Fishkill Ridge
Community Heritage

Open Space Makes Gains

   

Fishkill Ridge Poughkeepsie Journal
Thursday, September 23, 2004


Open space makes gains: 2,544 acres are preserved
By Dan Shapley

The majestic waterfall and gorge known as Dover Stone Church, purchased by the Town of Dover this month, is the latest of several efforts to preserve open space in the region this year. Deals have been sealed to protect at least 2,544 acres of land in and around Dutchess and Ulster counties in the first nine months of 2004, according to a Poughkeepsie Journal tally of publicly disclosed projects. Plans are unfolding to protect at least another 1,301 acres.

Taken together, those projects would protect an area larger than the City of Beacon.

They come at a time when residential development is fast-paced. Based on new housing construction, the U.S. Census estimated the population of Dutchess and Ulster increased by 14,000 from 2000 to 2003, a jump of 3 percent. And there is more growth on tap, with new development proposed on thousands of acres across the region.

''This past year was perhaps an active year, but it may reflect the increasing pace of development activity and growing concern among communities about the loss of open space,'' said Steve Rosenberg, executive director of the Scenic Hudson Land Trust.

Three properties protected this year are to become public parks -- the 58.5-acre Dover Stone Church, 162-acre Peach Hill in Poughkeepsie and the 99-acre Carnwath Farms in Wappinger.

Deals this year will allow for expanded public trails along the Hudson River in Hyde Park and public access to more lands in the Putnam County portion of the Great Swamp, which traverses the Dutchess-Putnam border. The Mohonk Preserve also protected 95 acres on the Shawangunk Ridge, which is within view of its popular hiking, biking and rock climbing destination in Ulster County.

The Town of Lloyd has considered protecting the 242-acre Gaffney Farm as a park. Poughkeepsie has discussed expanding the Peach Hill property by 46 acres. And Scenic Hudson has an option to purchase 338 acres that would link the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Val-Kill National Historic Sites in Hyde Park.

Richard McHugh, a Town of Wappinger resident, would like to see more open space protected to preserve the Dutchess community he and his wife have known since childhood, and to keep taxes -- school taxes especially -- from skyrocketing and traffic from swelling. New businesses with good jobs are also important, he said, for the same reasons.

''I see building, building, building for profit. But what about the implications?'' McHugh said.

Another ongoing goal has been to preserve farmland. Gov. George Pataki announced a $1.8 million grant that will aid in the preservation of 925 acres in the Town of North East and 268 acres in the Town of Hurley. The Dutchess area includes the 213-acre Sunset Ridge Farm, a scenic dairy farm near the Harlem Valley Rail Trail with 210 cows. Dutchess County is likely
to contribute money to protect the farm, too.

Staying on the farm

Brothers Kevin and Greg Smith own Sunset Ridge Farm. Theirs is a farming family that traces its roots to a Litchfield, Conn., farm founded in 1847. The family bought Sunset Ridge in 1981 after exploring land from the Shenandoah Valley to northern New York and as far west as Ohio. Now, they are considering expanding Sunset Ridge. Counting land they rent, they farm
more than 800 acres in Dutchess.

''We are all for preserving the vista, but as my brother says, this is such good soil,'' Kevin Smith said, standing near the Webutuck Creek, where a snowy egret winged by.

Preserving good agricultural soil is increasingly important in the region, because new construction could undermine the source of food for future generations, Smith said.

''Realtors come by and talk about the potential of this property,'' he said. ''We say we like it just the way it is.''

Dutchess County and Scenic Hudson also protected the 234-acre Linden Farm in Red Hook this year, and Scenic Hudson is negotiating a deal with the Town of Red Hook to protect the 139-acre Feller Farm. Those farms are part of the ''breadbasket'' -- a cluster of farms Scenic Hudson has helped protect in an effort to ensure farming remains viable in Red Hook.

Protecting water supplies, rare species and the natural environment are other reasons for the open space preservation this year.

New York City preserved 187 acres in East Fishkill and 481 acres in Wawarsing to protect its water supply. The Nature Conservancy and Dutchess Land Conservancy protected 132 acres of wetlands and meadows in North East.

Some land was purchased directly, and some land was protected by purchasing conservation easements. Such easements typically restrict future development of the land, but leave it in the hands of private owners who continue to pay property taxes.

Money came from federal, state, county and local governments, as well as private land trusts, community groups and individual donors. Some landowners donated property or conservation easements.

Many hands are needed

The projects often involved cooperative efforts among different groups and levels of government.

The Dover Stone Church project, for instance, received help from the state, the county, the Dutchess Land Conservancy and a citizen's group called Friends of Dover Stone Church, as well as the cooperation and patience of the property's former owners, Kevin and Deidre Cunningham.

Pataki has set the goal of preserving 1 million acres in New York by 2012, and Dutchess County Executive William Steinhaus wants to have 10,000 acres preserved in Dutchess by 2010.

Since 1999, Dutchess has put up $7 million into a fund for open space and farmland protection and has protected 1,790 acres with $3.78 million.

Ulster began updating a 32-year-old open space protection plan, expanded agricultural districts and increased tax incentives for certain farm activities this year, county Legislator Hector Rodriguez, D-New Paltz, said. He hopes the next county budget will include a small start to an open space fund, and Democrats may push for part of a proposed mortgage tax to go to open-space protection.

''Those are the small baby steps we're taking now,'' Rodriquez said. ''What we're looking to do is be a lot more proactive, like Dutchess County.''

Towns are also taking action, following the lead of Red Hook, where voters approved borrowing $3.5 million last year to preserve farmland. Two farms, the Feller and Steiner farms, have been discussed as possible recipients.

Milan has considered setting up a fund to monitor conservation easements donated by landowners. The money would be used to ensure no building takes place that violates the deed restrictions.

Beekman is studying open-space protection with an eye toward asking voters to approve borrowing money to protect land.

Lloyd could ask voters to approve $1 million for the Gaffney Farm project.

At the federal level, the Highland Conservation Act was passed last year by the House of Representatives, and it passed a Senate committee recently. It would authorize $100 million in federal matching funds over 10 years to assist Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania in conserving the Highlands region. The Highlands cut through southern Dutchess County and other Hudson Valley counties.

''Funding this important program is the most critical issue,'' said Jim Tripp of Environmental Defense, who serves as chairman of the Highlands Coalition group that has lobbied for more Highlands protections. ''The region's congressional delegation will have to continue their hard work to make sure that funds are actually appropriated when the act passes.''

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