Meet MHLC: Laura Shore of Farm Share Studio

In 2018, MHLC is introducing you to some of our incredible community members: volunteers, easement holders, donors, and more. In December, we speak with MHLC member Laura Shore: artist, volunteer, and activist. Laura is the artist behind Farm Share Studio and currently has a show at Arlene’s Artist Materials on at 57 Fuller Road in Albany which will run through the end of January 2019. You may have seen Laura’s paintings of fresh, local food and open landscapes in the Capital Region in MHLC’s newsletters, e-blasts, and ads: read on to learn how Laura’s art benefits local conservation organizations, including MHLC!

What do you love about living in the Capital Region?

Laura in her studio.

I enjoy exploring the back roads and agricultural landscapes that surround my village of Altamont. There’s nothing like cresting a hill and seeing fields and big skies revealed on the other side. I also like learning about the history of places, and have found that agricultural landscapes are as readable as old maps. Until recently many parts of our region have seen family farms exist quite intimately with suburbs. But today, these farmlands are under pressure because the farmers are struggling. As a result, development threatens to turn our beautiful region into another Atlanta, strangled by cars and sprawl.

How does your art support local farmland?

When I retired five years ago, my goal was to begin painting and to find a way to give back to the community. I chose to focus on local food as a way to promote CSAs (community supported agriculture), farmers markets, and farm stands. If we can build consumer demand for local food, I thought, we can make it more profitable for small farmers to stay on the land. Imagine if the 1.2 million people in the Capital Region spent even a small portion of their food budget directly with local farmers.

“Old Barns with Chicory” by Laura Shore

From my paintings I produce cards and prints, which are available in local shops. Each year 10% of my proceeds are donated to organizations that support farmland conservation through agricultural easements and other means. Happily, the amount has grown every year. I focus my giving on the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, the Agricultural Stewardship Association, and the American Farmland Trust. I also donate to the Schenectady Greenmarket, Capital Roots, and the Regional Food Pantries.

*Support local conservation, local foods, and local art: visit the Farm Share Studio Etsy shop to purchase Laura’s artwork.

Why do you support local agriculture and farmlands?

I’ve learned that eating organic food from farms that integrate livestock with produce helps balance out the environmental demands of farming and helps protect against climate change. We have enough ghost malls and empty storefronts in overbuilt shopping centers to realize that real estate development benefits the developers but not the community over the long term. And once we’ve let the land go, it’s gone forever.

Would you like to join the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy? Become a volunteer, make a contributionprotect your land, or become an intern. We want to meet you!

🌱 A Focus on Farmland

The Triumpho Farmland is our latest conservation project.

Working landscapes, which provide food, are becoming quickly swallowed up by development and suburban sprawl. The American Farmland Trust’s recent Cultivate New York report states that an average of 3 farms per week have been destroyed over the last 30 years in New York State. This means that we have fewer places to grow local, healthy food.

This year, MHLC has taken steps to tackle the growing need for farm preservation in the Capital Region, including joining the American Farmland Trust’s Hudson Valley Farmlink Network, connecting us to a wide network of landowners, farmers, and other organizations dedicated to keeping farms as farmland. Our work on the Triumpho farmland is another step towards protecting working landscapes: by preserving soils of statewide significance, we ensure they are available for future food production for a sustainable future in Montgomery County.   

Why focus on working landscapes? MHLC is committed to not only protect open spaces and scenic vistas, but also to protect fertile soils, farmable land, and the future of food production in our service area .Our farmland protection projects follow New York State’s Sound Agricultural Practices and fit into our larger conservation priorities for our work in the Hudson and Mohawk River Valleys. When we preserve working landscapes, we take into account the surrounding environment and natural resources, finding a balance between the working portions of the land and the other resources such as fresh water and wildlife habitat which are also protected.

We are currently working to protect the Triumpho farmland in St. Johnsville: 540 acres in the Mohawk Valley which have belonged to the Triumpho family for over 100 years. We’re working to save this land from any future development by placing a conservation easement on the property. You can learn more about the history and ecology of this land on our Triumpho Farmland webpage. We interviewed Richard about the history of his land and his desire to protect it: read this interview in our December 2018 edition of ViewPoints, MHLC’s print newsletter.

To read more about the landscape of farming in New York State, read the American Farmland Trust’s Cultivate New York report

To read more about MHLC’s work on farmland protection and working landscapes, visit our Farmland Protection webpage

 

 

 

Sarah Walsh
Conservation Director

Celebrate #GivingTuesday by TRIPLING YOUR GIFT to MHLC!

How are you celebrating #GivingTuesday?

Observed on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday is the day that kicks off the giving season. In 2018, Giving Tuesday lands on November 27th. In New York, this is also celebrated as #NYGivesDay.

EXCITING NEWS! From Monday, 11/26 through Monday, 12/3, every dollar that MHLC receives online will be matched 2:1 by an anonymous donor.

So for every $100 donated, the anonymous donor will give $200 and MHLC will receive $300 in total, tripling the impact of your gift!

