Mohonk Preserve Foothills Update - As winter begins to settle in, work on the Preserve's new Testimonial Gateway Trailhead (off of Route 299 just west of New Paltz) is steadily moving ahead to connect the community to the Mohonk Preserve Foothills.
New rustic fencing, reminiscent of the time travelers passed through the Testimonial Gateway Tower on their way to the Mohonk Mountain House, has been installed. New site plan mandated safety guide rails have been placed along Gatehouse and Butterville Roads. Roadside parking is available on nearby Pine Road.
The Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project reflects the Preserve’s mission of protecting the Shawangunk Mountains region and inspiring people to care for, enjoy and explore their natural world by:
- Protecting critical wildlife habitats in the Foothills’ forests, fields, marsh, and ponds;
- Preserving the historic and cultural landscape of the Foothills, including the landmark viewshed, farm buildings and Testimonial Gateway tower; and
- Inspiring the community and visitors to get into nature at the Foothills.
This project also fulfills the goals of the Town of New Paltz Open Space Plan, which identified the Foothills as the number one landscape for protection in a community survey.
The Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project was carefully designed with neighbor and community input to provide safe, controlled access to the Mohonk Preserve Foothills, while also optimizing recreational, educational, and conservation science opportunities. The footprint of all carefully sited visitor amenities comprises under 7 acres – less than 1 percent of 836-acre Mohonk Preserve Foothills landscape – at two different sites. Upon completion of the project, the Mohonk Preserve Foothills landscape will remain in its current state – wide-open fields, marshlands, extensive tree cover, numerous historic structures, and glorious vistas.
The Testimonial Gateway Trailhead at the Mohonk Preserve Foothills will be the first new Mohonk Preserve trailhead in 25 years and will expand public access for people of all ages and abilities to the Foothills' carriage roads and footpaths.
River-to-Ridge Trail Update - The Mohonk Preserve Foothills Loop of the River-to-Ridge Trail is now open! This new trail expands the Mohonk Preserve Foothills trail network and extends the River-to-Ridge Trail in New Paltz. The 2.2-mile loop trail, which is free and open to the public, begins near the intersection of Pine and Butterville Roads, follows the newly established Ridgeview Road to Lenape Lane, and continues around the White Oak Bend Path to Pine Road.
A “garland-cutting” ceremony was held on Oct. 5, 2019 to mark the opening of the new trail loop. Representatives from Mohonk Preserve, the Open Space Institute, the Butler Conservation Fund and the Town of New Paltz were on hand to celebrate and enjoy a walk, joining hikers, cyclists, and dog-walkers who were also exploring the trail.
The River-to-Ridge Trail was created in partnership by the Open Space Institute and Mohonk Preserve, with generous support from the Butler Conservation Fund.
Since 2013, the Preserve has been working with OSI, the Town of New Paltz, and Ulster County on possible 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 for trail design, which was completed in 2014.
In 2015, OSI acquired the 135-acre “Watchtower” property, linking to other previously purchased farms in the “flats” that created potential for a continuous trail from the Wallkill River to the Mohonk Preserve Foothills. Plans were developed for a trail through the fields that would link with a loop trail to be established in the Mohonk Preserve Foothills.The Springtown Road Trailhead section of the trail was opened in October 2018 on lands conserved by OSI. The Mohonk Preserve Foothills Loop was opened in October 2019 on lands conserved by Mohonk Preserve.
Mohonk Preserve Foothills Background
In October 2011, the Open Space Conservancy, the land acquisition affiliate of the Open Space Institute(OSI) of New York, acquired land in the foothills below the Mohonk Mountain House, preserving priceless views of the Shawangunk Ridge. Following this acquisition, Mohonk Preserve agreed to manage and, as resources permitted, purchase land, now designated as the Mohonk Preserve Foothills.
The Preserve subsequently 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 conceptual Land Asset Management Plan 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 (NYSCPP), administered by the Land Trust Alliance and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
Mohonk Preserve Foothill Lands
The Mohonk Preserve Foothills lands are strategically located between the Village of New Paltz and the protected areas of the Shawangunk Ridge. The parcel includes the historic Testimonial Gateway tower, circa 1907, which served as the entrance to Mohonk Mountain House until 1945; Humpo Marsh, an important wildlife area; the historic Brook, Kleinekill, and Pine Farms; and important segments of the historic carriage road system that extends into the Preserve, Mohonk Mountain House, and Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
Purchasing The Property
In December 2014, Mohonk Preserve entered into an agreement to purchase the Mohonk Preserve Foothills from the Open Space Institute Land Trust, the land acquisition affiliate of OSI.
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, and a remarkable viewshed to provide a unique and inspiring experience on the land.
On July 25, 2016, the Town of New Paltz Planning Board has granted conditional final site plan approval for the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project. The Preserve has moved forward with the permitting process and work on the site will begin in 2019. To view the final site plan approval drawings, click here.
The Preserve would like to thank the Town of New Paltz Planning Board for their thoughtful consideration of the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project. Thanks also to the team at our planning and engineering firm, Barton & Loguidice, led by Thaddeus Kolankowski, RLA; our surveyor, Patricia Brooks, L.S. of Brooks & Brooks PC; our attorney, Michael A. Moriello, Esq. of Riseley & Moriello, PPLC; and the many community members who attended the Planning Board meetings and provided comments over the past year of deliberations.
