Nature & Well-Being: A Guest Post by Allie Middleton

The other day while hiking at Wolf Creek Falls, we came upon the frozen creek and several sets of beautiful waterfalls, each creating magical myriad designs reminding us of the enchanted images and shapes from childhood fairy tales and primordial mythologies. 

As ‘corona time’ has upset our habits of traditional gatherings and our former socially determined creature comforts, it seems we have all been venturing out into the wilderness. Our preserves are havens of health and beauty. Whatever your orientation towards fitness, our relationship with nature has certainly been changed, and learning about our local environments can be inspiring. The good news, as we are also reminded each day, is that breathing fresh air becomes essential for our mind, our bodies and our souls, and our spirits.  Seems a great way to nourish friendships, too!

In learning how to create healthy habits during ‘corona time’ it might be useful to know a bit about the healing powers of nature, how walking and breathing outside helps us stay healthy and well.  And the extraordinary beauty of our surroundings never ceases to amaze.

Wolf Creek Falls photo by Susan Mitchell-Herzfeld

In Rainer Maria Rilke‘s wise little book Letters to a Young Poet, we listen and learn,

“If you trust in nature, in what is simple in nature, in the small things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling. Not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.”

While hiking the preserves, many of us are finding solace and comfort from the trees, the sounds, the vistas, the diverse landscapes, and all the other surprises just around the next corner.

We hope you continue to enjoy the preserves and post photos and fun things you see, hear, and learn about!  Connect with MHLC on Facebook.

Allie Middleton is a member of the MHLC Board of Directors, a writer, a transformational mind-body coach, and a consultant who avidly explores the wilderness within us and without us. You can find Allie’s books on Amazon:
Yoga Radicals: A Curated Set of Inspirational Stories of Transformational Yoga by Pioneers in the Field

A Wayfinder’s Wanderings: A First Collection of Poems: A First Collection of Poems

Below, are a few resources Allie has shared about how being in nature helps health and well-being, creativity, and social engagement.

“The experience of hiking is unique, research suggests, conveying benefits beyond what you receive from typical exercise. Not only does it oxygenate your heart, but it also helps keep your mind sharper, your body calmer, your creativity more alive, and your relationships happier. And, if you’re like me and happen to live in a place where nearby woods allow for hiking among trees, all the better: Evidence suggests that being around trees may provide extra benefits, perhaps because of certain organic compounds that trees exude that boost our mood and our overall psychological well-being. Hiking in nature is so powerful for our health and well-being that some doctors have begun prescribing it as an adjunct to other treatments for disease. As one group of researchers puts it, “The synergistic effect of physical activity and time spent in nature make hiking an ideal activity to increase overall health and wellness.”

A snowy Wolf Creek Falls, photo by Susan Mitchell-Herzfeld

“As it turns out, walking in general is good for the creative process. Other research from Stanford University found creative thinking increases when a person is walking, as well as shortly after the walk is complete. ‘Many people anecdotally claim that they do their best thinking when walking’ said the study’s authors.’ We finally may be taking a step, or two, towards discovering why.”

“If nature is doing her best each moment to make us well—she exists for no other end. Do not resist her. With the least inclination to be well we should not be sick.” Thoreau’s Journal, August 23, 1853

New Study: A 15-Minute ‘Awe Walk’ Kills Stress and Loneliness and Boosts Happiness (Link)

“Since I have learned to be silent, everything has come so much closer to me.” – Rainer Maria Rilke


Wolf Creek Falls, photo by Newell Eaton.



The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through 

us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. 


The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, 

and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in 

the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.

 – John Muir

Visit Switzkill Farm

A Buddha statue remains from the days of Tenzin Gyatso ownership.

History of the Land

The property, originally a part of the Manor Rensselaerwyck, was a game farm until 1976 when it was purchased by the New School University. In 2004, it was sold to the Rigpa Center for Wisdom and Compassion, also known as the Tenzin Gyatso Institute. Reminders of the institute’s Buddist culture can be still be found on the property. In 2015, the Town of Berne purchased the property and opened it as a public nature preserve. 

A New Place to Explore

Many of the landscapes we protect with conservation easements are private property without public access. But, Switzkill Farm is one of the unique exceptions! The property has well-maintained trails and the public is welcome year-round. Although you’ll get a sense of being in a remote location, the farm is not too far off the beaten path. To get there, enter “165 Game Farm Road, Berne, NY into your GPS. This will take you to Game Farm Road where you will be greeted by the Switzkill Farm sign. Drive up the steep road (you may need 4-wheel drive during the winter months) and you will know you have arrived when you come to the former game farm barns. A map and sign-in box are located on the barn with parking at the end of the barns.


Switzkill Farm is open from dawn to dusk. If you’d like to experience their amazing night sky, you will need to obtain a permit. As with any preserve, be sure to dress appropriately for the weather. Maps and other information are available on the Town of Berne website to help you prepare for the trip.

You can also make a day of it and explore Cole Hill State Forest that is located next to Switzkill Farm. (Note: There are no connecting trails between the two properties.) You can learn more about Cole Hill State Forest’s trail system here.

Happy Trails!



Sarah Walsh, Conservation Director

Brighten Winter Days with Birds

Ovenbird at Swift Preserve

As we head into what is being called the ‘dark winter,’ why not brighten your days at home with birds! Watching birds can be a great way to not only pass the time but to connect with the natural world around you and spend time with family and friends. There are many great resources designed to help you get to know your backyard visitors. And, if you use any of the suggested programs and apps below, you will also be contributing to science – helping scientists learn more about birds to protect them ensure they grace your yard for years to come.

Project Feeder Watch App

From November to April, this program looks to citizens to simply watch their bird feeders and report what they see. You can report whenever is convenient for you; any reports are helpful. If you don’t know your birds, now is a great time to learn them! Project Feeder Watch provides resources for learning winter birds, species that are relatively easy to identify. You do need to download the free app and register online before you can begin counting. Get started at

Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird App

Barred owl by Lisa J. Bowdish

While you are waiting for your Feeder Watch registration to be complete, you can start watching birds now and logging them using the eBird app. This free app lets you record the birds you see based on hotspots or general locations, like your backyard. All of Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy’s preserves are eBird hotspots and will generate a list of potential birds you may see at these locations. The Bird app makes bird watching so easy!

Not confident identifying birds?

Are you new to birding? Download the free Merlin app created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology! By answering a few quick questions about your observation, the apps narrow down the list of possible birds to just a few species. It also shows you photos and plays songs to help you identify your bird.  

Sarah Walsh with a Harris’s hawk

You can share this experience with friends too – bird feeders make a great holiday gift. Birds are also a great conversation piece. Sharing what you have seen with others can help you identify your birds and help family and friends identify theirs too. So get outside this season for a walk to identify birds – it’s a good way to spend time with family and friends safely.

Happy Holidays!



Sarah Walsh
Conservation Director


Suggested MHLC Preserves for XC Skiing: Guest Post by Robert Frederick

There are many great trails for XC skiing at the MHLC Preserves! This post will guide you on the best trails for your experience level and also warns which trails must be avoided. The other MHLC preserves not found on this list due to steep staircases and bridges that are dangerous to ski or walk on with ski boots.