This is an extraordinary opportunity and a chance for us to raise the funds that will sustain our work in the new year. Can you help?

Click the button above or click here to make your donation—and triple your gift—today!

THANK YOU for making a difference! Use the hashtag #theMHLCdifference to inspire your friends and family to triple their gifts, as well!

Meet MHLC: Lorraine Plauth and the Joy of Volunteering

In 2018, MHLC is introducing you to some of our incredible community members: volunteers, easement holders, donors, and more. In October, we speak with MHLC member and volunteer Lorraine Plauth: trail builder, photographer, hike sweeper, and more! Lorraine is one of our Preserve Stewards: volunteers who regularly monitor and care for a nature preserve. She shares stewardship of the Van Dyke Preserve with two other stewards.

When did you begin volunteering with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy?

Lorraine re-marking trails at the Winn Preserve this November.

One day, several years ago, I crossed paths with another woman on the trails at the Bozen Kill Preserve. We stopped and talked for a bit. That lucky chance encounter happened to be with Connie Tedesco, then Stewardship Director for MHLC. Connie mentioned that new Conservancy volunteers were always welcome and needed. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I was on board within a few days.

What inspires you to support MHLC?

I grew up in the countryside between Altamont and Voorheesville. Over the years I have seen continued development that has greatly changed our natural landscape. My belief is that it’s important for everyone to have special places to go to, and for many of us, that is forests and fields, mountains and lakes. Being involved with an organization whose mission it is to preserve and protect these special places is very important to me.

I have been a hiker since the 70s and a lifelong nature lover. Being outside in any season is a passion of mine. My friends and I enjoy the Conservancy’s 18 public nature preserves in many different ways: we walk, bird, snowshoe, cross country ski, sit, listen, look. Each visit is a new experience. These places are for all of us to enjoy with friends, family, or sometimes, even on our own.

How would you describe your role as a volunteer at MHLC? 

Volunteering with the Conservancy has been a perfect match for me. I have an irregular schedule and volunteering with MHLC allows me to have the flexibility to help out when I am available.

Each volunteer work project has an experienced group leader who gives directions for what the jobs are for that particular day. Given the specific guidelines, I feel comfortable trying any tasks that I think are within my ability. Some of the work has involved marking trails, cutting brush, moving rocks, getting muddy, clearing trash, helping on scheduled outings which are open to everyone. I feel I am helping to enhance the places the Conservancy has worked so hard to acquire and protect.

Which is your favorite aspect of volunteering with MHLC?

Lorraine helps at MHLC events like our Reading the Landscape hike with Ondatra Adventures.

I’ve assisted with MHLC events such as the most recent one, Reading the Landscape, led by David Muska from Ondatra Adventures. The group of people who signed up for this outing got to walk a beautiful easement property that has significant Native American history attached to it. The property owners and David drew our attention to features of the forests and fields, giving us clues about some of the things that took place there in the distant past.

One of my favorite things is spending time with such knowledgeable, friendly, and generous people. This includes MHLC staff, other volunteers, property owners, outing leaders, and people from the public attending the outings. I’m especially delighted watching children on some of the outings, seeing their excitement while learning about the outdoors. These are the future protectors of our lands.

It’s been an unexpected bonus learning about land easements, solar energy, trail development, and even how to build a fire with one match. I can honestly say it’s been rewarding and fun every time I’ve been involved with the Conservancy. I always look forward to the next opportunity to be involved in one way or another.

I’m reminded once again of what Connie Tedesco said, that volunteers are always welcome and needed. I’m so glad I have become one. It’s been a fantastic experience.

Would you like to join the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy? Become a volunteer, make a contributionprotect your land, or become an intern. We want to meet you!

 

 

Help MHLC Protect 540 Acres in the Mohawk Valley

According to the American Farmland Trust, 3 acres of farmland are lost to development every minute in the United States.

In Montgomery County, MHLC has an opportunity to save 540 acres of farmland-forever! We are working to protect the Triumpho farmland: 540 acres in St. Johnsville which have been in the Triumpho family for over 100 years. We need funds to permanently preserve the land’s many treasures: fertile soils, the banks and waters of Zimmerman Creek (a key water source for St. Johnsville), and hundreds of acres of rolling hills, forests, and fields.

Learn more!

Can you help us protect the Triumpho farmland? Saving land requires many resources and we need your help to close a funding gap of $20,000. Together, we can preserve the legacy of this historic farm-forever.

Learn more about the Triumpho farm and make a donation today!

Our Favorite Gadgets: How Tech Improves Stewardship

Once MHLC has protected a property, either by owning it outright or placing a conservation easement on the land, our work has only just begun. The goal of land trusts like the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy is to protect land in its natural state in perpetuity–forever.

In the autumn season, this means inspecting our properties’ boundaries, trails, and sensitive areas to ensure we are meeting our long-term commitments. With over 25 miles of protected boundary lines to walk and document, technology is key to making our time and record keeping more effective. There are many tools we use to inspect and document these properties.

