Both Sides Now

Two not-so-different visions for the Hudson River Valley

(page 4 of 6)

Black Creek Preserve

Photograph courtesy of Scenic Hudson

Recent Open Space Victories

Black Creek Preserve
Town of Esopus, Ulster

This little-known preserve on the western shore of the Hudson consists of 130 acres of lovely woods intersected by Black Creek, one of the few Hudson feeders that hasn’t been degraded by pollution. Near the trailhead is an unusual suspension bridge over the creek, and after passing several vernal pools — small bodies of water that are incubators for amphibians — the trail winds down to a beach littered with skipping stones. On a recent visit, a pair of pileated woodpeckers flitted among some tall evergreens, waves gently broke along the beach, and fishing boats floated placidly on the river.

Scenic Hudson acquired the land in 1992 and opened it to the public in 1999. “It’s a wonderful place for families,” said Steve Rosenberg, senior vice president of Scenic Hudson and executive director of the Scenic Hudson Land Trust, Inc. “Young kids don’t like a boring straight trail. They prefer lots of nooks and crannies and interesting twists and turns,” such as they’ll find at Black Creek. An unsullied view of the Hyde Park estates across the river is another attractive feature.

The park is part of the Black Creek Wetlands Complex, which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation identified as a conservation priority in its Draft 2009 Open Space Conservation Plan. It provides habitat for the threatened northern cricket frog and is an important area for breeding and migrating waterfowl, as well as river otters. The park is located off Route 9W, adjacent to Winding Brook Acres cottages.

Roosevelt Farm Lane
Hyde Park, Dutchess

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Home and Library is a national park and one of the most visited attractions in the Hudson Valley. A proposed shopping mall, which was to be located directly across the road, prompted Scenic Hudson to purchase the 334-acre site in 2004. The property was subsequently transferred to the National Park Service, and is now open to the public, serving as a pedestrian link to Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s retreat.

The land was once owned by FDR, who planted it with experimental tree plots (the president had an abiding interest in agriculture and silvaculture). The nearly two-mile-long road he traveled to reach Eleanor’s house has been restored. There weren’t enough funds to fix the old bridge (designed and built by Roosevelt), so the park service constructed a new one over the creek. The original survives, however, and can be viewed by visitors.

Tivoli Waterfront

The village of Tivoli, a collection of charming houses, restaurants, and businesses heavily patronized by the nearby Bard College community, extends all the way to the Hudson. Long ago, there was a bulkhead along the shore where boats could tie-up, providing residents with access to the river. But half a century ago — when the rail lines began deploying faster trains on the riverside tracks — the shore became off-limits, according to Tivoli Mayor Tom Cordier. “We’ve had a waterfront committee for almost 20 years looking to reconnect the village with the waterfront and rebuild the bulkhead,” he said.

Now it’s about to happen. Within the next few months, the village will close on the purchase of two-and-a-half riverside acres from CSX. Scenic Hudson is footing the $40,000 bill, and the village is seeking grants from the New York Department of State, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and other state agencies to pay for construction of the bulkhead, a fence, benches, a small parking lot, and other improvements, which Cordier estimates will cost from $3-$4 million.

The fence will protect children and pets from the railroad tracks, and the plan includes floating docks. The two-and-a-half acre park is emblematic of numerous initiatives underway by Scenic Hudson to acquire or improve municipal land along the river, as part of its Save the Land That Matters Most campaign. Tivoli is one of five Hudson River communities that have received funds, ranging from $35,000 to $350,000, from Scenic Hudson for creation of a park or enhancement of an existing one.

Watergrass Sanctuary

Photograph courtesy of Scenic Hudson

Watergrass Sanctuary
Philipstown, Putnam

Owned by the Putnam Highlands Audubon Society, these 48 acres of forest and wetlands just received permanent protection through a conservation easement secured by Scenic Hudson and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust. Bordering Route 9 in the Highlands, the land is contiguous with other properties protected by easements, including Saunders Farm, a working farm whose annual art installations and square dances have become a center for the Garrison/Philipstown community. A trail crossing the farm will be extended across the sanctuary, with access provided off Route 9. The sanctuary consists of wetlands and forested slopes rising to a ridge. It has abundant bird life, and a bear has been sighted within the vicinity, according to Andy Chmar, executive director of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust.

Chmar said the Watergrass Sanctuary fills in the missing link of a huge tract of land which is forever protected from development, and preserves the view shed from surrounding parks, including Bear Mountain and Storm King. Hence its preservation is critical to maintaining the rural, wild character of the scenic Highlands, a region of the river that for generations was known as “America’s Rhine.”

The sanctuary land was donated to the National Audubon Society by the de Rham family in 1980 and transferred to the local Audubon Society chapter. Chmar noted that the area is a very desirable place to live and therefore is under a lot of development pressure, which makes establishment of the sanctuary all the more critical. “We want to ensure it remains an accessible, publicly protected landscape,” he said.

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