The Comeau Perspective

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Thank you and more…

To say that the Comeau property inspires ferocious loyalty is in no way an exaggeration.  It is now 37 years since Val Cadden, who was then Woodstock’s Town Supervisor, urged the purchase of the property, thereby beginning the endless, often exhausting conversation of “what to do on the Comeau.”

Finally, in 2002, in what we can see now was an inspired move, Jeremy Wilber asked in a town referendum for a vote to provide funds for a feasibility study for a highway garage on the Comeau. In voting that referendum down, the next piece in the Comeau drama was set in motion. Jeremy and the Town Board asked a volunteer committee, the first Comeau Committee to consider the issue of how best to protect the property. The Committee, headed by Marge Farnett consisted of George Spiotta, Kim Keefe, Mary McNamara, Judy Peters, Fred Poole, Alan Van Wagenen, Jean White and Richard Wright. They considered various options and the one they voted for was creating an easement which would protect the property in perpetuity. They were able to enlist the help of William Ginsberg, a noted environmental lawyer who believed in and wrote the easement.

This was a transformational idea — a  municipal property which would be protected by an easement that would lay out specific parameters for how the 76 acres could be used. Forest, and soccer field, meadow and historical society, offices and parking lot. The ecology would be safe, the recreational areas outlined and the town would have a protected area in the middle of its bustling life. The Town Board, many of whom fought fervently for the adoption of the easement — Liz Simonson, Steve Knight, Gordon Wemp and Brian Shapiro — unanimously voted for it in 2003. Woodstock residents, in a second referendum then voted overwhelmingly for the adoption of the easement. The Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC) would be the organization who would ensure that the terms of the easement were respected. As an ethical, knowledgeable body, led by Kevin Smith, they were essential to the design because of their expertise in land management and conservation practices.


Forever and safe. Well, not quite. The easement and the referendum triggered a lawsuit by a resident who objected to the agreement. Thus, the almost solution inspired a lawsuit which then took six years to resolve.

So, it wasn’t until 2009 that the lawsuit was resolved and the then supervisor, Jeff Moran could sign the easement with Kevin Smith who would represent the Woodstock Land Conservancy. Chris Collins, a Town Board member was instrumental in urging the easement towards resolution. At the same time that the easement was signed, an amendment to the document provided for the writing of a Comeau Stewardship Management Plan which would provide a detailed outline of how the property would be maintained.

Town Board members Bill McKenna, Jay Wenk and Kathy Magarelli were extraordinarily helpful in writing into the stewardship management plan the creation of a seven member volunteer advisory committee who would advise the town in the management of the Comeau (CSAC).

And so, it was done. The conflict was over and there was what can only be described as a visible sigh of relief. Suddenly we felt as a community that we had successfully resolved an impossibly difficult problem. And the solution was a good one. An even elegant one. The Town would own the property, the Woodstock Land Conservancy would oversee the terms of the easement, and a volunteer group representing the diversity of the residents would vigilantly address the daily concerns of the Comeau and advise the town on management issues.

Town Board members Ken Panza and Jay Wenk, both of whom believed deeply in the well-being of the Comeau agreed to serve as liaisons to the Comeau Stewardship Advisory Committee (CSAC) and proceeded to attend every meeting, striving diligently to support the efforts of a fledgling group. Grace Murphy and Terry Funk-Antman served as the first co-chairs with committee members Richard Heppner, Kathy Longyear, Jim Hanson, Pat Jackson and Jeff Viglielmo. Last year, Grace Murphy went on to serve as Vice President of the WLC and continues to serve as its liaison to the CSAC, so the committee has not lost her steady expertise and Rosalind Dickinson, so knowledgeable about conservation and ecology has taken her place on the committee.

On Saturday, April 23, a day after Earth Day, the CSAC unveiled a most beautiful addition to the Comeau. The kiosk that now sits at the corner of the parking lot, welcoming visitors with a beautiful and informative structure was an example of how well the Comeau story is unfolding in our lives. It was a volunteer effort that can only serve as a model for how one small town can preserve and respect its treasures.

With generous donations, CSAC raised $7400 to build the kiosk and maintain some of the Comeau trails. Lorin Rose and Jim Hanson volunteered to build the structure itself, which is based on a model from Mohonk and proceeded with talent and wit to produce something functional and representative of the town itself. Materials were donated — and expertise provided by Nancy Rullo, Joe Mangan, Jordan Voelker from Limber Tree Service, Scott Bonesteel, Susan Manuel, Mike Reynolds and his highway crew, the town maintenance staff, H. Houst and Sons, and Woodstock Building Supply.

The panels reflect the talents of the town itself. Alan Mcknight’s painting of the Comeau house; photographs by Alan Carey, Gene McGarry, Dion Ogust, Charlotte Schiffman’s watercolor of her dog. Joany Elliot produced a beautiful map of the Comeau and is responsible for the logo that will now represent our mountains and fields. Finally, we thank Katie Jellinghaus, our intrepid graphic artist, who worked tirelessly in what sometimes felt to be a grueling process to organize all the materials we provided and create color and design and magic.

This is all to say that we feel deep gratitude to the town that we live in and our ability to reach beyond ourselves to find solutions that make our bit of the world a better place to live in. Thank you to all the donors and volunteers, the community members and town board members, the people who have struggled and fought for the Comeau to be protected and for the talent and good sense we had to take  a transformational idea and make a new reality.

Thank you all.


Terry Funk-Antman, Rosalind Dickinson, Jim Hanson, Richard Heppner, Pat Jackson, Kathy Longyear, Jeff Viglielmo are members of the Comeau Stewardship Advisory Committee.