Here are three key pieces of tech we use every day:

GPS unit: We use a Garmin Oregon handheld GPS unit to track where we walk within 30 meters. The GPS unit  drops “waypoints” at specific places of interest to later include on the property maps we make back at the office.

iPad, Bluetooth GPS enhancement, and Geolocation apps: Property corners defined in hundred-year-old deeds are often over hill and dale, winding along stonewalls, and hidden under fallen trees and leaves. MHLC uses an iPad with an external GPS enhancement: this shows us exactly where we are on a property through apps like Avenza and OnXHunt. These apps allow us to download maps to our device and work offline through Bluetooth in remote areas without data availability.

Canon PowerShot A2200: This point-and-shoot camera gives us the ability to take high-quality photos without risk of damaging this durable piece of equipment.

We are grateful to the many donors who contributed to our Stewardship Wish List at this year’s Fall Fundraiser. Thank you for helping us protect land in the Capital Region!

Sawyer Cresap
Stewardship and Volunteer Coordinator
sawyer@mohawkhudson.org

If you’d like to donate towards our stewardship needs, e-mail Director of Development and Operations Lea Montalto-Rook at lea@mohawkhudson.org.

From the Conservation Director: Fieldwork in the Fall

The autumn months are a busy time for MHLC.

Despite the cooler weather, we pull on our thick coats and warm boots to head outside: this is a time of year when our field work increases substantially.

Stewardship and Volunteer Coordinator Sawyer Cresap is working with our Preserve Stewards to ensure downed trees are out of the way for the coming snow: we want cross-country skiers and snow-shoers to get the most out of our 18 public preserves this season. Sawyer is also in the midst of monitoring our conservation easements. She travels across our three-county service area in the MHLC truck to visit these properties, walking the lands and meeting with landowners. Each year, we visit our protected properties to ensure the ongoing stewardship of these lands. 

I’m also out in the field, meeting with partners and inspecting new properties which we hope to protect. Sawyer is often with me as we hike through these lands and create baseline documentation reports. These detailed records of the lands are a catalog of everything we plan to protect: from the geology of the land to the birds that visit the property, these reports also provide the landowner with a great account of their property and the natural resources they are protecting through a conservation easement

As always, Executive Director Mark King is out and about, meeting with landowners, donors, and partners to identify new land protection projects and to strengthen our ability to save the lands of our service area. Last week, we took the entire MHLC staff out for a Halloween hike on a property we’re working to protect in the Helderbergs.  

When we are out in the field, we depend upon technology to help us efficiently and effectively document the lands we’re working to protect. To learn more about the technology our stewardship and conservation staff use on a daily basis, check out Stewardship and Volunteer Coordinator Sawyer Cresap’s blog post, “How Technology Improves Stewardship.”

If you see us the MHLC Stewardship truck this season, be sure to wave hello!

Sarah Walsh
Conservation Director
sarah@mohawkhudson.org 

 

 

Guest Post: Trail Running at Van Dyke Preserve by Donna Liquori

Autumn at Van Dyke Preserve.

I can’t tell you how many times I ran past the Van Dyke Preserve. It’s along my training route and I pass it every time I struggled up the hill to Meads Lane. On my way home, I pass it again. I’d think about maybe doing a walk there, perhaps with the dog, and always some other time.

But one hot day, after cutting short a bad run, I impulsively turned into the small gravel parking lot and hit the trail. I had neither the stamina or the motivation to run the 12 or so miles I set out to do and turned back prematurely, disappointed. I don’t know what drove me to the Van Dyke trail that day, but I was immediately grateful that I did. The trail snakes around the Phillipin Kill and dips down into one of those ravines that we have so many of in our town. They help save us from overdevelopment, I believe, because they’re simply undevelopable, and once you start noticing them, you spot them everywhere. Entering the wooded trail was comforting; it was thick and dark and cool, and I stopped beating myself up about the lousy run. In fact, I bounced along, enjoying being off the hot pavement. My impulse to run that trail created a new habit. Now each time, I need a lift or the run isn’t going well, I run the Van Dyke Preserve or the Swift Preserve.

The bench at Van Dyke Preserve was donated by the Bethlehem Garden Club.

Recently, I dropped my daughter off at the high school and headed over again, this time on purpose. I parked and ran the trail. Recent residual rains from Hurricane Florence had created a slick surface. Trail running is more mental I think than running on any other kind of surface. You have to watch out for the slick spots, roots and rocks that may have rolled onto the trail. So all I think about is the trail. Besides being in the woods, which to me is an instant stress reducer, the act of thinking so purely about not trying to fall blocks out any issues from work or the kids or home. Watch that rock, heed that limb. But I always make sure I stop. Just for a minute or two, usually toward the end of a run. Sometimes I sit on the bench near the trailhead. I look up at the trees, feel the breeze, listen to the birds and just be in the woods.

Donna Liquori is a freelance writer and editor. You may have met Donna at an MHLC event: she is a long-time, dedicated volunteer with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.

Looking for a place to go trail running? Find a nature preserve near you!

Under the Stars: Photos from MHLC’s 2018 Fall Fundraiser!

