Longtime New Paltz resident and champion of open space Bob Taylor will be awarded the prestigious annual Conservation Award by the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT). This year marks the 15th of Taylor’s service to the organization — of which he is currently president — as well as the 25th anniversary of the WVLT, which has been a major force for the preservation of open space throughout southern Ulster County. Taylor will be receiving this award at a gala affair at the Apple Greens Golf Course in the Town of Lloyd on Sunday, Oct. 14 from 5 to 8 p.m.
Some of the highlights of the WVLT’s accomplishments under Taylor’s tutelage include partnership with the Open Space Institute (OSI) and leading a public fundraising effort to preserve the “Two Farms” on Huguenot Street, which include the Khosla property (Huguenot Street Farm) and the Jewitt Farm, totaling 180 acres of historic farmland that will remain forever protected as active agricultural land.
More recently, with the help of Taylor’s leadership the WVLT announced the acquisition of 11.5 miles of the former railroad bed running from New Paltz to the border of Kingston, as well as the acquisition of the adjacent Joppenberg Mountain in Rosendale. Currently Taylor and the WVLT are campaigning to complete the fundraising necessary on arguably one of its most challenging projects: the $1.2 million restoration of the old steel trestle that is perched above the Rondout Creek in Rosendale. Once that work is completed and the trestle is reopened, it will finally allow trail enthusiasts to enjoy the full 24-mile Wallkill Valley Rail Trail expanse from Gardiner to Kingston.
Farmland preservation also marked the WVLT’s early years: Among the major farms preserved in perpetuity under its auspices were the 65.7-acre Phillies Bridge Farm in Gardiner (2003), Grace Elliot’s 97-acre New Paltz farm (1994) and the 88-acre Bontecou Farm on the New Paltz/Esopus border, whose easement was donated by the late Norman Kellar (1990). In total, the WVLT is responsible for the preservation of over 1,600 acres in the eight towns within its purview.
Taylor was introduced to the WVLT by then-board member Bob Lasher, and said that he was immediately “drawn to the mission and goals of the organization: to protect and preserve open space.” As the Land Trust grew, Taylor became increasingly committed and devoted himself to its cause.
Originally born and raised in the Midwest, Taylor said that he has always had a high regard for open space. He ventured east to go to college and then moved to New York City, where he worked in the banking industry and married his wife Jane, who was working in advertising. The Taylors had two sons, and in 1961 they decided to buy a house in New Paltz, where they had spent many weekends and vacations.
Then, on a family trip to Scotland (where Taylor notes that there is a “superabundance of open space”), the Taylors came across an ancient Scottish manor, the Ardsheal House, with which they fell in love. They converted it into a hotel, which they ran for 18 years. As the hotel was seasonal, they were able to return to their beloved New Paltz for three months every winter. In 1994 they sold the Ardsheal and moved back to New Paltz full-time.
The WVLT was formed in 1987 by a group of southern Ulster residents who, supported and guided by the Trust for Public Land, came together with the goal of protecting space in the Wallkill Valley. The first major project that they completed was the purchase of the old Wallkill Valley Railroad right-of-way in New Paltz and Gardiner, which they worked to convert into a linear public park known as the Rail Trail.
Like his dear friend Bob Lasher before him, Taylor has been a committed, dedicated volunteer and officeholder for the WVLT for 15 years. His passion for open space and his affable yet scrupulously intelligent manner have helped to strengthen the organization and keep it poised for greater heights. To learn more about Taylor’s award dinner or the Wallkill Valley Land Trust, call 255-2761 or visit online at www.wallkillvalleylt.org.