New hire to MHLC grew up with its preserves in her backyard

— Sawyer Cresap

Sawyer Cresap, a Bethlehem native, has been hired by the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy as its Stewardship and Volunteer coordinator. The position is sponsored by a grant from the Land Trust Alliance and the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

SLINGERLANDS — Sawyer Cresap grew up “right around the corner” from places like the Swift Wetlands and Phillipin Kill Preserve in the town of Bethlehem. Now, she will be overseeing these along with other preserves and easements at the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.

A state grant will help the 25-year-old program fund her new position as Stewardship and Volunteer coordinator, in which she will not only oversee preserves and conservation easements, but also the volunteers helping to care for these places. According to Mark King, the program’s director, 160 people volunteered last year.

“It is a job we consider core to our mission,” he said.

Cresap was born and raised in Bethlehem. She attended Syracuse University, where she studied environmental policy.

Originally solely interested in politics and public policy (she had an internship in Congressman Paul Tonko’s office), Cresap said a fellowship at the Open Space Institute — another land trust based out of New York City that has worked in the Capital Region — made her interested in the role of conservation.

“I got to see how policy integrated with environmental resources,” she said.

Cresap took a year off from school to work at AmeriCorps, and, after she graduated from Syracuse, she returned to the organization. Her two different terms included managing habitats and land trusts at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and serving as a team leader for the Vermont Youth Development Corps in Brattleboro, Vermont.

She said she has a “strong passion for this area,” and a knowledge of the land and the conservancy’s work that will benefit her new position. She discovered the job in mid-February, and was interested. She said she has wanted to work with a land trust for some time.

“I think land trusts are amazing organizations that do so much,” she said. “It really helps [people] engage with their communities.”

She noted that preserves or conservation easements secured by land trusts are more often close to a town or village and provide nearby recreation.

“I think land trusts are kind of the glue that can really piece all the aspects together and really make a beautiful outcome,” she said.

While development may have a place in communities, she said that is is important to conserve land in order to provide habitats for wildlife as well as areas for recreation.

“There are some really beautiful habitats in the tri-county area,” she said. She said there are parts of Schenectady and Montgomery counties that are somewhat hidden, as well as places near where she grew up that were even unknown to her, such as the Hilton Barn and its move across Route 85A.

“This is a big opportunity for someone my age,” said Cresap. She is 23.

But for Cresap, no goal is too big. She would like to someday be take charge of a land trust, she said.

The big picture

Cresap’s first two years of salary will be funded by a $66,000 Conservation Partnership Program Grant through the Land Trust Alliance and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The MHLC will fund her position after this. In 2014, a different job was funded through this program for two years with a similarly-sized grant.

The grant is one of 58 given by the Alliance and DEC this year, totaling $1.8 million in grant money, which is funded by the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. In the Capital District, 14 groups were awarded a total of $448,000 in grants.

King described the Land Trust Alliance as a “really helpful program.” The MHLC had first received a $3,500 grant from the program in 2003, with which it obtained wetlands between Indian Ladder Farms in New Scotland and the Black Creek Marsh. Grants have since funded land transactions; programming for outreach; and staff salaries, including the first staff ever hired for the conservancy.

While the Land Trust Alliance grants have proved reliable, most grants are sporadic in timing, said King. The primary sources of funding for the conservancy, he said, are independent donors, with grants and foundations as secondary sources of funding. Still, King said, grants can sometimes fund outreach and provide the means to reach more independent donors.

There are 18 MHLC preserves; some in the area include the Bozenkill Preserve in Altamont, the Restifo Sanctuary in Westerlo, the Bennett Hill, Holt, and Keleher Preserves in New Scotland, and the Winn and Wolf Creek Falls Preserves in Knox. The group has also secured easements in New Scotland and Rensselaerville.

The conservancy plans to open the Strawberry Fields Preserve in Amsterdam in Montgomery County on May 20. The preserve is actually a conservation easement — in which landowners agree not to develop a portion of their property — but the property owners have agreed to open the land as a public preserve.

The MHLC is also scheduled to open a new preserve in Colonie in October.

“But the bigger picture is to preserve more land,” said King, of future goals.

The MHLC had had someone performing similar tasks to what Cresap will do, under a different title and slightly different responsibilities overall. That staffer had been promoted to a higher position and then left altogether due to personal reasons, said King.

The job was created last year, with the conservancy relying on the grant money — funds dependent on the state budget’s schedule and outcome — to come through.

“We had to gamble that a little,” said King.

Cresap will start on May 1.

 

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