Thank you to everyone who joined us on October 4 for Under the Stars, MHLC’s annual fall fundraiser. 

On the fourth floor of the New York State Museum, friends old and new enjoyed live music by Spiral Tango with Ray Andrews, wine from Capital Wine, beer and cider from Indian Ladder Farms Cidery & Brewery, and a delicious dinner by Garden Bistro 24. Between conversations and announcements, guests enjoyed a view of the stars from the terrace and rides on the historic carousel.

We also announced the continued success of our comprehensive campaign: we are only $300,000 away from our goal of $5 million in 5 years for land conservation in the Capital Region!

Enjoy photos from this fun event, which was also featured in the Times Union’s “Were You Seen” section.

 

 

We set an ambitious goal: help us raise $5 million for land conservation!

In 2013, the MHLC’s Board of Directors quietly set two ambitious goals for our future: to raise $2.3 million for operations, and to raise $5 million for land conservation—all within five years.

As of October 2018, our first fundraising goal has been met: $2.3 million dollars have been raised for operations! This funding has enabled us to grow from a staff of two to a staff of six, to amplify outreach and fundraising efforts, and to connect with more landowners in Albany, Montgomery, and Schenectady Counties, thereby increasing opportunities to protect local properties from current and future development.

The second goal, to raise $5 million for land protection, is nearly achieved: as of early October, we have raised $4.7 million of our $5 million goal. We hope to raise the remaining $300,000 in the upcoming months: and you can help! 

Donate Today!

With your help, we’ll protect more of the lands which make the Capital Region so beautiful.

These two goals, originally established in 2013, have set the stage for the Conservancy’s remarkable growth in the past five years. In that time, the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy has protected 3,000 acres, bringing its total protected acres more than 5,000 and more than doubling the acreage of the previous 20 years. With the support of thousands of individual donors, we have protected lands across our tri-county service area of Albany, Montgomery, and Schenectady Counties, preserving fields, forests, and farmlands, protecting natural resources and important habitats, combating climate change through carbon sequestration, and opening new nature preserves to the public, including the Bozen Kill Preserve in Altamont, the Strawberry Fields Preserve in Amsterdam, and the Fox Preserve in Colonie.

“This is a historic moment for conservation in the Capital Region,” says Mark King, Executive Director of MHLC. “The growth of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy reflects a larger phenomenon: as more land is developed year after year, our communities are driven to protect the remaining natural spaces of our home. Because of the dedication of our supporters, MHLC has been able to become the Capital Region’s local land trust, acting quickly and decisively to protect more acres than ever before.”

We hope you will consider making a gift towards our Comprehensive Campaign: we are only $300,000 away from reaching our funding goal for future urgent conservation efforts. Contributions of any size will go a long way towards supporting the Conservancy’s mission, combating climate change and providing important benefits to current and future generations, including scenic views, plant and animal diversity, clean air and water, and the chance to explore and learn about the natural features that make the Capital Region so special. Thank you!

Give to MHLC’s Campaign!

 

Meet MHLC: Jessica Ottney Mahar and the Importance of Family, Nature, and Community

In 2018, MHLC is introducing you to some of our incredible community members: volunteers, easement holders, donors, and more. In October, we speak with MHLC member Jessica Ottney Mahar: Colonie resident, Policy Director for The Nature Conservancy, and frequent visitor of MHLC’s Ashford Glen Preserve.

Why is the Ashford Glen Preserve important to you and your family?

The Mahar family at Ashford Glen.

When we were looking for a larger home for our growing family, my husband Sean and I were thrilled to find one that had a nature preserve just down the street! Of course there were other things on our list of criteria in a house, but having Ashford Glen a walk away in our neighborhood was a huge selling point. We now visit the preserve often with our daughter Stefanie who loves to have adventures on the trail. Our neighbors also frequent the preserve with their dogs and families, using it for exercise and a place to relax and clear the mind. Recently we were led by two neighborhood families and Sawyer, who stewards all of the Conservancy’s preserves, in building a fence along the road and the preserve to prevent some illegal ATV use that had been happening. It now looks very beautiful and we know that the preserve is protected from that kind of abuse.

What inspired you to support MHLC?
Our family deeply believes in the mission of the MHLC.  We want very much for our daughter to grow up in a place that has functioning ecosystems with clean water, open spaces and forests, and abundant wildlife.  More and more here in a town like Colonie, these places are dwindling and we worry about what our town will look like when she is our age.  We support MHLC because once family farms, local forests or wetlands are gone, they’re gone forever, and so are the many benefits they contribute to our community.  In a climate changing world, we know that we have to be smarter about the way we live, and ensuring we have forests to store carbon dioxide and wetlands to buffer us from flooding is also really important to us when thinking about the future.  MHLC is doing work that will help our community in all these ways, and so we are happy to support this great organization. 

Which is your favorite aspect of being a member of a local land trust?
We are happy to meet other people who, like us, want to better our community through conservation. We are enthusiastic about learning from those who started and have been long-time supporters of MHLC, and about getting to know other young families who support the organization as we think about how we can help move it forward into the future.

