Testimonial Gateway Foothills Project
We are pleased to announce that Mohonk Preserve has purchased the entire 857-acre Mohonk Preserve Foothills from the Open Space Institute Land Trust, the land acquisition affiliate of the Open Space Institute (OSI) of New York. Thanks to conservation bridge-financing secured by the Preserve, we were able to purchase both the 534-acre Testimonial Gateway parcel we had previously contracted to purchase along with the additional 323 acres of farmlands including Brook and Pine Farms. The Preserve will be embarking on a fundraising initiative to cover the expanded purchase.
The Preserve is deeply committed to whole-landscape, mixed-use conservation. The purchase of the entire Mohonk Preserve Foothills represents the fulfillment of the conservation legacy originally envisioned by the Preserve’s founders and creation of a community resource that integrates open space stewardship, world-class recreation, participatory environmental education and conservation science, sustainable agriculture, and a remarkable viewshed to provide a unique and inspiring experience on the land.
In September 2012, the Preserve entered into a three-year agreement to purchase 534 acres in the Testimonial Gateway area of the Foothills, and to manage the remaining 323 acres of farmlands for OSI. Having successfully raised the funds for the initial purchase, the Preserve determined that it could rise to the financial challenge and extend the purchase agreement to include the farmland properties.
One of the main goals of the Preserve’s board and staff throughout this new effort is to continue to work with and engage the community as part of our planning for the entire Foothills. The purchase of the entire 857 acres is a reflection of our belief in the importance of public access to nature and sharing our passion for conservation with generations to come.
As owner of the farmland properties, the Preserve has assumed the lease for Glynwood and their new Hudson Valley Farm Business Incubator program, which is designed to provide the tools and resources aspiring agricultural entrepreneurs need to develop and manage viable farm enterprises in the Hudson Valley. The Preserve is working with Glynwood on a balanced conservation plan that includes watershed, bird habitat, and viewshed protection, with Preserve member and day visitor access via Lenape Lane, alongside the regenerative agricultural and farmer-training operations.
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 Mountains 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 portion of the Foothills property 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 historic 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.
In December 2014, the Preserve extended its purchase agreement to include the entire 857 acres of the Foothills, including the historic Brook and Pine Farms and closed on the property.
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 and Landscape Architecture to develop a Trail & 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 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, D.P.C., a 50-year old planning firm with many projects in the New Paltz area, was hired in August 2013. They helped the Preserve guide a process that included formative planning meetings with our neighbors and community and culminated in a full site plan application to the Town of New Paltz on May 7, 2014.
In December 2013, 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 planning phase of the trailhead.
Environmental research on the site is also ongoing. Over the summer of 2013, 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.
In the spring of 2014, the Preserve introduced the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Phenology Project. Phenology is the study of seasonal and cyclical changes in plants and animals, such as the flowering of plants, the emergence of insects, or the migration of birds. Trained by Preserve Conservation Science staff, volunteer citizen naturalists are helping the effort to monitor seasonal indicators at the Preserve by tracking and documenting changes in select trees, shrubs, and flowers on the Foothills lands. The data collected is being entered into the USA National Phenology Network database and New York Phenology Project and made available to scientists, land managers, educators, and the public for use in exploring broad-scale and landscape-level research questions. Mohonk Preserve is pleased to be teaming with Ulster-Greene ARC on this project to provide opportunities for their clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities to get into nature.
CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL PRESERVATION
Work continues to document the historic elements of the site with the Town of New Paltz Historic Preservation Commission, which designated the Testimonial Gateway tower and surrounding landscape as a Local Historic Landmark. 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 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 2013 to solicit input on planning for the Testimonial Gateway Foothills 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.
The site plan application for the Testimonial Gateway Foothills project was submitted to the Town of New Paltz Planning Board on May, 7, 2014 and is now under review. To view the plan documents, click here.
REGIONAL TRAIL CONNECTIVITY
The Preserve is working with OSI, the Town of New Paltz, and Ulster County on trail connectivity across the New Paltz “flats” to the Wallkill River, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and the Village of New Paltz. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 845-255-0919, ext. 1248.