Summer 2015 #179
It’s time for summer fun on the land at Mohonk Preserve! We have a full schedule of programs and events that will help you and your family get into nature. Experience yoga at the Slingerland Pavilion, explore the Coxing Kill stream, and learn about stars at Spring Farm. You can even enjoy special hikes with your canine companions!
In this issue of Ridgelines, we’ll update you on a critical conservation defense victory, highlight an important new search and rescue training program, and share exciting news about the upcoming Second Annual Mohonk Preserve New York City Benefit Gala. We wish you a happy, healthy summer and hope to see you soon.
At Mohonk Preserve, one of our highest priorities is permanently protecting the land entrusted to us by neighbors, donors, and supporters. These individuals have entrusted us with the preservation of beloved properties, some of which have been passed down through several generations, and we take the obligation to protect these properties very seriously.
That’s why we are so happy to report that the State of New York Supreme Court Appellate Division has ruled in favor of Mohonk Preserve in a land dispute regarding a 71.45-acre parcel in the Town of Rochester, reversing a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court in Ulster County.
Mohonk Preserve purchased the lands, now known as the Nils J. Johanson Parcel, in 1994 from a long-time Shawangunk Ridge family, the Fingers, who wanted to protect the fragile mountainside slopes, and ridge summit with pitch pines, rock ledges and outcrops. Gloria Finger’s Father, Nils J. Johanson, had bought the land in 1940 and Gloria and her husband, Frank “Bud” Finger, sold it to the Preserve for $82,000 following a public hearing and planning board approval. In 2003, an adjacent private landowner asserted claims to the lands, resulting in a lawsuit commenced by the Preserve with the backing of its title insurance company in 2004.
"As a member of the family who sold the land in question to Mohonk Preserve, I applaud the court’s final decision,” said Gary Finger, grandson of Nils J. Johanson. “The sale to the Preserve was initiated by my mother in honor of her father, Nils J. Johanson. My family owned and paid taxes on the property for two generations with no one challenging our ownership of it, so it was an absurd assertion that someone else would claim ownership nine years after we sold to the Preserve, either by a deed from before 1881 or by adverse possession. Since 1940, there were only two legal owners of the land – my family and Mohonk Preserve.”
Finger said further, “My family elected to sell this land to the Preserve because of their longstanding stewardship of the ridge, and because we wanted to honor our father and grandfather and our long-term family commitment to the Shawangunk Mountains. It was an act of conservation and love on the part of my family and what the Preserve had to go through to defend their rightful ownership was reprehensible.”
The Appellate Court’s decision in this case is an important victory for both conservation and property rights. By unanimously confirming our ownership of these environmentally important lands on both the facts and the law in this case, the four-judge panel has ensured that these lands will be perpetually protected and will continue to receive the care and stewardship they deserve under Mohonk Preserve’s long-term ownership.
The case on appeal was handled for the Preserve by attorney R. Anthony Rupp III, who has also represented other organizations seeking to prevent incursions onto conserved lands. “I believe that the work land conservation organizations do to ensure that natural areas identified in local, regional, and state plans and policies are protected is of utmost importance to our quality of life,” said Rupp. “I encourage these groups to stand up and defend their property rights against attempts to undermine their legal ownership of these protected lands.”
The need to go to court to resolve a land ownership or boundary issue is a rare event for the Preserve, involving only two of over 280 adjacent landowners. In contrast, since its inception in 1963, the Preserve has worked amicably with dozens of neighbors who sought to voluntarily to protect their land by selling or donating land or conservation easements to the Preserve.
Unfortunately, according to the Land Trust Alliance, across America conservation easements and preserves are increasingly under attack from adjoining landowners, developers, and trespassers. As property values rise, incentives to disrupt or void easements, and trespass on land trust properties also grow, often leading to litigation.
The stakes for land trusts are high, as a single adverse judicial decision could endanger the permanence of conserved land, and the cost of even a single lawsuit could threaten the survival of many organizations. Further, if a land trust fails to properly defend its property or lands held in conservation easement, it may result in bad case law that could jeopardize conservation easements held by other organizations across the United States.
In recognition of the importance, and considerable cost, of defending conserved lands, in April 2011 the LTA created the Terrafirma Risk Retention Group LLC, a conservation defense insurance program for land trusts, of which the Preserve is a charter supporter.
Even though our litigation in this and a previous conservation defense case was successful, these legal proceedings have negatively impacted the Preserve by diverting funds and staff time from land protection and stewardship.
With your steadfast support, we will continue to make good on our promise to preserve, protect and, when necessary, legally defend the lands entrusted to us for the public benefit, ensuring that the places you treasure today will remain protected for future generations to enjoy.
The Shawangunk Ridge, also known as the Gunks, is a world-class climbing area, offering some of the best and most popular climbing east of the Mississippi River. Every year, over 50,000 climbers come to Mohonk Presrve to test their skills here. Climbers have full and easy access to 1,000 routes and more than five linear miles of cliff face. Vertical cliffs and overhangs create a wide variety of high-quality climbs of varying levels of difficulty. The distinctive, stark, white cliffs of the Gunks are as tough as they look – with sharp angles that test climber skills with quartz pebbles and deep fissures providing multiple holds.
