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
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
''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
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
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
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
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
''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.''