The Mahars and their neighbors who built the new fence at Ashford Glen Preserve.

 

Would you like to join the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy? Become a volunteer, make a contributionprotect your land, or become an intern. We want to meet you!

 

 

Your Local Land Trust: Fighting Climate Change, Naturally

Extreme weather events this year have sparked climate change conversations across the globe. Wildfires fill the California skies with smoke, major heat waves hit the United Kingdom and Japan, and record rainfalls have punctuated a hot New York summer with severe flooding events. With sweltering temperatures and damaging storms, many people wonder: “Is this weather caused by climate change?”

Yes. Although individual weather events cannot be attributed to climate change, these changing patterns and trends in the weather are the result of increased greenhouse gas emissions over the past two centuries and a changing climate.

The real question is: how can we fight climate change? Tackling such a global issue is a complex task, but there is hope. Your local land trust is working daily to protect landscapes which naturally sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gases, and provide climate-resilient habitats. Through the conservation of undeveloped lands, we are fighting climate change.

Carbon Sequestration

Forests are carbon sinks, and we need to protect them.

The majority of MHLC’s protected lands are forested landscapes. These forests provide habitat for wildlife and filter air and water for our communities, but they are also natural sequesters of carbon. As trees photosynthesize, they trap carbon from the atmosphere in their tissues. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “one acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and creates four tons of oxygen – enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.” Forests are carbon sinks: by protecting them, we slow climate change by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Climate Resilience

By strategically planning our conservation, we can better protect the lands which will store carbon and which will help our ecosystems survive an already-changing climate. To date, we have protected more than 5,000 acres, with many more acres to be announced in the coming weeks.

Along the Bozen Kill. Photo by Kathy Meany.

We prioritize our land projects based on several Conservation Criteria, including climate resilience. When we use the term “resilient,” we are referring to the ability of a landscape to support a variety of plants and animals in a changing climate. The Nature Conservancy has been studying resilience for over a decade and has created mapping tools which MHLC uses to examine our service area through a lens of resilience. Resilient areas often have steep topography and water features which create natural cooling: our work in the Bozen Kill Conservation Corridor is a great example of protecting a resilient landscape.

Act Locally For Global Impact

Our conservation work is more important than ever. By supporting MHLC, you are strengthening our ability to protect local, resilient lands and to store carbon in the fight against climate change. To donate, click here.

To learn more, visit our MHLC, Conservation, and Climate Change page.

 

 

 

Sarah Walsh
Conservation Director

🌲 Fisher Boulevard Property: 35 Acres Protected FOREVER!

The Fisher Boulevard Property is officially protected—forever! MHLC reached out to the community for support, and you responded. Within two months, we met (and exceeded!) our fundraising goal, enabling MHLC to complete the project while ensuring permanent stewardship of these 35 acres.

On Thursday, August 30th, the staff, Board, and Advisory Council of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy joined with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Five Rivers, the Friends of Five Rivers, elected officials, representatives from the Student Conservation Association, and the donors who gave to this incredibly important project. As we met on the Fisher Boulevard Property, in a field lined by milkweed and other wildflowers, monarch butterflies fluttered by while our partners spoke about the great success of this project.

Speakers included DEC Regional Director Keith Goertz, MHLC Executive Director Mark King, Assemblymember Pat Fahy, Senator Neil Breslin, Bethlehem Town Supervisor David Van Luven, Dan Berry of the Friends of Five Rivers, and Student Conservation Association Member Alex Garrigan-Piela.

“The overwhelming response of our community to the Fisher Boulevard project has been inspiring,” said Mark King, Executive Director of MHLC. “Starting with a significant leading contribution from the Board of Directors of the Friends of Five Rivers citizens’ support group, we quickly met and surpassed our fundraising goal through a rush of support from the community. The grassroots movement of our neighbors has been heartening, and we are grateful for their dedication to preserving this idyllic property.” Thank you to all of our supporters who made this work possible. Because of your support, MHLC has preserved this unique property, recognized for its expanse of undeveloped land in an increasingly-developed area, and has added it to the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center.

To read the official press release from MHLC and DEC, click here.

To watch video of the event from DEC, scroll down.

To see DEC’s photos of the event, click here.

To learn more about the Fisher Boulevard Property, click here.

To read the latest news on MHLC and the Fisher Boulevard Property, visit our MHLC In The News page.

Meet MHLC Member Arlen Westbrook: Nature Lover

In 2018, MHLC is introducing you to some of our incredible community members: volunteers, easement holders, donors, and more. In August, we spoke with Arlen Westbrook at her home in Elsmere. Arlen is a retired social worker who loves to hike and canoe in the Hudson and Mohawk River valleys and beyond. She is also a member of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.

Sitting on her screened-in porch, surrounded by the green of late-summer maples and the sounds of cicadas, Arlen described why she has supported MHLC for over fifteen years, and explained that she finds great value in the green spaces and accessible trails near her home. 

Arlen Westbrook loves living near forever-wild lands.