In their official comments on the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project, the Ulster County Planning Board cited "the attention to detail throughout the project design that respects not only the environment, but also the neighbors and the community as a whole," and commended the Preserve and the New Paltz community on the site plan review, noting that "for both, it shows a commitment that is respectful of the planning process that illuminates issues and responds with change."
In May 2016, the Town of New Paltz Planning Board issued a negative declaration regarding the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project as part of their SEQR review, determining that project will not have a significant adverse environmental impact and consequently no EIS will be required. We appreciate the public's participation and the Town of New Paltz Planning Board's thorough review of the Preserve's documentation and public comments during this two-year process, which included 13 public hearings over 10 months and analysis of over 1,500 pages of environmental reports and studies which were reviewed by the Town's consultants.
The Town of New Paltz Historic Preservation Commission has also issued a Certificate of Appropriateness for the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project, stating that the proposed work is appropriate for the historic property and meets local code criteria. We thank the Town of New Paltz Historic Preservation Commission for their support of our efforts to stabilize and restore the iconic Testimonial Gateway Tower, and to strengthen the site plan elements to preserve the historic integrity of the site.
We look forward to continuing to work with the Town of New Paltz and the community on safe, managed access to the Mohonk Preserve Foothills.
Mohonk Preserve proactively and voluntarily completed planning documents and a full range of independent environmental reports and studies, including mitigation efforts, regarding the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project which were submitted to the Town of New Paltz Planning Board.
Comprehensive planning efforts are underway for the Mohonk Preserve Foothills. Using past grant funding from the Hudson River Valley Greenway and NYSCPP, we developed 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 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. NYSCPP provided 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 resulted in the development of a full site plan.
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 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.
A site plan application was submitted to the Town of New Paltz in May 2014, with updates submitted in February 2015 and July 2015.The Town of New Paltz Planning Board began a Public Hearing on September 16, 2015 and on May 23, 2016 issued a negative declaration indicating that the project will not have a significant adverse environmental impact and no EIS will be required. On July 25, 2016, the Planning Board granted conditional final site plan approval. We look forward to continuing to work with Town of New Paltz and the community on safe, managed access to the Mohonk Preserve Foothills.
Environmental research on the site is also ongoing. In 2012, the Testimonial Gateway area was the site of the Preserve’s first BioBlitz with the John Burroughs Natural History Society. Citizen scientists joined Preserve and researchers to document over 395 species of plants, animals, and insects. 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.
In 2015, the Preserve’s Conservation Science citizen scientists and interns collaborated on two bird censuses in the Mohonk Preserve Foothills, adding to decades of research and studies at the site conducted by Preserve Conservation Science staff and Research Associates.
In 2016, the Preserve's Conservation Science research associates and interns expanded bird research with surveys, banding and monitoring projects to study breeding, foraging and migratory behaviors in the woodlands and meadows of the Mohonk Preserve Foothills. Their work will help the Preserve understand how birds live and move through the landscape to guide conservation strategies.
Cultural And Historical Preservation
On June 15, 2016, the Town of New Paltz Historic Preservation Commission issued a Certificate of Appropriateness for the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project, stating that the proposed work is appropriate for the historic property and meets local code criteria.
The Preserve thanks the Town of New Paltz Historic Preservation Commission for their support of our efforts to stabilize and restore the iconic Testimonial Gateway Tower, and to strengthen the site plan elements to preserve the historic integrity of the site.
The Preserve continues to work with the Town of New Paltz Historic Preservation Commission, which designated the Testimonial Gateway Tower and surrounding landscape as a Locally Designated Historic Landmark in 2013. The Preserve hired historic preservation architect Carl Stearns of the firm Crawford & Stearns, to conduct a building conditions survey and to work with us to develop a building stabilization plan for the tower, and is working with Yankee Construction, a firm specializing in historic restoration projects. Retired architect and Gardiner resident Frank Misiurski, a member of the Preserve’s Facilities Committee, has also provided expert guidance. The Preserve has 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 Gateway tower and beyond.
In May 2015, the Town of New Paltz Historic Preservation Commission issued a Certificate of Appropriateness and the Building Inspector subsequently issued a permit for repairs and maintenance on the Testimonial Gateway Tower. Routine maintenance work is currently underway on the interior of the tower, which is not part of the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project (proposed trailhead) currently under review by the Town of New Paltz Planning Board.
Mohonk Preserve is grateful to the Fidelity Foundation, the Gerry Charitable Trust, multiple individuals who have provided financial support toward the stabilization and maintenance of the Testimonial Gateway Tower.
Ongoing Community Conservation
As part of an ongoing community conservation initiative, beginning in October 2013, the Preserve met with a group of near neighbors to solicit input on planning for the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project. Their input was included in the ongoing planning process, and in November 2013, the Preserve held an open, public Community Engagement Meeting at the New Paltz Community Center to discuss plans for the project.
Since that time, the Preserve has continued to collaborate with Foothills neighbors and community members, conducting numerous site tours with both group and one-on-one meetings.
The revised site plan application for the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project was submitted to the Town of New Paltz Planning Board in July 2015. As part of the review process, the Preserve has made public presentations of the site plan at several Planning Board meetings before and after July 2015.
On May 23, 2016, The Town of New Paltz Planning Board issued a negative declaration regarding the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project as part of their SEQR review, indicating that the project will not have a significant adverse environmental impact and consequently no EIS will be required. On July 25, 2016, the Planning Board granted conditional final site plan approval. We look forward to continuing to work with Town of New Paltz and the community on safe, managed access to the Mohonk Preserve Foothills.
Banner Photo by Gerald Berliner