Easements to connect Indian Ladder Farms to Thacher Park

Photo by Mark King

Nature’s beauty: Eighty acres below the Heldeberg escarpment in New Scotland will now be forever wild, thanks to a preservation easement signed last year.

Map by Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy and the Open Space Institute

Conservation Corridor: This map shows parcels for which conservation easements have been sought below the protected lands of the John Boyd Thacher State Park.

Photo by Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy

Protected lands: Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy Chairwoman Lisa Evans, left, and property owner Dr. Margaret Craven Snowden stand in a cornfield below the Heldeberg escarpment in New Scotland.

NEW SCOTLAND — The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy is set to acquire conservation easements that would create a 3,000-acre corridor of preserved land from New Scotland into John Boyd Thacher State Park, according to the group’s executive director, Mark King.

“We are trying to build a corridor of protected land,” he said. The conservancy acquired an 87-acre easement off Picard Road from Margaret Craven Snowden in December 2014, and is currently negotiating with Chris Lehman, who runs the Albany Therapeutic Riding Center Inc. on her farm at the end of Martin Road, Extension.

Craven Snowden this week called the easement “a miracle,” allowing her to fulfill her decade-long dream of preserving the land she loves.

King said that he hopes to be able to link Craven Snowden’s and Lehman’s lands to a village-owned lot up the hill from Lehman’s dead end and to lands owned by Heldeberg Workshop, eventually reaching directly up the ridge to John Boyd Thacher State Park. On the other side of the corridor, Craven Snowden’s property touches Indian Ladder Farms, for which the conservancy also holds a preservation easement.

The corridor is important ecologically, and aesthetically, King said.

“That is a tremendous salamander migration corridor,” he said. The lands sit beneath Thacher Park.

“There are quality agricultural soils there. The area is recognized on New York State’s open space plan,” King said. “The Audobon Society recognizes it as an important bird area,” particularly for hawk migration, he said.

According to the conservancy’s website, managing for a particular habitat results in the protection of all the species present in that habitat.

The Heldeberg corridor is “hydrologically interesting,” King said. Water runs off the escarpment underground, then resurfaces in the Vly Creek Marsh, he said. The swamp and nearby Black Creek Marsh are home to over 20 frog and salamander species, according to the conservancy’s website.

Local herpetologist Alvin Breisch will lead an easy hike through the Craven Snowden lands on Sunday, April 26, at 1 p.m. (See the Enterprise Community Calendar for details.)

King encouraged those interested in going to call the conservancy to register and receive instructions on where to meet.

“We don’t want to have more people than we can accommodate,” he said. Hikers will search for the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, a state-listed species of special concern.

“It’s a chance to see something they won’t often be able to see,” King said of the hike on the new preserve; the easement on Craven Snowden’s property does not entail public access, he said.

Conservation easements

“The easement is part of the deed,” King said. “The owner can sell the property. [The easement] describes how the property can be utilized.”

As part of the sales agreement, Craven Snowden retained the right to build one additional home on her land, King said. The easement is part of the deed, he said.

“The owner can sell the property. [The easement] describes how the property can be utilized,” he said.

“She did purchase it with the idea of protecting it,” King said of Craven Snowden. “She took some risk.”

More than 10 years ago, Craven Snowden said, she and her neighbors along Picard Road were concerned about development, and she purchased the land there after the previous owner died. As an obstetrician, she had delivered the grandchildren of the owner, and the family agreed to discuss a sale.

“Meanwhile, my father had died, and I had inherited property with my siblings in New Jersey,” Craven Snowden said. Her siblings bought her out, and she proceeded with the sale here.

“It was very complex. I couldn’t afford to do it, but if I could sell the house and the property…I had to borrow money,” Craven Snowden said.

She sold the newly-purchased existing home on Martin Road Extension to Camille and Kevin Jobin-Davis, who agreed to buy the home and five acres quickly, she said.

“I was way in over my head,” Craven Snowden said. She was able to sell off a portion of another lot down the road (see map) “to stave off going under,” she said.

The process slowed as her attorney died suddenly and the market crashed.

“It was just hopeless,” she said. “I was hoping and praying that some day I would be able to sell the easement. It was so amazing when it came through in December. It was like a miracle.”

“It’s tricky to have enough important features in one location to raise the money for an easement,” King told The Enterprise. Most easements the group acquires are donated, he said.

 “People take a tax deduction if they donate an easement,” he said. Whether the easements are donated or sold, the properties require an appraisal to determine the market value.

The conservancy, with help from the Open Space Institute and donors like the Standish Family Fund and the Bender Scientific Foundation, paid $150,000 for the Craven Snowden property easement, King said.

“I do feel it was below fair market value,” he said. “You have to uncover every rock to find funding for these things.”

“I’m extremely happy. I’m euphoric,” Craven Snowden said. “It was pretty much a leap of faith at the beginning. I grew up in New Jersey. It was still the garden state.”

She said that she rode ponies on dirt roads in New Jersey, which changed character quickly afterward.

“Now, it’s all thruways and turnpikes and development,” she said. “There’s practically no countryside left. I don’t want that to happen here.”

The 80-acre Lehman property just down the road from the Craven Snowden lands is worth nearly the same amount, King said.

The Albany Therapeutic Riding Center has used Lehman’s property for over 30 years. She lives in a house on the property, which also features a stable and riding ring.

“The area around here is getting developed right and left,” Lehman told The Enterprise. “I’d like to keep this forever farmland. I’ve been working on trying to get it done for a long time.”

King said that the conservancy must still raise $20,000 to purchase Lehman’s easement.

Across Picard Road from the Craven lands stands a lone cornfield. Nearby fields have surrendered to become yards for large new homes.

“It’s painful,” King said. “That area really faces development pressure. We’re doing what we can to maintain some of that rural character.”

Editor’s note: New Scotland reporter Jo E. Prout has been a board member, since 1997, of the Albany Therapeutic Riding Center, an unpaid post.

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