Please pay close attention to the weather forecast, snowpack, and existing trail conditions to determine if skiing any of our preserves is safe for the level of skier you are or those in your party. We recommend that you do not ski alone. Dress in layers and bring a mask, water, cell phone (loaded with the MHLC Map App), and a snack to offer some comfort to you and others. NOTE: Please notify the MHLC Stewardship Coordinator if you experience any issues related to the preserve you visited – email

Before you head out, check out these helpful resources:

MHLC Map App – Our App allows you to see where you are at any of our preserves. It also has handy driving directions too!

MHLC Trail Breakers – Email us to be notified when we plan to get together to ski the preserves

Capital Region Snow Report – Weather reports and charts for NYS regions (National Weather Service)

Cross Country Skiing Tips – Basic reminders before you go out (tips from REI Coop website)

Preserves included in this guide: Bozen Kill, Hollyhock Hollow Sanctuary, Holt, Keleher, Strawberry Fields, Swift, Touhey Family, Winn, and Wolf Creek Falls.



This 214-acre preserve offers approximately 1.5 miles of trails over easy to moderate terrain that parallels the Bozen Kill stream. This preserve is good for beginner to intermediate xc skiers who can ski in the open field, near the stream, or under tree cover. 

WHITE TRAIL: Start from the parking lot and head west into the open field (right of the kiosk) following the WHITE trail markers. The WHITE trail turns right into the woods requiring a mild climb that leads to a fairly level trail with intermittent dips and turns. The WHITE trail has a few stone features that were created by a local volunteer. You’ll come to a sitting area with an overlook on your left which you should be careful not to get too close to the edge. At 0.60 miles you will come to the RED trail. This is a good point to take a break and determine if you wish to turn around or continue. Beginners may want to consider turning around since continuing would bring them to some gullies and narrow ridges requiring more confidence and experience to maneuver through (especially if the trail is packed down and slippery).

RED TRAIL: If you continue from the WHITE trail, the RED trail brings you through forest-covered trails that dip and turn and follow ridges that will bring you to a couple of beautiful sections of the Bozen Kill stream. This is a great spot to rest and have a bite before returning back. Please beware of icy conditions near the stream and we recommend not to walk on the ice since water conditions change throughout the winter months and therefore so does the thickness of the ice. The last thing you want is your feet and legs to be wet in cold temperatures as you ski back.

BLUE TRAIL: The BLUE trail begins on the left side of the kiosk and goes directly to the stream. This trail is level in the beginning but gets a little bumpy along the stream and loop to return. You can also connect with the WHITE trail on the far end of the hedgerow to continue on or to return to the parking lot.

NOTE: Be careful of your speed on downhills or narrow ridges, especially on the way back since you will most likely have a faster track to glide on. Also, pay close attention to snowshoers/skiers coming in the opposite direction.



This 138-acre sanctuary offers xc skiers a wide variety of terrain that is good for beginners to experienced skiers who enjoy a short loop or a deeper adventure into the woods. Please use the parking area near the kiosk hut and trail entrances.

NOTE: The house with an adjacent parking area is NOT open to the public.

In general, please review and download the trail map to find the trails and loops comfortable for your level of skiing. Pay close attention to the lines of the topo map to see the steepness of the terrain and tightness of turns before deciding on the trails you will follow.

A Good Starting Point for Beginners to Intermediate Skiers
These suggested loops keep you from the most challenging terrain in the northern section of the preserve that is also the farthest from the parking lot. Remember to use your judgment on any trail that feels beyond your comfort zone. The nice thing is that you can always turn around and ski what you’re familiar with.

WHITE (east) LOOP (turning left on YELLOW, right on YELLOW/RED, straight on RED, and then right on White to return to the parking area)

WHITE (west) LOOP (turning right on the GREEN trail and then left on the WHITE trail to return to parking area)

Trails for the More Experienced XC Skier

WHITE TRAIL LOOP: Head west on the white trail since you’ll have steeper climbs on the way up the northern section of the preserve with more manageable downhills on the way back on the east side.

WARNING: the northern section of the white trail has a steep, rocky ridge which may require you to take your skies off to step up to the next level or find a gradual slope nearby to ski up and reconnect with the trail.

Town of New Scotland


Winifred Matthews Holt Preserve is a 148-acre property on the western face of Copeland Hill offering 2 miles of mixed terrain.

For Intermediate & Experienced XC Skiers

RED TRAIL (main winter entrance/parking lot): The RED trail at the lower parking lot offers more challenging terrain and bridges that you can or must cross due to streams. When you first enter the RED trail (which is a very short walk/ski to the left of the kiosk from the parking area) you will see a long bridge. This bridge can normally be bypassed by crossing the stream bed on the left side where it is fairly level.  After the bridge, follow the red trail to the first intersection and take a left. This will bring you along a ridge that then slopes down to another smaller bridge that must be crossed over. Once over, go right and climb the mild hill following the RED trail through a beautiful forest of assorted trees. The RED trail will bring you to another intersection. 

WARNING: If you take a left and go up the ORANGE trail which is a switchback that takes you to the BLUE overlook trail, you must come back down either the orange or yellow trails to the lower parking area – these are steep trails with sharp turns. Only consider these options if you’re an experienced backcountry skier with appropriate gear and good snowpack conditions. Otherwise, stay to the right on the RED trail which will bring you back to the parking lot. 

BLUE-GREEN LOOP (Access at Upper Copeland Road parking area – IF ACCESSIBLE): Take the BLUE trail that will cross a shallow stream bed.  You will pass the RED trail on the right and will soon see other trails (yellow and green). Stay on the BLUE trail. This trail will bring you to the BLUE overlook trail that provides two western views of farm landscapes with log benches to enjoy a snack. As you continue, you will eventually see a connecting WHITE trail on the right that will bring you to the GREEN trail OR you can continue on the BLUE trail that will circle around to the GREEN trail. Either way, take a right on the GREEN trail to bring you back to the BLUE trail to return to the parking lot. NOTE: If you still have some energy left, I suggest that you take a left on the RED trail (before the shallow stream) and follow it to the pond. Once you circle the pond to the other side which offers an open viewing area, there’s an exit trail back to the parking area.

GREEN/YELLOW LOOP (upper parking lot): The GREEN trail loop is accessed by skiing the RED pond trail to find the start of the green trail that requires a steady climb to the top of the Holt preserve. Once you get to the top you will find a winding trail through a thick forest. You will not have to worry about the very tree-rooted trail since the snow will have covered them making a smooth ride. There are areas you may be able to go off-trail and ski through the trees, but make sure you are careful not to get too close to drop-offs. The GREEN trail gives you access to the YELLOW LOOP trail that provides some skiing along the ridges of Holt’s northern boundary. After the exit of the YELLOW LOOP trail, the GREEN trail will begin a mild descent that will quickly connect you to the BLUE/WHITE trails (shortly after you start your descent) or bring you down to the intersection of the BLUE/GREEN/YELLOW trails at the bottom of the hill. The BLUE trail will bring you back to the parking area.

WARNING: I would NOT recommend going down either the YELLOW or ORANGE trails due to their steepness and sharp turns.

Town of New Scotland


This 450-acre preserve offers more experienced back-country skiers, snowshoes, and fat bikers a number of trails that will challenge them depending on conditions and how far they wish to explore. The property is at the top of Gulf Hill Road in the town of New Scotland and along the Helderberg Escarpment. This is the largest and most remote of the preserves, so it’s very important you plan your trip in advance that includes reviewing your equipment, trail conditions, weather report, and the supplies needed for a deep woods experience in the winter months. 

