last screw was in place a week later.

Suzette led a dedicated group of staff, volunteers, and community members from MHLC, The Nature Conservancy, and the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club to join together and repair the lean-to in May. Together, this group was able to repair the historic structure, preserving a bit of history while enhancing the Christman Sanctuary for all visitors. Suzette has been working to protect land in the Bozen Kill for many years, and the restoration of the Christman lean-to is just one of the many projects in which she has played a role.

How did you become interested in land conservation?

Suzette with her father, Henri Plant.

My interest in land conservation is an inheritance passed down from my father, Henri Plant. He was part of a group of people implicated in saving the Christman property, which is now known as the Christman Sanctuary, located at the upper end of the Bozen Kill. It harbors a set of splendid waterfalls including one 30 feet high. Once the land was brought under the protection of The Nature Conservancy, my father served as steward there for over 40 years. He was also a member of the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club, which has a long history of enjoying the great outdoors, including the Christman Sanctuary. I often accompanied my father on such hikes. He shared his enthusiasm over the big and small wonders of nature. He also shared his worries that people would pave over every last acre of land if allowed to do so. He was convinced that the only way to save acreage from land development is to set it aside as forever wild. I am trying to remain faithful to my father’s vision of land preservation by carrying forward his concerns and plans for action.

What inspired you to continue your father’s work along the Bozen Kill?

To save the Christman property from highway development in the 1970s, when I88 was routed to cut across it, a small group of people, including my father, established the Save the Bozen Kill Committee. Its first objective was to preserve the Bozen Kill waterfalls on the Christman property. The committee’s ultimate dream, however, was a much bigger one: preserve all the lands along this unique brook. He transmitted that vision to me, and my heart and efforts remain focused on the Save the Bozen Kill project.

The repair of the lean-to is part of necessary maintenance. The recent acquiring of more property on the Bozen Kill is the really important action needed to accomplish the big dream. While I am relieved about that purchase, the full project has not yet come to fruition. Many acquisitions are still necessary if the entire Bozen Kill is to be preserved. It is not a long brook, but different people own property along the river and the project will take several more generations. So fears still reign. Firstly, I fear that as generations go by, people could lose sight of the overall dream. Moreover, if we do not acquire the land, developers will move in as they do and start dividing up the area for the individual pleasure of a few who can afford to own a home on a big lot. There is just no end to suburban sprawl. Some open spaces have to be left wild so that the general public has access to such land and can thereby experience what wild really means.

How would you summarize the importance of conservation work?

Teamwork on the Christman lean-to. Photo by Bill Little.

There is a renewed interest in the concept of “local” as in for example “grown locally.” For years, my father was an ardent promoter of this concept: buy locally, get organized locally, and begin land preservation really locally, like right at home in your own garden. MHLC takes this idea of “local” to heart: concentrating on conserving land in its own backyard.

If you were to recommend MHLC to your best friend, what would you say?

If you wish to invest funds, or if you simply wish to invest your energy , for example by organizing a school outing on MHLC protected lands, MHLC is only a few steps away. MHLC allows you to make a difference for those living right here and now in this community. 

In February,  MHLC added 29 more acres to the Bozen Kill Conservation Corridor! This donation of land from Don and Donna Kelly connected other open spaces, expanding the corridor of natural lands. With the support of community members like Suzette, Don, and Donna, we can continue to save and protect land in the Capital Region.

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