How did you first become involved with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy?
I met John Abbuhl (a founding member of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy) through my work at the Capital Area Speech Center. I’ve always been interested in nature, conservation, and wildlife, and John told me that there was a group I may be interested in supporting. I joined the Conservancy as a member in 2005.

Now, I support the Conservancy by donating annually. I also join some of the local hikes in nearby preserves like the Normans Kill Preserves and the Van Dyke Preserve.

What do you wish more people knew about nature and land conservation?
I think many people are very disconnected from the world around them. Some people are frightened of being in the woods. I wish more people had the opportunity to go outside and observe the world around them. I collect sand and stones and shells- everything out there is free to enjoy. All you have to do is look and find it.

Have you always been interested in nature?
I have always been interested in nature and connecting with animals, plants, lakes, oceans, woods. I don’t have a deep philosophy about nature; it simply matters to me. As my late husband Perry Westbrook used to say, “Connecting with animals and plants is connecting with our elemental nature as human beings.” I think that’s true. We are part of nature, and we have to protect nature. This is especially important to me as we learn more about climate change, which is very frightening. 

I’ve lived mostly in this area since 1952, although I also travel. Wherever I am, I like to support nature and wilderness. I support the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy’s goals.

One of Arlen’s favorite hiking spots is the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, which was recently expanded by 35 acres preserved by MHLC.

Why do you continue to support MHLC?
I just like what you do! I’ve never been disappointed with the Conservancy’s work.

I appreciate that there are opportunities to go on shorter, more accessible walks through the woods. As I age, rough hikes are more difficult for me. I used to hike the Adirondacks and the Catskills and go to the top of huge peaks when I was 30. Now that I’m older, I like to go on shorter walks in the woods, and a preserve with a good parking lot is more accessible to me.

The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy has grown from something very small into quite a large organization, and it’s nice to see the work that has been happening. One of my favorite places to walk nearby is the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, which MHLC recently expanded by preserving 35 neighboring acres.

Would you like to join the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy? Become a volunteer, make a contributionprotect your land, or become an intern. We want to meet you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: A History of Patroons and Patrons at Bennett Hill

Recently, while working on the trails of MHLC’s Bennett Hill Preserve as part of my internship with the Conservancy, I became curious about the history of European agriculture and settlement on this land. The history of the small farm neighboring the property (while beginning your hike on the Green Trail, you’ll often catch sight- or scent- of the cows who graze next door) offers a peek into the lives of those living in New Netherland, and how the beauty of this area brought lots of attention from European settlers.

In the summer of 1787, Jonas T. Bush leased this property for agricultural use from Stephen Van Rensselaer. This land lease, drafted by Alexander Hamilton, the brother-in-law of Van Rensselaer, bound tenant farmers to the land under strict guidelines. This type of lease was common in the patroonship system: a system of colonization which characterized Dutch settlements in New Netherlands in the late 18th century. Patroons were very popular in this region because they provided people with an opportunity for self-employment and a place to live. The Van Rensselaer family were the largest landholders in the Albany area, and their full estate, known as Rensselaerswyck, covered most of modern-day Albany and Rensselaer Counties, as well as parts of Columbia and Greene Counties.

The agreement was also sweetened to entice veterans of the Revolutionary War to lease portions of the land, as they could farm the land for seven years without any payment, after which the normal contract (including rent payments) would apply. During his time on the property, Jonas T. Bush made many improvements to the land. He started by building the original barn and farmhouse (no longer existing) on site and opening up the land up for farming. Bush would continue to farm the land until the 1820s, when William Chapman purchased the land. Chapman constructed a stone farmhouse and continued to farm the land until 1834, when it was sold once again.

The bathtub is a popular photo op for hikers!

This new owner was named Rushmore Bennett, and he was quick to purchase the land after seeing untapped potential in the farm. Bennett was eager to make changes and went for a more industrious farming model. During his time on the property, Bennett installed a gristmill on the Onesquethaw Creek. The mill allowed for the rapid production of flour, which provided additional income. Aside from farming crops and producing flour, Bennett also raised animals on the property. Many of them enjoyed grazing at the top of the hill, so he installed a bathtub, located downstream of a natural spring, for use as a trough. Today, this ‘bathtub spring” has been restored to its former glory and can be found near the trail.

During his ownership, Bennett also made several expansions onto the stone farmhouse, and turned one wing into a local inn. Bennett himself did not live to see the success of the inn, but his daughter, Elizabeth H. Bennett, and her husband worked hard and the inn became a local mainstay. At its peak, the inn could hold 40 occupants, and the typical rate was about $14 a week. As the railroad system spread across upstate New York, more travelers arrived on the West Shore Railway, often departing from the Altamont or Ravena rail stations. The Bennett family operated a service cart that would transport the travelers from the station to the inn for their stay.

Visitors to Bennett Hill Farm’s inn were attracted to the scenic beauty of this rural area: great views of Pinnacle Mountain and Clarksville are still enjoyed by visitors to today’s Bennett Hill Nature Preserve. Other features of the preserve include sinkholes, springs, a small wetland at the top of the hill, and beautiful forested terrain for a nice, shady hike to the top.

