Columbia County is situated southeast of Albany, stretching roughly from Kinderhook and Stuyvesant in the northwest corner down to Ancram in the southeast. Rich in agricultural heritage and natural beauty, it is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes. There’s hiking, fishing, bird watching, boating and a great deal of scenic open space, habitat and diverse ecosystems.
The Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC) is dedicated to ensuring that these qualities endure. From its inception in 1986, the Conservancy has grown from a bare-bones volunteer group to one of the most successful land trusts in the country. Having just completed a five-year strategic plan, CLC is entering its third decade with a renewed focus and sense of mission. A community-based land trust, CLC’s staff of 19 use a variety of strategies to conserve farms, forests and wildlife habitats in Columbia County and support the agricultural economy. It also strives to strengthen the connection between people and the land, primarily through public outreach and education programs and a system of publicly accessible properties.
“At CLC, we take a community-based approach to conservation,” notes Executive Director, Peter Paden. “We actively seek to engage the public in our work, and respond to the conservation needs expressed by the people who live here in Columbia County.”
This approach is perhaps best reflected in the organization’s walks, talks and hands-on workshops conducted at the six Public Conservation Areas (PCAs) maintained by the CLC (soon to be nine with openings scheduled this fall). This system of public lands is similar to other nature preserves and parks found throughout the Capital Region, with a strong emphasis on the human experience. Open daily from dawn to dusk, these properties are available for everyone to enjoy, free of charge.
Situated throughout the county these areas provide a wide variety of landscapes and habitats to explore. At the High Falls Conservation Area in Philmont you can fish, enjoy a picnic and see Columbia County’s highest waterfall, cascading over 150 feet into a crystal pool. Hand Hollow in New Lebanon has over 300 acres of streams, wetlands and two and a half miles of nature trails. The Greenport Conservation Area, just north of the City of Hudson, features more than 700 acres of woods and fields on the Hudson River shore, with some four miles of trails throughout.
A special feature of the Greenport PCA is a mile-long wheelchair-accessible trail, providing visitors of all ages and physical abilities access to spectacular views of the Hudson River. The “Access for All” trail is the first of its kind along the Hudson River. The accessible trail benefits senior citizens, people with mobility impairments, people who are blind or visually impaired, and families with young children in strollers, giving them all the opportunity to participate in events like the “Rolling Ramble” (part of this year’s annual Hudson River Valley Ramble) or just take a stroll.
In addition, CLC protects private property with conservation easements, which are voluntary agreements with individual landowners that protect the natural resources of the property in perpetuity. The land remains on the tax rolls and can be sold or leased, but future development is limited. The CLC now holds donated conservation easements on more than 20,000 acres of some of the county’s best agricultural, scenic and natural lands, a number that grows every year.
CLC also works with farmers to find new ways to support local agriculture— arranging land leases and providing advice on conservation programs. CLC has helped secure state funding (about $6 million to date) through the NYS Farmland Protection Program for the purchase of development rights on 5,300 acres of agricultural lands. CLC also assists local town boards and community groups with grant writing, zoning issues and development proposals with an eye towards progressive land use practices. Protecting the county’s rural heritage and improving the quality of life for the population can go hand in hand — sound land use plans are not just for today’s residents, but for their children and grandchildren as well.
CLC relies on over 200 volunteers and has volunteer opportunities available for everyone from adolescents to seniors. Options are available for trail buildingand maintenance, assisting at events, monitoring conservancy properties, serving as a co-educator or helping with mailings at the office. Volunteers allow CLC to serve as a “community” resource in the truest sense of the word.
Every facet of the community benefits from the CLC’s programs: tourism can expect a boost from new recreational areas, local residents can be confident that wilderness habitats and scenic open spaces will be conserved for future generations and that a secure land base will remain available for farming, and towns are assisted in developing sound land use policies that support the rural way of life that helps define Columbia County.
To learn more about CLC’s work, volunteer opportunities, the schedule of public education programs, or for directions to its wonderful public conservation areas, visit CLC’s website at www.clctrust.org, call (518) 392-5252 or stop by the office at 49 Main Street in the Village of Chatham.