Ways to balance ecosystems on Comeau

New Comeau signage. (CSAC)

New Comeau signage. (CSAC)

Appendices to the Comeau Stewardship Management Plan are now under consideration by the Woodstock town board. Once finalized, legally vetted, and approved, the appendices will specify best practices for managing the Comeau Property, while protecting the natural resources enjoyed by hikers, dog walkers, soccer players, outdoor theater fans, and nature lovers on the 76 town-owned acres in the center of Woodstock.

“It’s a wonderful testament to the ongoing partnership between the town, the residents, and the land conservancy,” said Kevin Smith, Chairman of the board of directors of the Woodstock Land Conservancy, which helped the Comeau Stewardship Advisory Committee (CSAC) put together the appendices. “The advisory committee is setting a high bar for the quality of work for management of town properties. We’re looking at this as a model that other towns and land trusts might look to for how to do partnership work with local communities, with community members and stakeholder groups stepping forward and ensuring the way the property’s being managed is of the highest quality.”

The Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that acquires, protects, and manages land, is responsible for overseeing the town’s management of the Comeau, said Grace Murphy, a former CSAC member who was involved in creating the appendices. Now on the board of the Conservancy, she feels the Comeau “is in much better shape than when we started. There’s a good relationship between the town and the citizens, and a clear idea of what needs to be done. We still need volunteers on the ground, but the plans are in place.”

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In 2003, when the town was considering siting a new highway garage on the property, a referendum made it clear that the majority of residents preferred to protect the Comeau from development, aside from the town offices already in place at the eastern end. A conservation easement was established, after the defeat of a legal challenge, and town residents stepped up to form the CSAC.

With so many different groups using the land and a variety of ecosystems represented — meadow, forest, wetlands, a vernal pool, and two streams — combining human use and ecological respect has not been easy. The CSAC has handled issues such as the controversy that arose when the soccer people decided they needed more playing space. Murphy recalled, “By getting everybody together multiple times, we came up with something that abided by the easement, abided by conservation principles, and allowed the soccer field to expand.”

CSAC has also changed signage on the property. “Now they’re not all metal signs that say ‘Don’t do this,’” noted Murphy. “They’re more welcoming and attractive.” Trail markers have been put up, bearing a logo by volunteer and graphic artist Joan Elliot, who also made a map. Copies of a brochure with map are placed in a box at the gate near the parking lot.

 

Logjams, erosion, pulling weeds

One challenge has been erosion along the Sawkill Creek, resulting from logjams on the Comeau and upstream from the property. “Logjams reroute the streams,” explained Murphy. “That erodes banks, takes away land, increases turbidity, which is not good for the living things in the water, and creates a danger for people walking.” Some trails have been undercut by erosion, and although the trails were moved, people may wander close to the stream without realizing that the earth beneath them is about to collapse. CSAC received approval to send out a crew of volunteers and cut up many of the logs. The latest storm brought the creek back toward its previous channel.

When it was time to put together the appendices, said Murphy, no one on the committee had training in environmental science, so they found experts who generously gave their advice. Hudsonia, a Dutchess County-based environmental research organization, had made a study of the town’s ecology and provided a habitat map of the Comeau to guide formulation of the appendices. The result is a planning document that looks at conservation targets for each habitat and ranks needs and strategies to help decide where money can most effectively be spent.

One example, said Murphy, is the open fields that can easily and cheaply be protected from invasive species with the help of volunteers to pull up the threatening plants. To deal with erosion along the stream banks, CSAC can apply for a grant from the state program Trees for Tribs that will supply willows for stabilizing the banks.

It took two years to research the issues and write the appendices. “We needed structure, people to help us, and time to get educated,” said Murphy. “I know a helluva lot more than I ever thought I would know about streams.”

 

The Comeau Stewardship Advisory Committee is seeking volunteers to help maintain trails and work on other projects at the Comeau property. To volunteer, contact Terry Funk-Antman at (845) 679-2825 or Terry@hvc.rr.com

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