Please note that the Bennett Hill farm house and barn area is on private land, and we ask that any visitors respect the owner’s property and privacy. We hope that you can make it out to Bennett Hill Preserve sometime to discover (or rediscover) the beauty of the area, which has attracted Native and European people for millennia.

Alec

 

Citations

National Archives Catalog: National Registry of Historic Places Registration Form

https://catalog.archives.gov/id/75316169

National Archives Catalog: Single Property Listings, New York: Bennett Hill Farm, Page 13

https://catalog.archives.gov/id/75311943

 

 

From the Conservation Director: MHLC Boosts Farmland Protection Efforts

The Eldridge Farm in Rensselaerville

Did you know that MHLC protects active farmland?

Our Conservation Priority Areas include working landscapes: properties which can be utilized for their natural resources, particularly farming and sustainable forestry.

Changing climate, increasing development pressures, and a growing population put pressure on our local farmlands. Local foods are an essential piece of sustainable and healthy living, and farmlands must be protected to ensure future food production. MHLC has long been a protector of working lands for farming and forestry, illustrated best by our conservation easement on Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont, completed in 2003, and our conservation easement on 218 acres of farmland in Rensselaerville in 2017.

However, there has been an increasing need for financial and community support of farmland protection. The American Farmland Trust’s recent report states that 3 acres of farm land are lost every minute in the United States.

To respond to these pressures, MHLC has highlighted our farm protection efforts on our website as well as joined the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network, a project of the American Farmland Trust which brings partners together to ensure “the availability of farmland in the Hudson Valley for the farmers of today and tomorrow”. As a partner in this endeavor, MHLC serves as the local resource for farmers in Albany, Schenectady, and Montgomery counties for farm preservation and also serves as a local contact for farmers looking for farmland. With 14 partners in the network covering 13 counties, we are now connected and better able to help farmers find viable farmland to work.

You can learn more about MHLC’s farmland conservation efforts at our Farmland Protection page and by reading our Featured Farm Stories. To learn more about the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network, visit their website.

MHLC will have more exciting news on the farm protection front later this year, so please stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

Sarah Walsh
Conservation Director
sarah@mohawkhudson.org 

 

Meet MHLC Members Lois & Don Porter: Ashford Glen Stewards

In 2018, MHLC is introducing you to some of our incredible community members: volunteers, easement holders, donors, and more. This month, we speak with Lois & Don Porter, MHLC members since the 1990s and Preserve Stewards of the Ashford Glen Preserve. The Porters have played a key role in bringing together a community of neighbors to protect and care for this preserve in Colonie. 

Would you like to join the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy? Become a volunteer, make a contributionprotect your land, or become an intern. We want to meet you!

Don and Lois Porter with Stewardship and Volunteer Coordinator Sawyer Cresap at the 2017 Fox Preserve Grand Opening

When did you begin volunteering with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy?
Sometime in 2000.

How would you describe your roles as volunteers and supporters of MHLC?
We have been stewards of Ashford Glen Preserve for 18 years. Lois served on the MHLC (then the ACLC- Albany County Land Conservancy) Board of Directors for several years. We support MHLC financially as well.

How did you come to protect Ashford Glen?
There was a repeated threat of development of this parcel in the 1990s. We led an effort with our neighbors: first to reject the developers’ plans, and then to purchase the land and preserve it. A stream runs through the property, with steep slopes and wetlands. It’s a great small preserve that really is not suitable for development. We enjoy the plants, birds, and other wildlife on the property and we wanted to maintain their habitat.

A hiking group enjoys Ashford Glen Preserve in 2012.

What kind of community involvement have you seen in your work stewarding the Preserve?
Our neighbors are very supportive of the preserve. When we decided to put up a split rail fence to protect the preserve in 2018, the neighbors contributed over 100 hours of volunteer labor, plus the cost of the materials.

Which is your favorite aspect of volunteering with MHLC?
Getting out into the preserves and meeting other conservation-minded folks.

What do you wish more people knew about volunteering with a local land trust?
That it is fun, healthy, satisfying, and a good way to encourage community spirit.

Community members build a fence in June 2018.

Why do you support land conservation?
Because sprawl has taken over way too much of our lovely landscape and we humans need to be in nature to thrive. The “commons” is an underrated concept in the United States.

 

The new Ashford Glen Preserve fence built by the community in 2018.

 

Guest Post: Conservation Intern Alec Fixes the Bennett Hill Bathtub!

Alec at Bennett Hill on National Trails Day

I’d like to start by introducing myself. My name is Alec Betancourt, and I am currently the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy’s Lisa Lyon Evans Conservation Intern for the summer of 2018. I’ve been a lifelong fan of the work MHLC has done in the past, and I am overjoyed to be contributing to its work this summer. Growing up in Altamont, much of my childhood was focused around the outdoors. Being able to roam the woods and play in the small creeks in the area fostered a passion for the environment. As I grew up, I realized that these natural areas, both big and small, require protection and care if they are to be enjoyed by both current and future generations. I decided I want to explore a career related to the environment, so I enrolled as a freshman studying Environmental Engineering at the University at Buffalo in 2016. Now, halfway through my education I have the opportunity to work in this great field and meet all kinds of amazing people. Within my first week, I had the pleasure of working at several of MHLC preserves with many dedicated and hardworking volunteers and I learned that these lands are in great hands.