NOTE: Make sure your vehicle has good snow tires due to road inclines, steep turns, and dirt road conditions that can be uncertain after stormy weather. The roads and parking area are plowed by the town. 

For Winter Directions Click Here.

A Good Starting Point for Most Recreational XC Skiers

WHITE (WEST) TRAIL to INTERNATIONAL JUNCTURE POST: (up to 2.5 miles round trip) From the parking lot, you’ll enter the trail system along a straight, slightly descending trail to the first juncture post.  Take time to observe the conditions and how your equipment feels. This would also be a perfect time to adjust your equipment, clothing, and test your Mohawk Hudson Map App to see where you are. At the first juncture post, take a left on the WHITE (west) trail that is the preferred trail by most due to the more level terrain and wider trails. There are areas that can get wet during rainy periods, but it’s usually a nice dry trail. You will find that this trail crosses over a number of old logging roads. Please stay on the marked trails so you don’t mistakenly venture into private property or become lost in this large preserve. 

After approximately 1 mile of a mild and gradual climb through forested sections, you will come to a switchback that is not as challenging as other trails due to the long run between the two turns at each end. Note trail conditions before ascending any trail section because coming down is usually more complicated. For some, this may be a good turn around point due to the fact that the international juncture post is not that much farther after ascending this section. Either way, once you arrive at the International juncture post (WHITE/ORANGE/GREEN intersection), have a snack and return back to the tracks you made or followed in.

For More Experienced XC Skiers & Adventurers

WHITE (WEST) TRAIL to AMERICA JUNCTURE POST: (Approximately 3.5 miles) Similar to the trail description above, except that when you get to the International juncture post, continue on the WHITE (west) trail for an additional 0.5 miles offering some ridge views of the surrounding region. Remember, an additional mile (up and back) can be a significant addition to your winter excursion and should not be taken lightly, especially if you did not originally prepare for it.  You will arrive at the America juncture (RED, WHITE, BLUE intersection) and this would be a great point to have a snack before returning on the tracks you made getting to this point.

WARNING: The RED and upper WHITE (east) trails have narrow trails and sections that are steep and run along cliff edges. We do NOT suggest these sections of the trail system in the winter months.  We also do not recommend returning to the parking area on the BLUE to WHITE (east) trails due to steeper terrain on the way down the WHITE (east) trail.

WHITE (WEST) – GREEN – BLUE – WHITE (WEST) LOOP: (Approximately 4 miles)  Start as you would above, except that when you get to the International Juncture post, continue on the GREEN trail for about 0.4 miles through open wooded areas with a slight uphill climb. The GREEN trail will bring you to the BLUE/GREEN/WHITE (east) juncture post. Take a left on the BLUE trail that will continue with a nice level ski through open wooded areas for about 0.56 miles.  The BLUE trail will take a right turn onto a nice wide downhill path that leads to the America Juncture post.  Take the WHITE (west) trail to return to the parking area. Each section between juncture posts takes about a half-hour with breaks. If you ski straight through, it will take between 1.5 – 2 hours.

WHITE (EAST) – GREEN – WHITE (WEST) LOOP: (Approximately 2.5 miles) This loop is for those physically fit, who own quality equipment, and are capable of ascending and descending steeper sections of trails in the winter. The WHITE (east) trail has a number of bridges and up and down terrain climbing 200 feet bringing you through some narrow trails before connecting you to the blue/green/white juncture post. Take the GREEN trail that starts out as an open trail through low ground cover and then reenters the forest with a quick downhill run. Follow the GREEN trail through densely wooded terrain for approximately 0.5 miles until you arrive at the International juncture post (green, orange, white trails).  Take the WHITE (west) trail to return to the parking area. CAUTION: you will come to a switchback that has a right-hand turn that descends along a mild, straight ridge run before taking a left-hand turn at the bottom. Take it easy going down, especially if snow is hard-packed.  After this section, you will have a mild and gradual descent for approximately 1 mile back to the juncture post near the parking lot.

WHITE (EAST) – BLUE – WHITE (WEST) LOOP: (Approximately 3 miles) This loop is for backcountry skiers who are in excellent physical health and have good backcountry ski equipment. The WHITE (east) trail has a number of bridges and up and down terrain bringing you through some narrower trails before connecting you to the BLUE/GREEN/WHITE juncture post. Take the BLUE trail that continues a mild climb for 0.5 miles to the America juncture post.  This juncture connects you to the RED trail, the upper end of the WHITE (east) trail and the WHITE (west) trail that brings you back to the parking area. 

WARNING: The RED and WHITE (upper east) trails have narrow trails and sections that are steep and run along cliff edges.  We do NOT suggest these sections of the trail system in the winter months. Proceed on the WHITE (west) trail for 0.5 miles offering some ridge views of the surrounding region and bringing you to the International Juncture post (WHITE, GREEN, ORANGE intersection). Take a right, staying on the WHITE (west) trail. Note: you will come to a switchback that has a right-hand turn that descends along a mild, straight ridge run before taking a left-hand turn at the bottom. After this section, you will have a mild and gradual descent for approximately 1 mile back to the juncture post near the parking lot.



This 118-acre preserve offers approximately 2.5 miles of trails over moderate terrain. The road leading to the parking lot is steep and has many turns, so make sure your car has proper snow tires and be wary of icy road conditions. From the parking area, I recommend two ways to ski this preserve.

Beginner to Intermediate Skier

RED TRAIL: Head north (left of the parking lot) on the same side of the road for the RED trail. This gives skiers two fairly level loop trails that bring you to the edges of a deep ravine and a large field that is home to a variety of birds throughout the year. The RED trail will come to the first YELLOW trail (on the right) that will loop you back to the RED trail bringing you back to the parking area. If you continue, you’ll come to a second RED/YELLOW intersection. I’d suggest staying on the RED trail (left) close to the tree line since the wind can blow hard on the open field and it offers a bench to take a break. You will come to another RED/YELLOW intersection where you can turn back on the RED trail you came in on or take the YELLOW trail (right) that will reconnect you to the RED trail to return.

NOTE: You can continue on the RED LOOP trail, but this is the most difficult section of the RED LOOP and has a steep downhill slope as you get closer to the parking area.

For More Experienced Skiers Who May Like a Little Challenge

I’d recommend crossing the road from the parking area and ski the RED trail loop. NOTE: If conditions are icy or very packed down, I would not recommend skiing this section without skins. The RED LOOP trail starts with an uphill slope winding through a beautiful wooded area. The first 0.25 mile section of the loop trail will be the most challenging.  After working up a sweat, you will then find the rest of the RED trail fairly level due to the fact that it surrounds a field that was once farmed. The RED LOOP trail offers some benches with views of open spaces and wooded areas.

NOTE: You can ski the RED LOOP in the opposite direction, but the hilly terrain at the end can be dangerous for less experienced skiers or if conditions are poor.



This preserve consists of a 21.6-acre wetland with approximately 1 mile of trails over easy terrain.

