MHLC receives $68.5K from state
ALBANY COUNTY — Last Thursday, Joe Martens, standing at Indian Ladder Farms in front of the towering Helderberg
escarpment, announced $1.4 million for land trusts across the state.
Martens, the Commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, said there were 68 grants in all.
The state funds, in the Community Partnership Program, will be matched by over $1 million in private and local funding for not-for-profit land trusts.
Each of the local awards will be used to create a planning post.
The Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville received $9,200 to hire a coordinator for volunteers, said Dawn O’Neal, executive director of the preserve.
The coordinator will be in charge of maintaining and recruiting volunteers, as well as getting the program organized with forms and a volunteer handbook, O’Neal told The Enterprise this week.
The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, with offices in the town of New Scotland, received $68,500 for professional development.
The Conservancy’s director, Mark King, spoke about the grant on Thursday, expressing great appreciation for the work of his volunteers.
King said this week that the money will be used to fund a new program position assistant. The grant covers two years’ salary, with Mohawk Hudson footing the bill after that.
The responsibilities of the job include event planning, outreach and social media, as well as administrative work dealing with tracking what funds are coming in and where they are being spent.
“We need to be better at communicating,” King said regarding the desire for increased social media presence about the conservancy’s message and goals.
The grant is funded by the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, and was distributed by the Land Trust Alliance in conjunction with the DEC.
The Land Trust Alliance is a national group that assists and supports Mohawk Hudson as well as many other land trusts. Standards for land trusts were created by the alliance, and Mohawk Hudson was accredited last year for meeting or exceeding those standards.
“[The standards] give a sense of assurance that an organization has been vetted and has high standards and meets those standards,” King said.
Mohawk Hudson can apply for re-accreditation every five years to maintain its status with the Land Trust Alliance.
Having the seal of approval from the national organization gives Mohawk Hudson strong credibility, which helps with engaging in land conservation, King said.
“We see that change isn’t always positive,” he said of societal progress that may impact local landscapes. Mohawk Hudson wants beautiful areas to remain unchanged to preserve the natural landscape. Environmental issues also led people to start thinking about how to protect land, and land trusts came out of that idea.
Mohawk Hudson was founded in 1992 by Dan Driscoll of Knox, among other community members, and has since blossomed into an organization with 17 preserves or protected areas in Albany, Schenectady, and Montgomery counties.
Driscoll attended the press conference last week, and said of the grant, “I think it’s wonderful,” and he also thinks it is “important to have an organization like Mohawk Hudson.”
King has been with Mohawk Hudson for many years, the majority of which were as a volunteer. He was the Natural Resource Planner for Albany County when Mohawk Hudson began, and then went on to work for The Nature Conservancy as its director of protection.
While working for The Nature Conservancy, King saw many people who were interested in saving and protecting land, and recognized that organization may not always be the best fit for those people, so he would refer them to Mohawk Hudson.
King describes himself as always having been passionate about land, nature, and wildlife. As a boy, he became enamored with Ranger Rick while reading National Wildlife magazine, and pursued his interest in protecting animals and their environments.
But it’s not just about animals and land, King said. “It’s also about people, people’s relationship to their land… and it’s about the community’s relation to the land,” he said.
It is this last relationship that King focuses on in his work at Mohawk Hudson.
“We’d like to grow,” he said, “there’s certainly the demand, but it’s our job to get the support.”
He described the local region as quickly changing, noting the negative side of sprawl, but also praising the environment surrounding the Helderbergs as “a very beautiful area that people are drawn to.”
Mohawk Hudson has historically put heavy emphasis on protecting open, public land, but it also works to protect areas that may not be suitable for public enjoyment other than visually because of swampy conditions.
The 17 preserves of Mohawk Hudson total 1,700 acres, King said, and some are developed with trail systems while others stay natural or wait their turn.
Of the publicly accessible lands, King said they “offer people a real opportunity to get out and see something different from the busy world.”
A project that Mohawk Hudson is currently working on with Albany County is the Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail, which is licensed to allow people onto the property, but doesn’t have a paved trail yet. It is important for community members to be able to enjoy the property even though it isn’t fully improved and upgraded yet for use as a biking trail, King said.
“The first public use of the rail trail was a big achievement,” King said, because the county wanted to wait to open it until it was finished; Mohawk Hudson wanted to open it to the public so people could see the potential for the project.
“It’s really heartening to see people want these things,” he said.
Paving and other improvements should begin next year by Albany County.
King sees the value in what the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy does as intertwining aesthetics and the environment. Land preservation and conservation provide some real advantages for flood control, watersheds, and preserving biological diversity.
There is also value in providing people with beautiful places to go.
“It’s really important,” King said, “to have access to places that are more approximate to where people live,” rather than having to visit parks farther away from the Capital Region.
“You get folks out in the woods and their attention shifts,” King said. “They see things differently, they relax a little.”