With so many climbers, occasionally accidents occur, requiring steep angle and vertical rescues. Fortunately, the Preserve has one of the best-trained vertical rescue teams in the country. Since 1972, the Preserve’s Ranger team has performed over 1,500 successful mountain rescues and has become recognized as a world-class search and rescue unit.
Now, thanks to support from Patagonia’s Environmental Grants Program, Preserve Rangers are sharing that knowledge by providing six days of free mountain rescue training for dozens of professional climbing guides who work in the Gunks, which will result in a broader network of well-skilled potential quick responders. Theses trainings are also being made available to volunteer rangers affiliated with Sam’s Point Search and Rescue and other area climbing organizations. This project will expand the pool of skilled local rescuers who can act as quick responders in instances of accidents requiring mountain search and rescue (S.A.R.).
By completing at least one of the training sessions, the climbing guides will also fulfill Continuing Education (CE) credits required by the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) for climbing guide accreditation. These trainings, together with the purchase of selected rescue equipment upgrades, will also realize recommendations made by Ropes That Rescue following a 2013 audit of the Preserve’s Search and Rescue program, resulting in increased climber safety in the Gunks.
The Patagonia Environmental Grant is also funding critical upgrades to the Preserve’s rescue equipment, including climbing ropes, rope rescue and rigging systems, rappelling racks, and spring-loaded camming devices.
Patagonia grew out of a small company that made tools for climbers. Alpinism remains at the heart of a worldwide business that still makes clothes for climbing – as well as for skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, paddling and trail running. Patagonia gives 1% of their sales to support environmental organizations around the world, funding at the grassroots level in countries and communities where they have people on the ground.
In addition to funding search and rescue training and equipment, Patagonia has supported the Preserve through its intern program and in-store promotional events in New York City.
Thanks to the Patagonia Environmental Grants program and Preserve Rangers, the Gunks will continue its role as a nationally-known host site for mountain rescue training and will have an even stronger corps of highly trained search and rescue personnel ready to respond to the ever-growing climbing community.
Mohonk Preserve is heading downtown for our Second Annual New York City Benefit Gala on Thursday, October 1, 2015. Once again, the Gala will be held at Three Sixty°, a spectacular Tribeca event space with uninterrupted, breathtaking 360° views of Manhattan.
This year’s celebration will honor two distinguished conservationists: Kristine and Douglas Tompkins. Kris and Doug are both outdoor adventurers and entrepreneurs. As businesspeople, they built unconventional companies—The North Face, Esprit, and Patagonia—that epitomized their values: deeply rooted environmental ethics, dynamic workplace cultures, strong brand identities, well-designed products, and a willingness to try new ideas. These entrepreneurial backgrounds influenced their approach to conservation.
For most of the 1990s, Kris and Doug focused on creating Pumalín Park, a public-access 800,000-acre nature reserve in the south of Chile’s Lakes Region. South Chile had growing threats to its wild character from forestry, mining, hydro dams, and industrial aquaculture. Thanks to their vision, this remarkable region and many others have been forever protected by their efforts.
It is in this spirit of conservation and stewardship that we invite you to celebrate Kris, Doug, and Mohonk Preserve at the Gala. Whether you have enjoyed the Preserve for many years or are just discovering its benefits and beauty, your table or ticket purchase will allow the Preserve to take significant steps to better steward this special place we all love.
Proceeds from the Gala will support critical Stewardship needs enabling the Preserve to meet the ever growing demands of the land and visitors, including conservation, visitor safety, major restoration, and maintenance.
The Gala Committee has planned an exceptional evening of cocktails, fine dining, and conviviality. Special thanks to Committee Co-Chairs Paul B. Guenther and Gilbert and Ildiko Butler, and members Ginny Carter, Norman Goluskin, James L. Hoover, Mike Keegan, Ann MacDougall, James H. Ottaway, John Petry, Linda Sussman, Ron Sussman, Tim Sweeney, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., and Michael Tannen.
Last year, our inaugural New York City Benefit Gala filled to capacity, so reserve your spot today to ensure that you’ll be a part of this festive and meaningful event.
For more information on ticket prices and reservations, please click here.
PHOTO GALLERY. View seasonal photographs by our volunteer photographers.
GET INTO NATURE. See a full list of upcoming programs including Evening Yoga at the Pavillion Tuesdays in June, July, August, and September, Stargazing at Spring Farm on August 12, and Dog Days of Summer Hike on August 16th.
IN APPRECIATION. Go to our listing of Memorial and Honorary Gifts, Premium Members, and Business Members received April 1 through June 30, 2015.
CHECK THIS OUT
The Gunks Through Time, an illustrated color history of The Gunks, NY, by Ronald G. Knapp and Michael Neil O'Donnell, will be available at the Visitor Center on August 27th. All proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit Mohonk Preserve.