YELLOW TRAIL: From the parking lot at the end of Evelyn Drive, you can ski right to and beyond the kiosk to the YELLOW trail. You can go either right or left after the kiosk to connect with the BLUE and RED trails. Many of the trails have bog boards in the middle of the trail, so be careful during lower snow levels and ski on the sides of the trail to avoid bumping into a bog board. 

NOTE: Skiing the RED trail will require you to step up and over a small stairway to begin your ski on the red loop trail which also has a few bridges you will need to cross over.



The 49-acre preserve features a diverse habitat consisting of woodlands, wetlands, open fields, and a pond. 

RED LOOP TRAIL: This trail offers a 0.86-mile trail loop that is fairly level offering a serene experience so close to home. The one thing skiers will need to pay attention to is the formative bog boards built in the middle of the trail to provide a great experience in the springtime.  Skiers will need to stay to the edges of the trail when snow levels are low. 

NOTE: There is a private residence on the property. Please be respectful of our neighbors and stay on the marked trails; the open spaces around the pond and the long driveway are NOT a part of the MHLC trail system.

Town of Knox


This preserve is 208 acres along the Helderberg Escarpment and is geologically significant. It offers 2 miles of mixed terrain for skiers of all experience levels. 

WHITE TRAIL: Take this trail all the way to the end which is a little over one mile one way.  This will give you options on the way back to check out some of the other smaller trails that offer some unique features (BLUE, GREEN, RED). 


  1. The WHITE trail connects to the YELLOW trail that is an “approved” SNOWMOBILE trail maintained by a local snowmachine group.  Please step aside if you hear a motorized vehicle coming in your direction.  
  2. The PURPLE trail at the very end of the WHITE trail is a ridgeline trail that can be dangerous on XC skies – we do NOT recommend this trail for skiers.  
  3. The WHITE trail comes to a downhill section that continues as the YELLOW snowmobile trail or goes to the right to continue on the WHITE trail.  We do NOT recommend continuing on the YELLOW trail as it is steep and the snow is usually packed down by snow machines causing an icy, bumpy trail – very dangerous.  Stay on the WHITE trail or turn around at this point.  (4) Please stay on the marked MHLC trails since there are some (unmarked private) trails that come in contact near the preserve’s boundaries.

Town of Knox


This135-acres preserve contains streams and waterfalls, a wetland, and numerous old stone walls.

WHITE LOOP TRAIL: This trail is just beyond the kiosk and gives access to short side trails. 

If you still have some energy, cross the road from the parking lot and find the RED TRAIL that will connect you to another WHITE loop trail that has additional side trails to discover unique features of the preserve. We suggest you walk across the road since traffic can get busy at times.

WARNING: The YELLOW trail also connects the trail system on either side of the main road. Please be careful when crossing and we suggest removing your skis when crossing. The YELLOW trail also has a large bridge to cross, so be careful especially as it can become icy under certain conditions.



Bender Melon Farm Success!

The wide-open fields of the farm make way for scenic views of the surrounding landscapes.

We are so thrilled to announce our purchase of the Bender Melon Farm! After securing more than 1 million dollars in less than two years, our largest fundraising campaign ever, this historic property at the corner of routes 85 and 85A has been preserved. We are so grateful to the generous community who rallied alongside us to protect the 195-acre farm. With your support, we were able to close on the property despite challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty of state funds.

“The Bender Melon Farm has been saved. MHLC is incredibly grateful for the overwhelming support we have received for this project, especially during such a challenging time.” – Executive Director Mark King 


The farm was once known nationally for the Bender Melon, a prized cantaloupe variety, developed and cultivated by Charles Bender at the turn of the 20th century. In the mid-1970s, the farm changed hands and fell into disarray. A big box store’s plan to develop the property in 2008 drew huge public opposition. Since then, the property’s remained for sale and vulnerable to development.

The environmental impact of preserving this iconic Albany County landscape cannot be understated. This property will provide vital habitat for insects, birds, and other animals to live and thrive in the age of global warming, while also offering the public safe access to the outdoors and recreational opportunities.

With Gratitute

An old barn is one of the remaining structures on the Bender Melon Farm.

We would like to recognize the family of the late Matthew Bender IV, for their generous support of this project. The Bender family issued a $50,000 matching challenge this fall that helped us move closer to our fundraising goal.

“This successful acquisition embodies all that Matt Bender valued; a strong community effort, smart philanthropy, and a nifty family connection which all came to together nicely. It is literally a gift he guided in his last days”, said Matt’s son, Christian Bender, on behalf of the Bender family.  

We are also grateful to long-time supporters Peter and Barbara Kelly of Delmar for providing bridge funding that allowed MHLC to close on the property in advance of the sale of the 20-acre commercial area of the 195-acre property.

Peter Kelly said, “When the Bender Melon Farm was offered to MHLC over a year ago at a possibly attainable price, it was like a dream come true. Instead of just another ugly mall destroying our unique, unspoiled rural community, we now had the possibility to construct an amazing destination on the Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail.”

The Iselin family of Delmar also stepped in to help at a critical point, ensuring our success with a generous donation. Immediate trail plans include the creation of a memorial trail funded by the Iselin family in memory of their son David Iselin.

Harold and Lauren Iselin said, “We are honored to be able to help the Conservancy complete this acquisition that is so important to our community. Our son, David, loved the outdoors, and this is a fitting way to help remember him.”

Bringing the Vision to Life

The scenic landscape is the largest undeveloped parcel along the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail and holds tremendous potential for recreational and educational possibilities. Over the winter, we will work on cleaning up the property and start planning for trails and other improvements, so the public can safely access the property. In the next phase of the project, we plan to engage the public in planning how the conserved land will be used. 

Thank you to everyone who made this huge success possible! 

NO indoor mall here! This sign was found buried on the property.

MHLC Board approves Bender Melon Farm purchase!



MHLC Land Success: Conservation Easement on Picard’s Grove

The fate of this 86-acre iconic landscape at the base of the Helderberg Escarpment hung in the balance when owner Jeanne Picard Fish was declared incapacitated last December. When surrounding neighbors learned of the proposed sale of the Picard’s Grove property to a local developer, MHLC’s phone rang off the hook with offers to help save the land from extensive development.

Over the last few months, MHLC staff members have been working furiously to convince the court that conserving this acreage was the best outcome for Jeanne Picard, the community, and the land. At one point eight different attorneys were involved in the direction of the future of the property. On October 9, MHLC oversaw the sale of the property to local neighbors Richard and Valerie Glover. The sale will provide long-term care for Jeanne Picard Fish as well as her move to a new nursing home. Greg Picard stated, “On behalf of the Picard Family, I would like to personally thank all parties involved in the sale of the Picard property. The majority of the property will be protected by an easement through the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy. The Picard Family name lives on preserving the land. This would have not been possible without generous donations. We look forward to the next chapter as this project involves.”

In conjunction with the property sale, neighbors and Picard relatives provided MHLC with the support needed to purchase a conservation easement over Picard’s Grove, protecting 80% of the land as required by the court. Under the conservation, the property remains private and stays on the property tax role, but any future development is limited to very specific areas of the property.