Alec repairs bird boxes.

One of the first preserves I worked at was Bennett Hill. As many of the current visitors know, Bennett Hill Preserve has a small natural spring that flows into a bathtub. Once used by the original Bennett Family Farm long ago for a water trough for livestock, it now serves as an almost humorous historic landmark. The tub had slowly made its way down the hill away from the spring and needed repair. Fixing the tub became my introductory project. After excavating the mud that had accumulated, pushing the tub back in place, sealing the cracks with natural clay, and clearing the water pipe and holding box, I revived the water flow into the bathtub, and seated it into the hillside in a more stable manner.

Alec tables at the Empire State Plaza for NY Invasive Species Week.

While working at this preserve, I also had the pleasure of making friends (from a distance!) with the neighboring milk cows from Clarksville’s Meadowbrook Dairy on my way up the hill. The trail has a nice, meandering climb. The ascent begins about a third of the way in and will bring you to the top of the hill. Another yellow trail can be hiked that will take you along the edge of the wetlands atop the hill, as well as showcase some stunning views of the Helderbergs. I encourage anyone reading this, both returning hikers and new ones, to check out this preserve! Be sure to leave any comments in the trail sign-in box- we do read them!

You’ll see me this summer, working on preserves, fixing equipment at our office’s barn, or driving around in the MHLC truck. Say hello, hike a trail, or join a volunteer event: I’d be happy to meet you.

Alec

☀️📸 Photos: Summer Festival and Helderberg Hike-a-thon!

Thank you to everyone who joined us on Saturday, July 21 for our annual Summer Festival and Helderberg Hike-a-thon! In the morning, we enjoyed ten different outings across the Helderbergs: a cave tour, a waterfall hike, a treasure hunt, outdoor yoga, and more. In the afternoon, we gathered at Indian Ladder Farms for craft beer and cider, local food, blueberry picking, live music, Irish dancing, face painting, story time with the Albany Tulip Court, hay rides, pony rides, and more. 

Enjoy these photos from the beautiful summer day. If you have your own photos and would like to share, be sure to tag us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or send your photos to connect@mohawkhudson.org.

Putting Local Conservation into Regional Context: From the Catskills to the Adirondacks and Beyond

The Fisher Boulevard forests provide a buffer for wildlife in a suburban environment.

This summer, MHLC is in the midst of a campaign to save the 35-acre Fisher Boulevard property located adjacent to Five Rivers in the Town of New Scotland and the Town of Bethlehem. This parcel is one of the last open spaces in this suburban area. Parcels like the Fisher Boulevard property provide important buffers for local wildlife to live, nest, and hunt. Additionally, these open spaces provide ecological benefits to people who live in our area. Trees and grasses filter the air, removing pollutants and providing us with oxygen to breathe. These plants remove carbon from the atmosphere, reducing greenhouse gases and combating global warming. Studies have also shown that the mere presence of green space can improve human health, reducing stress and providing us with a health-giving sense of calm and connection.

The Fisher Boulevard property is ecologically important on an even larger scale. The fields and forests of this parcel provide a resting place for migratory birds as they travel to their annual nesting grounds to the north. Migrating mammals, such as porcupine, beaver, and black bear, disperse as yearlings to find new partners and begin a new generation of their species. Undeveloped land gives these migrating animals space to travel as they look for new mates. As climate change takes place and we see species shifting their habitat ranges further north, conserved lands like the Fisher Boulevard property provide space for these shifts to occur and provide species with new homes as they adapt to changes in climate.

The protection of these 35 acres is part of a bigger movement to connect open spaces across the Northeastern US and Canada.

As you’ve likely noticed, the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy has been growing. Our community of supporters and volunteers is growing, we have more staff members, and we’re taking on more projects and land protection opportunities than ever before. As we grow, we’re taking some of these larger ideas- like connectivity and climate change- into consideration. We’re putting our local conservation work into a larger context.

To help guide our work on this larger landscape context, MHLC has joined the Staying Connected Initiative, an international collaboration which “seeks to conserve, restore, and enhance landscape connectivity across the Northern Appalachian/Acadian region of the US and Canada for the benefit of nature and people”.

As we look south to the Catskills and north to the Adirondacks, we work to create connections between these two larger conservation areas. Our partnership with the Staying Connected Initiative literally puts our work on a larger map. By joining in partnership with the Staying Connected Initiative, we are creating collective impact across this vast region, connecting our conservation work to a larger goal and truly making a difference for the environment and the organisms that live there.

You can read more about the Staying Connected Initiative on their website. You can read more about how MHLC’s conservation work combats climate change at our Conservation and Climate Change page.

 

 

 

Sarah Walsh
Conservation Director
Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy

 

Map provided by the Staying Connected Initiative.