The day could not have been more awe-inspiring for a walk in the woods, as the leaves continued their flaming mosaic against the blue sky while the Canada geese sounded their guttural honks, flying into the pond with military precision. It was also a day to revere, pay homage and support the things that we love about our area. To this end, the volunteer Board of the Mill Brook Preserve – a 134-acre tract of land straddling the Town and the Village of New Paltz, stretching from behind Duzine Elementary School to Woodland Pond and to Manheim Boulevard – held its first annual autumn fundraiser to support the management of the preserve and to sponsor more educational forays into this tract of land that offers a quiet respite from the din of everyday village life.
“We wanted to have a community-focused event that also brings awareness to the Preserve,” said the Mill Brook Preserve, Inc. (MBPI) Board president Tal Ilany Seweryn. “This is such an amazing resource for the community; we’re so fortunate to have a conservation easement placed over it, so that it always remains a public preserve.” Seweryn said that she and the volunteer, not-for-profit MBPI board work with “the Town and the Village of New Paltz, as well as the Wallkill Valley Land Trust, to uphold the conservation easement and to help manage and enhance the Preserve. The more funds we have, the more we can do.”
The group’s main goal, according to Seweryn, is to provide more educational opportunities for the children who attend Duzine Elementary School, which borders the western side of the Preserve. “We also want to work with Woodland Pond” – the continuing-care center on the eastern side of the parcel – “to make sure that they’re enjoying the Preserve.”
The Mill Brook Preserve was a long time coming, and its establishment required tenacious-yet-delicate negotiations with major landowners and developers on all sides of it. Members of both the Town and Village’s environmental and open space committees fought to keep a tract of land that would protect Tributary 13, the existing watersheds and biodiversity, and preserve the core part of these woods that had served the public unofficially for generations.
According to its mission statement, it was “created to preserve open space; conserve biodiversity and wildlife habitats; to allow the existing natural systems to provide flood protection, erosion control, drainage and other natural functions; and to provide recreational and educational opportunities for residents and visitors.”
Years of envisioning, mapping, negotiating, researching and lobbying have led to a community treasure. It had always existed. and was used by neighbors and locals to walk, ski and snowshoe; but now that ability has been both protected and expanded to the wider public.
Where have all the beavers gone?
For many regulars at the Mill Brook Preserve who walk, run, ruminate and recreate, they’ve been curious and a bit concerned as to what happened to the beavers who had helped to create a large pond through their expert engineering skills and tireless nocturnal labor. “They’ve had a rough summer,” said Lyn Bowdery, a member of the MBPI Board. “They’ve experienced so much flooding, and one of the major floods tore apart their dam!” causing that pond to drain.
Michael Lillis, a volunteer who does much of the trailwork, including the iconic split-log footbridge, said that beaver-lovers should fear not. “They’re still there; they’re just busy building a new dam where Tributary 13 meets the Mill Brook stream. They need to get the water high enough before winter so that when it freezes over, they can have enough room to eat the food they’ve stored up.”
Beavers are certainly abundant at the Mill Brook Preserve, but so are fox, coyote, geese, blue herons, red-shouldered hawks, pileated woodpeckers and, according to Lillis, a fisher. “We’ve even seen bear scat, but they’re likely just passing through.”
Alex Bartholomew, another Board member, set up a webcam to get a better sense of the biodiversity that exists in this small preserve. He was able to capture a fox den with a litter of six kits, who were all snuggled together. “There are rabbits, fishers, raccoons; my daughter loves the frogs, and there’s this one garter snake that I see in the same spot all the time!”
The fundraising event was full of nature enthusiasts who have a special love of that particular tract of wooded heaven, all wearing Mill Brook Preserve baseball hats and tee-shirts (also for sale). Wild Mountain Birds of Rosendale, who are federally and state licensed bird rehabilitators, were also on-site to educate people on the beauty and dangers being posed to various native falcons, hawks, owls and other birds of prey. All of the magnificent birds they brought with them were individuals that could not be released back into the wild safely because of damaged wings or eyes.
Debbie Quick of Wild Mountain Birds was showing people Jojo, a barred owl. “These are the ones that you hear call, ‘Who cooks for you?’” she said, mimicking the call of the wide-eyed owl. According to the rehabilitation sanctuary, the barred owl has made a comeback in New York State, with its population increased by 28 percent. However, the majestic and fascinating-looking barn owl has been in rapid decline due to loss of habitat, as well as the rodent poisons that they ingest when they feed on mice. The species has suffered an 83 percent decline in the past 20 years. If you love owls (and it’s hard not to), find another way to shoo away your mice!
The love for the Preserve and all things integral to it could be felt by the people attending the fundraiser: kids, families and volunteers, who all want to see it protected, left unspoiled and vibrant with wildlife. To learn more, go to www.millbrookpreserve.org.