“We feel very blessed and privileged to fulfill our shared dream of conserving and preserving this beautiful land for generations to enjoy, including all life that dwells in and passes through this natural habitat, but which has no voice of its own,” Valerie Glover


With the protection of the Picard property, MHLC has conserved more than 700 acres beneath the Helderberg Conservation Corridor, a culturally and biologically rich landscape of farms and forest linking nearly 4,000 acres of protected lands between the Black Creek Mash Wildlife Management Area to Thacher State Park, with Indian Ladder Farms as its centerpiece. “The Picard property is a critical linkage in the corridor and is part of an iconic view of the Heldeberg Escarpment. Thousands of people attended events at the Grove and enjoyed this spectacular location beneath the escarpment,” said Executive Director Mark King, “and we are so pleased that the Court recognized the importance of a conservation outcome for the property. The alternative would have been heartbreaking for the community.”

The easement will ensure the views to the Helderberg Escarpment remain as they have for decades before. And, just as Jeanne Picard Fish had once enjoyed her horses at Picard’s Grove, Valerie and Richard Glover look forward to having their horses on the land very soon.

Welcome to the Touhey Family Preserve!

The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy is thrilled to announce the opening of our 20th preserve, the Touhey Family Preserve, located at 911 Delaware Ave in Delmar.

The preserve features a wonderfully diverse habitat of woodlands, wetlands, open fields, and a small pond. Lookout points from the eastern side of the preserve offer scenic views of the Phillipin Kill Valley and the neighboring Phillipin Kill Preserve. The new trail system, created by Pinnacle Trail Design and Construction, is an easy 1-mile loop. Plans for additional trails are already in motion. We invite you and your family to explore this beautiful new preserve!

Thank You to the Touhey Family

This 49-acre property was the original homestead of the Touhey family and is what remains of the more than 100-acre farm that stretched from Orchard Street to Delaware Avenue. The Touhey family is well known for their philanthropic nature and their passion for giving back to the community. Sharing the vision of their father Carl Touhey, Charlie, Virginia, John, and Lila have contributed greatly to causes with a significant impact on the entire Capital Region. To share their enjoyment of the natural world, the Touhey family worked with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy to open the property to the public.

“You don’t have to be a resident of Bethlehem or Delmar or Slingerlands to enjoy this lovely piece of land. We can be a part of a little bit of evening out the scales of environmental justice and enabling people to enjoy this land,” says Charles Touhey. “We are very happy today to dedicate and consecrate this wonderful piece of land for the benefit of everyone to use.”

Plan a visit today! For additional details about the Touhey Family Preserve, including a trail map, please visit the preserve web page. As with all MHLC Preserves, we ask that you please be mindful of social distancing and wear a mask when approaching others on the trail or in the parking area. If the Touhey Family Preserve lot is full, please visit one of our nearby preserves.

The 20-20 Challenge

Inspired by the opening of MHLC’s 20th preserve and in memory of their father, Ed Miller, the Miller family will match every dollar donated, up to $20,000, before December 31, 2020. To learn more about the 20-20 Challenge or to make a donation, please visit

Below is the video announcement of the new preserve that was shown during our Sowing Seeds fundraiser.


Important Update on Bender Melon Farm

Want to display a yard sign? Contact our office!

We are at a very exciting point with the Bender Melon Farm project. Following a wonderful $250,000 pledge toward the project, we are down to less than $93,000 to close on the property! (updated 10-5-20) This includes the potential sale of a 20-acre area across from Stewart’s Shop on Route 85 to help meet the Town of New Scotland’s hamlet zoning vision, with the remaining 175+/- acres of the Bender Melon Farm Property to be preserved.

With convenient access from the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail, the scenic landscape holds tremendous potential for numerous recreational and educational possibilities. We envision a variety of uses for the land including trails accessible from the Rail Trail, possible ongoing agricultural uses, and vital habitat improvement and restoration. MHLC will also coordinate closely with the Town of New Scotland as they advance the adjacent Hilton Barn restoration. This truly is a historic opportunity to shape future land use in the area. We believe the combination of the Hilton Barn, the Rail Trail, and the Bender Melon Farm will create a community asset unlike any other in the Capital District – linking communities, history, recreation, and conservation.

Generous support from the community has made a profound impact on this project, and our goal is now in sight! Please help us to spread the word about this conservation project—your passion for this land is the voice we need to rally support from the community. Together, we can see this project through, protecting Bender Melon Farm and preserving the rural character of our region for generations to come.

Our October 29th deadline is quickly approaching; please act now to help us reach our goal. 



Collecting Bird Data at Strawberry Fields Nature Preserve

Open areas at Strawberry Fields are ideal for collecting bird migration data.

Earlier this summer, Strawberry Fields Nature Preserve landowner Jeff Leon placed a receiver station on his property to collect data on migrating birds. The receiver station is part of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System, a collaborative research network to collect wildlife movement. 

This receiver station picks up signals given off by tiny digitally encoded tags placed on birds. Bird movements during migration season across the northeast and eastern Canada are captured by the receiver, giving scientists detailed data like never before. This data helps scientists to better understand bird movements and reasons for increasing bird declines over the last few decades.

The receiver at Strawberry Fields is one of 325 receivers placed in the Northeast and Great Lakes Region to fill a critical information gap for bird scientists. Strawberry Fields was selected for its northeastern location and elevation. If you have visited this preserve, you know the panoramic view down to the Mohawk Valley it provides! This, along with the open fields maintained by the Leon Family make the preserve an excellent spot to collect bird migration information.

Strawberry Fields Motus Station Captures First Migrating Birds!

This MOTUS receiver station at Strawberry Fields will help fill the critical information gap in bird migration data.

In late August, the Motus station at the Strawberry Field Preserve had its first two data points of birds migrating over this promontory in the Capital Region. The first species was a sanderling, a small shorebird often seen running in the surf to catch small animals in the sand. This species is not one you would normally affiliate with the rolling grasslands of Montgomery County. The Sanderling just flew over on its fall journey–which could be anywhere between 1,800 and 6,000 miles depending on its final wintering grounds. We won’t know if this bird prefers a few weeks in Florida or South America.

The other species to fly over was a chimney swift. This bird spends all of its time on the wing feeding on flying insects and can sometimes be seen diving into chimneys near dusk to roost during the summer months. Here, they cling to the side of these man-made cavities and raise their young. This particular bird is on a long journey, moving from the north of Canada, it passes through the Mohawk River Valley on its way south for the winter.

Why is this data important?

A recent report in the journal Science noted that one out of every four birds has been lost in the last fifty years. By tracking bird movement with nano-tags and Motus towers, scientists can find out how long birds live, where they travel for the winter, and they can determine where along the journey threats may lie. This data leads to more protections for birds where they need it most!

Although it’s early in the migration season, you can watch the bird movement increase over the coming months using the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Live Cast Bird Migration Map. You can also learn more about the bird species mentioned in this post at the Lab’s All About Birds Website.

MHLC would like to thank Bird Studies Canada, Project Owlnet, and the Williston Conservation Trust for reaching out to us and for leading the effort to gain new Motus receiver locations. Stay tuned for additional data as birds migrate over Strawberry Fields Nature Preserve this fall! To learn more about Motus, click here.


This map shows a Chimney Swift’s migration path over Strawberry Fields Preserve. This was detected using a Motus station and nano-tags placed on the bird. You can view more at



Summer Hike-a-thon Scavenger Hunt a Success!



