Land conservancies succeed in protecting land when they engage the communities they serve. In Woodstock, where the arts reign, the Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC) is starring creative people in this year’s programming. Their annual fundraiser, the Vernal Fling, will honor writers Michael Perkins and Will Nixon on Saturday, May 26, 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Byrdcliffe Barn.
“Will has a lot of vision and reverence toward protecting the natural world around us,” said WLC executive director Maxanne Resnick. “He came together with Michael through walking.”
Perkins is a prolific poet, essayist, novelist, and critic, who moved to Woodstock in the early 70s. He worked at the Woodstock Library and eschewed cars, commuting over Ohayo Mountain into town by foot. He created the Woodstock Library Forum while a library trustee and directed the annual Library Fair, which he continues to co-direct.
Just over a decade ago, Perkins and Nixon embarked on a series of walks around Woodstock, which they took turns describing in a long-running Woodstock Times column. The essays were published in a volume entitled Walking Woodstock: Journeys into the Wild Heart of America’s Most Famous Small Town (Bushwhack Books, 2009). The pair later collaborated on further accounts of their explorations on foot in The Pocket Guide to Woodstock, (Bushwhack Books, 2009).
Recalling their first walk together, Nixon said, “We started at [the] end of Mink Hollow, where a blue historical sign is hidden under a big spruce branch, recognizing the first supervisor of Woodstock, who had a tavern at that corner. Over the course of three different walks, we ended up at my house in Zena.”
Their next walking project was inspired by John Cheever’s short story, “The Swimmer,” in which the protagonist swims home from a party in Westchester, passing through people’s yards to swim in their pools. “We decided to walk across Woodstock on Land Conservancy properties,” said Nixon. Several chapters in Walking Woodstock are about the WLC, which Nixon knew well from his two years on the board in the early 2000s.
He described a memorable experience from that period, when a group of board members hiked the western end of Mt. Guardian, just after two properties there had been donated to WLC. (The recent purchase of more land has increased the WLC’s holdings on the mountain.) Nixon had hiked all the Catskills peaks above 3500 feet, some of them multiple times, but standing on a rock that offered a view of Cooper Lake, Mt. Tremper, and Mt. Tobias, he had a revelation. “I had hiked the high peaks, but here were the low peaks. They were very impressive, a whole landscape I had not yet explored. They weren’t full-day hikes but would be fun places for half a day or an afternoon. Standing on that rock invited me to explore a whole new part of the Catskills.”
Since then, WLC has acquired a number of parcels that are ideal for short, easy hikes, opening up the land to people who may not be willing or able to scale the heights, including Sloan Gorge, T
“We have a plethora of creatives working to support all we’re doing,” said Resnick. Each year, the Vernal Fling invitation features a local artist’s floral, springlike painting, this year by Saugerties gallerist and artist Jen Dragon. When Chichester landscape artist Christie Scheele recently had a show in Chatham, “Atlas/Hudson Valley,” she donated a percentage of her sales to WLC.
On June 30, the Conservancy is sponsoring a reading by James Lasdun, Phil Pardi, and Lissa Kiernan at Kiernan’s Poetry Barn in Olive. Gail Straub’s new book, The Ashokan Way: Landscape’s Path into Consciousness, will be the focus of a July 14 event at a private home with a view of the Ashokan Reservoir. Straub will discuss the human relationship with the natural world in conversation with Kate McLoughlin, who recently completed a series of artworks on her family’s loss of land during the building of the reservoir. Bansuri flutist Steve Gorn will also perform.
First Saturdays on the Trail, the WLC series of monthly educational hikes and workshops, will be devoted in July to a Sunset Symphony, when classical musicians will be invited to play at the Zena cornfield, the property the WLC was first formed to protect.
Other plans include a benefit on August 25 at the Woodstock Playhouse, where comedian Colin Quinn will perform. The annual citizen science survey, BioBlitz, which takes place this year September 21 and 22, will involve a Friday night collaboration with the Woodstock School of Art, bringing together artwork and the study of habitat.
“We’re excited to be linking with all these people,” said Resnick, “and loving that they want to help and support. It takes all of us to move everything forward.”
The Fling gathers supporters to share the organization’s recent achievements and future plans, and this year it celebrates WLC’s 30th anniversary. The early evening event will include celebratory beverages, signature hors d’oeuvres from Black-Eyed Suzie’s, music by the Perry Beekman jazz trio, and a silent auction. Nixon and Perkins will accept the William R. Ginsberg Award, honoring the New York environmental lawyer who laid important groundwork for establishing easements and other legal means of land preservation. Ginsberg’s son, Joshua, head of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, will be on hand to say a few words.
Woodstock Land Conservancy will hold its Vernal Fling on Saturday, May 26, 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Byrdcliffe Barn, 485 Upper Byrdcliffe Road, Woodstock. Tickets are $80 each and are available through https://vernalfling.com.