If you have ever stood in the meadow at the Comeau Property, in the midst of Woodstock, you have seen the undulating ridgetop of Mt. Guardian standing over the town. Thanks to Woodstock Land Conservancy’s (WLC) recent purchase of the mid-section of the ridge, which adjoins five parcels the organization already owned, the view will remain pristine, with the mountaintop protected from development.
Given that WLC is celebrating its 30th year, Executive Director Maxanne Resnick finds it especially appropriate that a new swath of the mountain has been secured. “There are definitely development pressures all around in our communities,” she said, “and that was true 30 years ago as well.”
It was about 40 years ago that a developer sold lots on top of the mountain, in an attempt to create a subdivision of homes, but few parcels were developed. Over the past two decades, WLC was given or managed to purchase five properties from that subdivision. Another 33.3 acres on the middle hump of the mountain went up for sale last spring. “We were watching it,” said Resnick, “trying to figure out what to do, since it was adjacent to land we owned. It had a high asking price. When the price was knocked down, there was interest from people who wanted to put up a house. It’s not clear whether the land would’ve been further subdivided, but certainly a road would’ve been put in.”
WLC wound up in a bidding war. “With only five days to raise the money, we started phoning people,” said Resnick. “We didn’t have time to do a public campaign, but we amassed the $165,000 we needed to buy the land. Mt. Guardian is a familiar landmark to many people, and they wanted it preserved. Now it will remain undeveloped.”
Another icon of the Woodstock landscape is the Zena Cornfield, located on Zena Road near Route 212. The quest to save the field was an early project of the WLC, which was only a year old when the cornfield, one of the town’s few unoccupied, flat roadside expanses, with a view of Overlook Mountain, went up for sale. “The owner would’ve been happy to sell to someone who would build houses on it,” said Resnick. “It galvanized the community, which was going to lose that beautiful scenic land. Five hundred people came together and came up with the money.”
Claudia Rose remembers responding to the appeal for money to save the field: “I bought my square foot for $100, paid in three installments. It’s so near where I live — I’ve gone by it thousands of times. Buying it was such a forward-thinking thing to do. I still feel glad when I go by there.”
Ronnie Shushan was in transition from being a weekender to living upstate full-time when the cornfield went on the market. “When we drove past it on our way up from New York City,” she recalled, “that meant we were home. I saw pictures in the paper of what it would look like if it was developed. There was no question, I wanted to be part of saving it.”
Helping to buy the property gave Shushan a sense of connection to the land and the community. She lives near Snake Rocks Preserve, which was donated to WLC in 2004. “It was a place I walked all the time, and it could be threatened. I wouldn’t be able to walk there any more.” Her appreciation for the WLC’s acquisition of the property contributed to her decision to join the board of directors for three years. “With WLC, you really can see the impact your contribution has,” she remarked. “The land is very visible.”
“It’s meaningful for a land trust to have the support of the community to do what we’re doing with respect to natural resources,” said Resnick. “If we’d had time, we could have gathered people to buy Mt. Guardian, like we did for the cornfield. A survey was done, for the Woodstock Comprehensive Plan, of what people care about deeply. People said they cared about open space, the land, natural resources, and habitat.”
The three humps of Mt. Guardian are visible from Ohayo Mountain and can be glimpsed from as far away as West Hurley. WLC now owns 90 acres of the ridgetop. A trail scales the eastern end of the mountain from Upper Byrdcliffe Road, but there is no public trail on the central hump that was just acquired. At some point, a trail may be created, but Resnick, who has been up that section of the mountain twice, calls it “a tough scramble,” especially in comparison to the almost level trail at another recent acquisition, the Israel Wittman Sanctuary, at the eastern end of Woodstock.
Events to celebrate the 30th anniversary are still in the planning stages. One idea proposed is a reminiscing party, so the many people who have been involved in WLC can share memories and stories. Annual events will proceed as usual, including the Vernal Fling fundraiser on May 26, the BioBlitz citizens’ science survey of species at the Thorn Preserve in September, and Longyear Farm Day in October. Other ongoing efforts include educational walks on the first Saturday of each month, support for the Ashokan Rail Trail, now under construction, and advocacy when political issues arise. WLC staff have been Albany in recent weeks to advocate for inclusion of money for the Catskills Park and the Environmental Protection Fund, as the governor and legislature hone the state budget. Volunteers and students from local schools are also welcomed to help out with projects on WLC’s preserves and sanctuaries.
“We feel grounded in our community,” said Resnick. “Despite our name, our service area is really the eastern Catskills. We draw people from all over for our programs. Their great support of the work we’re doing is acutely felt and gratifying.”++
For more information on programs of the Woodstock Land Conservancy, see http://www.woodstocklandconservancy.org.