Despite temperatures in the 90s and amidst a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, MHLC hosted its annual hike-a-thon event with a special twist. On the weekend of July 18, more than 550 Capital Region residents spent time searching our 19 preserves in search of hidden gnomes. Those sending selfies with the gnomes were rewarded with ice cream from our very generous event sponsor Stewart’s Shops!

Staff, volunteer artists, and preserve stewards worked together to create an “on your own” scavenger hunt. Small wooden gnomes were designed, cut, painted, and carefully hidden on the trails. Riddles offered clues to the gnomes’ hiding spots, for example, “Where is this gnome? I have my suspicion. I do believe that they’ve gone fishin’!”

Keeping it fun and safe

To accommodate a large number of registrations and prevent crowding, we extended the event from July 18 to July 21, suggested alternatives for parking lots at capacity, and asked participants to wear masks when approaching others on the trails and in parking areas. We really appreciate everyone’s efforts to keep themselves and each other safe; we know the challenges of wearing a mask on a really hot day!

Head over heels for gnomes!

We were delighted to receive such an overwhelming response to the event. More than 120 photos were submitted and added to the Summer Hike-a-thon Scavenger Hunt photo albumMany community members also expressed gratitude for having something fun to do during a time when the pandemic has significantly limited entertainment options. For some, the Summer Hike-a-thon Scavenger Hunt brought them out to local preserves that they might not have visited otherwise. 

“When the pandemic started, my wife and I started checking out the preserve sites. We enjoy walking and checking them out by trying different trails. …Keep up the great work you are doing to keep these little gems available to the public and open to nature. Thanks!” Herman R.


“We found gnomes at Van Dyke, Normans Kill East and West, and Schiffendecker. We had a blast and embarrassingly had not been to any [of these preserves] before this weekend. Now we are thinking of continuing until we get to all of them! Thanks so much!” Katie Y.

Way to go, Lewis Family!

The Lewis Family found ALL 19 gnomes!      Click to enlarge!

The Lewis family of Delmar surprised us with the news that they had found all 19 gnomes! Dan and Sarah Lewis took their son Jacob to every single preserve to capture a selfie with each gnome—a pretty impressive accomplishment in just four days!

In an email to MHLC, Sarah Lewis wrote, “The extra time we have had because of the pandemic has meant lots of opportunities to explore hiking options close to home. When we saw the list of clues, we knew where many of them were because we had hiked at so many of the preserves recently.” The Lewis family initially planned to find five gnomes at a few of their favorite preserves. After getting started, they decided it would be a fun challenge to find all nineteen and see the rest of the preserves their family hadn’t visited yet along the way. “We had an awesome day, even seeing a bald eagle at Hollyhock Hollow after finding our last gnome!” Jacob said that it was “tiring and hot …but a lot of fun!” He looks forward to going back to explore the trails of his new favorite—the Winn Preserve.

We could not have done this without you!

Thank you to our volunteer artists Vicary Thomas, Ellie Prakken, Emily Meier, Andrea Cuozzo, and Joan Frederick for helping to paint gnomes, and to our Preserve Stewards for escorting the gnomes to and from their hiding spots at each preserve. The gnomes have left the preserves for now and are being well-cared for by our loving volunteers! And thank you to everyone who joined us… we’re truly overjoyed by the outpouring of support. Please continue to enjoy our preserves and the solace they provide during these times. With any luck, you may just see the gnomes out there again sometime! 

ART on the Rail Trail: New Installation by Susan Togut

The ART on the Rail Trail committee is thrilled to announce the newest addition to the trail’s public art collection created by artist Susan Togut. The installation features a series of painted pieces that hang from the trees along the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail between Main Street and Grove Street in Voorheesville. On June 23, Susan began installing her art with help from volunteers from the Village of Voorheesville; the installation will be completed this month.  

These vibrant art pieces pay homage to the village origins in the context of today’s realities and honor Voorheesville at a crossroads in history. The layering of hand-painted, illuminated components in trees or free-standing structures installed at intervals along the Rail Trail, lends beauty, meaning, and joy during challenging times. Lifting the spirits of trail users, Susan’s use of symbolic and historic images embodies the cycles of life, metamorphosis, and renewal, helping us positively transform the uncertain conditions of our time. 

Artist Bio

Susan Togut

Susan Togut is an educator, therapeutic facilitator, and curator, who works from personal perspectives and community-based, worldly concerns. Her art focuses on cycles of nature and life, including fragility, uncertainty, resilience, and renewal. Susan creates contemplative environments and ecological installations, sculptures, wall pieces, and paintings. Her work is featured in sculpture gardens and walks, historic sites, galleries, hospitals, and private collections. In 2019, Susan received a Gottlieb Fellowship for mature work that led to several transforming uncertainty projects. She earned a BFA from Washington University, St. Louis, and an MFA from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York. To learn more about Susan and her work, visit her website:

Support from the Community 

This installation was made possible in part from a generous grant from the Voorheesville Community and School Foundation. Special thanks to the Village of Voorheesville for their support and assistance making this project a reality. ART would also like to thank these local businesses for their 2020 sponsorship:

Policy Research Associates
Stram Center for Integrative Health
Gabler Realty
McSharry and Associates Realty
Sawyers Screen Printers
Allied Business Partners CorpDelaware Plaza
Cathy Griffin, Realtor
Quality PM

For more information about ART and sponsorship opportunities, click here!

Staying Connected in an Unprecedented Time

During this time of remaining physically and socially distant, the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy is still thinking of ways to connect habitats and wildlife across the landscape, and we are thrilled to announce our newest conservation partnership towards this mission.

In 2019, MHLC officially joined the Staying Connected Initiative (SCI). This international collaboration of public agencies, private conservation groups, and universities seeks to conserve, restore, and enhance landscape connectivity across the Northern Appalachian/Acadian region, which includes portions of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine, and the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Last winter, SCI announced that the Catskills to Adirondacks would be the newest linkage for the initiative, recognizing its importance for reconnecting the Central Appalachians to the Northern Appalachians. The linkage is located within our service area, making MHLC the lead conservation organization advancing this larger landscape goal on the ground.

SCI linkage map depicts the new Mohawk Valley addition. Map created by Dan Coker, The Nature Conservancy

Why is this connection so critical? 

Many species have lost the suitable habitat in this region that historically connected them to the Northern Appalachian population. Species such as the Golden-winged Warbler have lost the suitable habitat in this region that historically connected them to the Northern Appalachian population. As a result, gene diversity and mate selection have narrowed and left some species of birds to hybridize with other closely related species, thus reducing the number of Golden-winged Warblers on our earth forever. These corridors are critical pathways for species to move and adapt as they seek suitable habitat in the face of climate change. MHLC will work with SCI and regional partners to map this linkage and focus conservation priorities to create corridors of connected habitat to facilitate species movement over time.

Taking local action

The work will include an analysis to identify the most significant impediments to species movement. Studies in other SCI focal areas have shown that improvements to bridges and culverts can increase wildlife flow rates under roads, while also diverting animal movement away from roads and reducing vehicle collisions. By working with SCI partners to address these impediments along major transecting roads such as the Thruway and Route 5 and acquiring buffer lands to give wildlife room to roam, the Conservancy will provide wildlife with safe passage under these challenging, and often fatal, existing roads. 

