After years of planning, the Millbrook Preserve may soon become a reality for New Paltz residents.
Originally conceived by the Clean Water and Open Space Commission (CWOSP)) at its founding in 2000, the Preserve as proposed is an approximately 240-acre parcel composed of wetlands, woods, beaver habitat and open space in the northern part of the village. “It is a remarkably undeveloped area of woodlands, wetlands and wildlife habitat, and it is accessible to the majority of New Paltz residents [and is within] walking distance,” said commission member Seth McKee.
According to a report presented to the Town and Village Boards at a joint meeting on Thursday, September 4, the Preserve will contain a “core area that can continue to support a healthy ecosystem,” as well as corridors for buffer streams and important habitats, like a beaver pond, hemlock stand and wood turtle habitat. At the core of the Preserve is a wetland complex composed of streams and marshes, described by CWOSP member Cara Lee as “a big sponge” that slows and purifies water as it drains into the Mill Brook, formally known as Tributary 13. “This preserve is about the woodlands,” said Lee, “but it’s also about water.”
Because of the network created by the streams, ponds and wetlands, as well as their adjacency to developed areas, corridors are formed that allow wildlife to move about. Lee referred to this as a “stepping-stone habitat.” This area is also most vulnerable because of the development occurring around it.
Most popular among the species contained within the proposed preserve are beavers, but also wood turtles, a variety of salamanders, river otters and pileated woodpeckers. One particular resident, the sedge wren, is listed as a threatened bird species in the New York Breeding Bird Atlas. Because the habitat is so “dense,” said Lee, it makes for “more diversity,” as well a more interesting hike for those who enter the Preserve.
The road to this point has been a long one. Originally marked by the town in its 1995 Community Comprehensive Plan, the official planning process began in 2004. A formal preserve was called for in the 2006 New Paltz Open Space Plan.
To go about this process, CWOSP has conducted numerous public surveys, identifying what the public is interested in preserving. In 2003, the Mill Brook was identified in a public workshop as a top-ten “Important Open Space.”
The town purchased parts of the proposed property in 2010, with others conserved via easements. Included within a 400-acre “buffer zone,” which the committee proposes should be monitored, are 126 already-preserved acres.
Centered around the Mill Brook, the Preserve will “provide recreational and educational opportunities for residents of the region,” according to McKee, by way of a system of trails accessible from multiple entrance points. Many unofficial trails are already in existence. One enters by the Duzine Elementary School. Residents also use the area for riding all-terrain vehicles, which won’t, as McKee notes, be allowed inside an official preserve.
These trails, says the report, “were evaluated as part of this planning process for more formal inclusion in the pedestrian system of the Preserve.” “Public input,” it adds, “helped identify locations of special importance to the community, as well as potential parking and access points.” Potential access points include Moriello Park, two at Duzine Elementary School and a parking lot off North Putt Corners Road.
Though the planning is now finished, much work remains to be done. Over 100 acres need to be preserved within the proposed boundaries of the Millbrook Preserve. Once the land is finalized, trails will need to be cleared and marked, though CWOSP recommends that any trails be low-impact and unpaved.
CWOSP also proposes that development within the 400-acre watershed for the Mill Brook and Preserve be monitored and regulated. This includes minimizing stormwater runoff and impervious pavement, which would change water level and flow within the boundaries of the Preserve.