Moving Forward in the Mohonk Preserve Foothills
In October 2011, the Open Space Conservancy, the land acquisition affiliate of the Open Space Institute (OSI) of New York, acquired 857 acres from Mohonk Mountain House, preserving priceless views of the Shawangunk Mountain range. Following this acquisition, Mohonk Preserve agreed to manage and, as resources permitted, incrementally purchase portions of the land, now designated as the Mohonk Preserve Foothills.
The Preserve also undertook an extensive, community conservation-based planning process that included planning firm DiMella Shaffer, Preserve staff, board, and advisory committee members, Town of New Paltz liaisons, OSI and Mohonk Mountain House staff, along with the local community, to create a comprehensive Land Asset Management Plan (LAMP) for the Mohonk Preserve Foothills. This process was supported in part by funding from the Hudson River Valley Greenway and the New York State Conservation Partnership Program, administered by the Land Trust Alliance and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
Purchasing the Property
After completing the planning process, in the fall of 2012, Mohonk Preserve agreed to purchase a 534-acre parcel from the Open Space Conservancy. The parcel is strategically located between the Village of New Paltz and the protected areas of the Shawangunk Mountains and includes the Testimonial Gateway tower, circa 1907, which served as the entrance to Mohonk Mountain House until 1945; Humpo Marsh, an important wildlife viewing and migratory bird area; the historic Kleinekill Farm; and important segments of the historic carriage road system that extends into the Preserve, Mohonk Mountain House, and Minnewaska State Park Preserve. This acquisition will also protect the iconic National Historic Landmark landscape views of Sky Top and Bonticou Crag from the Town of New Paltz and the Wallkill Valley below.
The Preserve is hard at work raising $2.15 million to meet our obligation to purchase the Foothills tract from OSI by July of 2015. In 2012, the Preserve received a $500,000 grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation that will pay for 20 percent of this purchase, and we are reaching out to individual donors and foundations for additional contributions. We are also exploring additional grant funding to help meet our acquisition goal.
Comprehensive planning efforts are already underway for the Mohonk Preserve Foothills. Using past grant funding from the Hudson River Valley Greenway and New York State Conservation Partnership Program (NYSCPP), we hired Taconic Site Design to develop a trails connectivity master plan for the entire Foothills landscape, with neighbors and community members providing input into this process. We expect, phased over a period of years, to be able to open new trails to the ridge via restored carriage roads, as well as some new and interesting loop trail routes to the Humpo Marsh and Duck Pond.
We have also embarked on planning for the formal trailhead entrance to the Mohonk Preserve Foothills, which will provide the first direct access to the Shawangunk Ridge from New Paltz and the Wallkill Valley. In April, NYSCPP announced a $48,000 grant to the Preserve to partially defray costs of this planning. After a competitive-bid process, Barton & Loguidice, P.C., a 50-year old planning firm with many projects in the New Paltz area, was hired in August. They will help MP guide a process that will culminate in a full site plan application to the Town of New Paltz. The first internal trailhead meeting is scheduled for early September, and shortly thereafter we will engage our neighbors and community in formative planning meetings that will also show the new proposed trails.
In December, the Preserve was awarded $42,000 in New York State grant funding, endorsed by the Town of New Paltz, for additional planning money leveraging the Preserve Board’s commitment of funding and the previously awarded grant from the NYSCPP. To do the planning thoroughly and to meet all local and state standards, the Preserve expects to spend over $100,000 on this phase of the trailhead.
Environmental research on the site is also ongoing. Over the summer, our Conservation Science team, assisted by the John Burroughs Natural History Society, other research associates, and citizen scientists, conducted a biodecathon – ten days of biodiversity exploration and documentation – in the Humpo Marsh area, further assessing species, habitats, natural communities, and systems.
Work continues to document the historic elements of the site with the Town of New Paltz Historic Preservation Commission, which recently designated the Gatehouse as Local Landmark and will be seeking support for roadside parking controls to minimize impacts on neighbors. The Preserve hired historic preservation architect Carl Stearns to conduct a building conditions survey and to work with us on a building stabilization plan for the Gatehouse. Retired architect and Gardiner resident Frank Misiurski, a member of the Preserve’s Facilities Committee, has also provided expert guidance. The Preserve has also hired interpretive content specialist Dan Marwit to help Preserve educators develop the “story” and interpretive messaging that will accompany the new trailhead and the arrival sequence from the trailhead to the Gatehouse and beyond.
Ongoing Community Conservation
As part of an ongoing community conservation initiative, the Preserve met with a group of near neighbors in October to solicit input on planning for the Testimonial Gateway Project. Their input was included in the ongoing planning process, and in November, the Preserve held an open, public Community Engagement Meeting at the New Paltz Community Center to discuss plans for the project, including stabilizing the gatehouse structure, establishing safe and managed parking and trailhead facilities for property visitors, providing safe access to the site from public roadways, restoring Lenape Lane and the Butterville/Lenape Lane Bridge, and rehabilitating the historic site and surrounding landscape.
The Preserve is working with OSI, the Town of New Paltz, and Ulster County on connectivity across the flats to the Wallkill River and Rail Trail and Village. Together with the Wallkill Valley Land Trust and OSI, the Preserve helped the Town secure a Hudson River Valley Greenway planning grant to design the trail and position it for capital funding.
For more information about how you can support the Preserve’s efforts in the Foothills through the “Conservation for the Next Century” capital campaign, please contact Mohonk Preserve Deputy Executive Director for Strategic Advancement Joseph Alfano, at email@example.com or 845-255-0919, ext. 1248.
The Land Asset Management Plan
The Mohonk Preserve Land Asset Management Plan has served as a catalyst for bringing the community together to develop concepts and design alternatives for access, stewardship, interpretation, and conservation of the lands, and to look at ways to connect the Shawangunk Ridge to the surrounding area.
The Land Asset Management Plan (141 pages, 6MB) includes information on the Mohonk Preserve Foothills’ history, ecology, and regional context, along with goals, objectives, and management and implementation plans for the Testimonial Gateway, Farmland, Marshland, and Ridgeland areas. The Land Asset Management Plan Summary (18 pages, 4MB) covers highlights of the full plan.
Hard-copy versions of the full Land Asset Management Plan are available for viewing at the New Paltz Town Hall and the New Paltz Elting Memorial Library.