MHLC is very excited to be a part of this larger initiative and to be taking local action on the global stage. To learn more about The Staying Connective Initiative, please visit

MHLC receives NAWCA grant for Heldeberg Workshop!

The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy is proud to announce the recent award of $100,000 from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant (NAWCA) to support the acquisition of a conservation easement on the Heldeberg Workshop property in New Scotland. The US Fish and Wildlife Service designates these funds to support the protection of wetlands and adjacent uplands that serve as important bird habitat.

Located at the base of Helderberg Escarpment, the Heldeberg Workshop property is a prominent geologic feature that rises out of the landscape like a beacon for migratory birds, encouraging them to stop and rest, or stop and nest. The deeply forested lands of the Escarpment are an excellent habitat for nationally declining and highest-priority species such as the Cerulean Warbler, Wood Thrush, Golden-winged Warbler, and Canada Warbler. This area has even been known to host nesting Peregrine Falcons along the cliffs. Mallard, Black Duck, and Wood Duck can be found resting and nesting in the wetlands – all species students can spy while exploring Vly Swamp in the Workshop’s “Swamping” class.

Photo by Dietrich Gehring

The Heldeberg Workshop has been providing outdoor education on this incredible property for more than 50 years. The backdrop of the Escarpment makes this area ideal for students to learn about and experience the unique geology of the area, as well as explore its unique amphibians in Vly Swamp, an area known to be one of the most biodiverse for amphibians in all of New England. This property is critical to providing students with unique outdoor education experiences; the long-term protection of the Heldeberg Workshop lands through this grant and fundraising effort is vital to ensuring it exists for future generations.

The NAWCA grant has moved us closer to our meeting our fundraising goal, but there are still funds needed to complete this project. You can learn more about how to donate to support this project and our conservation efforts for the Heldeberg Workshop here.

Sarah Walsh
Conservation Director

MHLC Launches New Virtual Hike Series

Our daily lives may have been uprooted, but MHLC is still here to connect you with nature! All 18 MHLC Preserves remain open and our staff is working remotely to continue our important conservation work.

With many events canceled or postponed, we reached out to MHLC hike leaders and volunteers to create a new virtual experience. The series “Virtual Hikes & Lessons from the Field” is now available. New segments will be added weekly, so be sure to check back for more! Follow us on social media for new content alerts.

Get started today:

Melt your stress away with guided forest therapy!
Diane Kavanaugh-Black, Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide

Bennett Hill Birches: A  watercolor painting lesson
Kevin Kuhne, Artist

Strawberry Fields Nature Preserve’s Disappearing Brook
Jeff Leon, Preserve Steward

Welcome to Mosher Marsh 

Anita Sanchez, Preserve Steward

An Earth Day Activity for Kids
Michelle, Bethlehem Public Library

Spring Plant Identification at the Bozen Kill Preserve
Laurie Swift, Preserve Steward

Welcome to Ashford Glen Preserve
Lois and Don Porter, Preserve Stewards

On the Lookout for Pollinators!
Katie Hietala-Henschell, Xerces Society

Noticing in Nature
Dave Muska, Ondatra Adventures

Stone Pendants & Necklaces
Dave Muska, Ondatra Adventures

Earth Day Challenge 2020

MHLC staff at Earth Day clean-up in 2019.

This year, MHLC is hosting Earth Day in a new way!
For the entire month of April, we are challenging our MHLC community to get outside and pick-up trash at your favorite preserve, outdoor space, or along the frontage of your yard or home. Spreading the celebration out will help to take the pressure off one big day, making it much easier to practice social distancing. We encourage you to take part anytime during these 30 days to show that every day is Earth Day! Share your experience by taking photos of you, your family, and your pets taking part and submit them to MHLC. 

Here’s the Challenge:
We are having a contest for the “best garbage photo” from your clean-up! MHLC staff will vote for the winning Earth Day photo on April 22nd, and a grand prize winner will be chosen on the final day of the challenge, April 30th. The winners will receive an embroidered MHLC logo baseball cap! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for a chance to win additional prizes!

A Collective Impact
We may not be able to gather as a group, but we can still make a big splash! By each of us taking time in the next month to document our efforts, we are hoping to show a collective impact equal to, or even bigger than, our past clean-up efforts! Your photos will be shared on our social media feeds as well as a photo gallery on the MHLC website.

It is extremely important to practice proper social distancing when completing your clean-up. Use caution and stay safe when working near roads! We look forward to seeing your photos soon – please send submissions to

Good luck and happy Earth Day!

View the photo gallery!

Meet MHLC: George Bailie

George Bailie, MHLC Volunteer

George serves as the Preserve Steward at MHLC’s Holt Preserve in the town of New Scotland. Before joining us as a volunteer, George taught and researched aspects of the appropriate use of medications in patients with kidney failure as a professor of pharmacy at Albany College of Pharmacy. He is a dedicated volunteer who has given countless hours to help maintain the trails of Holt and other MHLC Preserves. 

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

Over the years, I had been to many of the preserves, but I had not visited Holt for some time. In Fall 2017, I met with MHLC staff and expressed a desire to be a volunteer Preserve Steward. When the MHLC Stewardship staff reintroduced me to Holt, I was quite impressed by its varied trails. It was then that I decided to help maintain these trails as a Preserve Steward.

What inspires you to support MHLC?

I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. Since moving to the northeast in 1988, I have been an active hiker, runner, and bicyclist. The Adirondacks and Catskills hold a very special charm for hikers throughout the year as it is still possible to find remote and beautiful places with relative ease. Now that I am retired, I have time to facilitate the enjoyment of local preserves by other people. By assisting with preserve and trail upkeep, I can help to ensure each visitor to the preserve has a memorable experience.

Volunteers help with essential trail work.

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

Most of my time is spent sharing the maintenance of Holt Preserve with other stewards through routine trail checks and tasks such as clearing fallen trees. The amount of time varies with the season, from weekly visits during the growing season to every couple of weeks in the winter. Periodically, we host group efforts tending to trails that need significant upgrades or mending. Additionally, I enjoy the opportunity to work with volunteers at other preserves during MHLC’s planned workdays.

Which is your favorite aspect of volunteering with MHLC?

I particularly enjoy the opportunities to meet new people who have a shared passion to look after natural spaces. I also appreciate the opportunities MHLC provides for volunteers to learn new skills, such as chainsaw training, building and maintaining water management structures, and fabricating new trails. 

George Bailie and fellow Preserve Steward Peter Richards received the Dan Driscoll Leadership Award at the Annual Awards Dinner on February 23, 2020. The Dan Driscoll Leadership Award is given annually to those who give outstanding efforts to advance the mission on MHLC. Congratulations to George and our other 2020 award winners!

Read more about MHLC’s 2020 Annual Awards Dinner and this year’s award recipients.

L to R: MHLC Board Chair Sarah Carroll, George Bailie, Peter Richards, and MHLC Executive Director Mark King

Amphibian Migration: The Big Night

Spotted salamander

Every year on the first warm, rainy night in spring, a variety of frog and salamander species will make their spring commute to breeding pools. Signaled by the warm, moist conditions, these amphibians all seemingly emerge together on what is commonly called the “Big Night.” Even with snow and ice on the ground, these 6 to 8-inch Tiger, Spotted, and Marbled salamanders make their way across frozen earth, stone, and pavement, indicating the start of springtime activity. In our backyard, the Helderberg Escarpment provides one of the highest quality areas of herpetological activity in the northeast. For millions of years, amphibians have navigated from their winter home through wetlands to vernal breeding areas. With an increasing number of roadways and traffic in the area, the most immediate threat for migrating amphibians on the Big Night is getting hit by cars.

Spring peeper frog, photo by D. Gehring

Please be on the lookout for a variety of creatures along roadways—including volunteers who are helping migrating amphibians to cross these treacherous obstacles safely. A variety of programs exist for those who want to help with road crossings and observe these unique creatures. In previous years, organizations such as the Hudson River Estuary Program, Friends of Thatcher Park, and local Girl Scout Troops, have offered training and coordinated volunteer efforts on the Big Night. These programs are the best way for new volunteers to get involved. Being a part of a large group helps to cover more area and also extends resources to safely handle both oncoming traffic (reflective vests and cones) and the amphibians themselves (proper handling with wet hands, collecting data, and carrying them in the direction they’re going).

The actual date of the Big Night varies as nature has its own calendar. With temperature and climate conditions further in flux (part of a significant worldwide amphibian decline), it can be increasingly challenging to be ready for the migration. Attending training and keeping up to date on resources is the best way to be prepared as a participant or traveler along roads. Keep an eye on the weather, and stay vigilant while driving! Many folks help independently on the frontage of their property–be on the lookout for pedestrians and signage along roadways. Please help to keep our neighbors and amphibian friends safe by spreading the word about the springtime migration. You can find additional resources on the Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings website through the NY DEC,

A Successful 2020 Annual Awards Dinner

On Sunday, February 23rd, we gathered for MHLC’s Annual Awards Dinner at the River Stone Manor to honor those who are leading the way for conservation in the Capital Region. Guests enjoyed a buffet and cocktails while mingling with fellow Conservancy friends, supporters, and partners. MHLC Executive Director Mark King and MHLC Board Chair Sarah Carroll welcomed guests with an uplifting summary of our many accomplishments over the past year and highlighted the importance of our conservation work in the region.

The award program began with the presentation of the Dan Driscoll Leadership Award to George Bailie and Peter Richards for outstanding work to advance the mission of MHLC. Next, the Saving Special Spaces Award was presented to Commissioner Joesph E. Coffey, Jr., Chairman Charles G. Houghton, and Amy Walsh for their efforts in conserving the lands of the Alcove and Basic Creek Reservoirs. We were honored to have Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Congressman Paul Tonko acknowledged the amazing work of our award recipients and the importance of MHLC’s work in the region in their speeches. The evening ended with a lively presentation about trees by guest speaker William Bryant Logan.

Many thanks to everyone who attended! We are always thrilled to see a room filled with friendly faces of supporters both old and new. A special thanks to guest speaker Bill Logan for an engaging presentation. And lastly, cheers to MHLC Board Chair Sarah Carroll for donating potted Gerbera daisies for our centerpieces. These blossoming centerpieces were offered to departing guests in exchange for a $10 donation and raised an additional $210 for the Conservancy.

Check out our photo gallery from the Annual Awards Dinner! 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

In Memory of Matthew Bender IV

For more than twenty years, Matt Bender was a guiding force in the growth of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy. Matt had an immense passion for the Capital Region and a deep sense of the importance of history and conservation. The Conservancy served an important role in his compelling vision of the region. Unlike so many people who consider the best feature of our area its proximity to other places—Boston, New York, etc.—Matt recognized the real value of our region is in its people, beautiful places, and history.

Matt took MHLC under his wing early in its development and continued to serve as a member of MHLC’s Advisory Council over the years. In 2017, he was recognized as the honoree of the Conservancy’s 25th anniversary year. Matt was never content to provide financial support alone; instead, he wanted to make sure the organization was spending wisely, communicating clearly, and investing in the future to achieve sustainability. He was impatient with failure unless the lessons from mistakes lead to growth, and he was quick to recognize success and achievement. Matt was one of the most energetic, constructive, generous, and wise people, whose interests included an enormous range of causes and projects in our nonprofit sector–he will be greatly missed.

The Board of Trustees, staff, and volunteers of MHLC send our condolences to the Bender family on the passing of Matthew Bender. We join with many others in the Capital Region and beyond in celebrating his life and mourning his loss. We are so grateful for all the ways his generosity transformed our community.





Mark King, MHLC Executive Director 


The Celebration of the Life of Matthew Bender IV has been postponed due to concerns about the coronavirus. Originally scheduled for Saturday, March 14, at The Albany Academies, it will be rescheduled; we will inform you of the new date when it is available.

The Bender family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations could be made to the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.

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Farewell Lea Montalto-Rook

Our Director of Operations and Development, Lea Montalto-Rook, is leaving the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy at the end of February to take on a new challenge as Chief Executive Officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region. Lea is our longest-serving staff member and for many years has been responsible for MHLC’s operations, fundraising, marketing, communications, finance, outreach, and events. She will be sorely missed. We will be hiring a new Fundraising and Marketing Manager to assume some of these roles.

A note from Lea:

Lea and her children enjoying MHLC’s 2016 Summer Festival at Indian Ladder Farms

I’m joining Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region as CEO at a very exciting time. I hope to grow the organization and expand both the budget and the programmatic offerings, with the goal of eliminating the waitlist for littles, providing greater reserves to sustain BBBS into the future, and expanding the scope of offerings in the community, for the benefit of today’s youth and future generations. There is a real need right now for men to serve as mentors for a large list of boys who are in need of a male role model. If you know anyone who would be willing to serve in that capacity and play that important role of shepherding a child and helping to unleash their potential, please let me know.

I’m sorry to leave MHLC, though, and I hope to remain involved in a new capacity. It is really such a bitter-sweet time for me. For more than eight years, I have devoted myself to preserving the character and open spaces of the Capital Region. When I moved to the region in 2011, I was struck by the close proximity of the country to the city. With just a 20-minute bike ride, one can travel from farmland to a concert at the Egg. Through the years, I have enjoyed these unique features. I have walked fields and forests, watched many sunsets from MHLC preserves, and dreamed of a Capital Region with these precious natural lands preserved for future generations. I have worked determinedly to make this dream a reality, and my family has embraced and joined me in these efforts. In fact, my children have appeared in publications and my family is featured in the MHLC video.

Through the years, it has also been my pleasure to work hand-in-hand with board members, staff, and volunteers to grow the organization with great success. Together we have shaped MHLC into a strong regional leader—the Capital Region’s land trust—and amplified the concrete advantages to our local community: the creation of preserves for recreation, the benefit of local food and clean water, the preservation of habitat for wildlife, the mitigation of climate, and more. This success is directly attributable to individual action and an incredible number of supporters who have joined together to create impact. Thank you! (Please make a larger impact by giving a gift today. MHLC needs your ongoing support to sustain our conservation efforts.)

Living not far from the Conservancy’s office means that I have come to know my neighbors in a unique way. I have shaken hands, smiled in welcome at events, enjoyed many conversations, asked for renewed support, and received guidance and inspiration. Along the way, I have also forged good friendships that will last long after my time with MHLC comes to an end.

I look forward to remaining involved with MHLC in a new capacity and helping to continue to move the mission forward. My new email at Big Brothers Big Sisters is Please keep in touch!