Helderberg Conservation Corridor grows, fostering diverse species and resilience with climate change

— Photo from the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy
A waterfall is one of the features on the 11-acre Polishchuk property recently acquired by the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.

ALBANY COUNTY — On Monday, the day that the United Nations released its report linking the near loss of a million plant and animal species to human activities, Mark King talked about the importance of the Helderberg Conservation Corridor.

“People tend to think it’s far away,” King said of damage to the environment and the effect it will have on people. But, he noted, the damage is not just in distant places. “The report points to a loss of diversity everywhere,” he said.

It also shows how those losses are undermining food and water security, as well as human health. The U.N. report concludes that more animals and plants are now threatened with extinction than in any other period of human history. “Grave impacts on people around the world are now likely,” the report says.

The report also says it’s not too late to make a difference if nations around the world work together to bring about change.

King and the not-for-profit organization he directs, the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, are working to preserve swaths of land that will continue to foster diverse species and resilience with climate change.

Sixteen years ago, a conservation easement for Indian Ladder Farms started the preservation of an important corridor of land that continues to grow.

The Helderberg Conservation Corridor as it is called now has about 3,500 acres that are protected or planned for protection, according to King. This includes about 2,000 acres in John Boyd Thacher State Park and land that stretches off of the escarpment with its limestone cliffs, across the fertile Indian Ladder farmlands and over to Black Creek Marsh, which is owned by New York State.

“Protecting Indian Ladder Farms in 2003 was a big thing,” said King. “But then, we had just an island. It quickly became apparent that we needed a broader corridor.”

The latest additions to the corridor are an easement for about 100 acres at Locust Knoll, situated near the intersection of Route 85 and Picard Road at the base of the escarpment. The site is well known locally for an annual craft show that was hosted at Locust Knoll by the late Bonnie Foster, a founding member of the Locust Knoll Artisans. Her husband, Eric Foster, has granted the easement.

“It has a signature Helderberg landscape view,” said King. “The land was in the Foster family for many years. They acquired it when young, and fell in love with it,” he said, explaining that the Fosters had pieced together parcels around their historic home in stages to keep the space open.

“They want it preserved for future generations,” said King.


— Photo from the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy
Locust Knoll: The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy has gotten a conservation easement for about 100 acres at the base of the Helderberg escarpment. “It has a signature Helderberg landscape view,” said Mark King.


At the same time, the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy has acquired 11 acres from directly above Locust Knoll on Thacher Park Road, which King described as a crucial piece of forested land at the park entrance. “It’s top-to-bottom protection,” he said, just one of two places where that holds true.

Sarah Camp’s funding of the 11-acre Polishchuk property along with the neighboring George Martin and Guthrie properties provides 50 highly visible acres of contiguous preserved land along the face of the escarpment.

“It’s a gateway to Thacher Park,” said King. “In addition to the biological rationale, it’s extremely scenic.”

Foot traffic on the Thacher Park Road properties will be limited, he said, to protect flora and fauna. “We’ll do occasional walks there,” King said.

The current project to further expand the Helderberg Conservation Corridor is a fundraising effort to buy an easement for the roughly 250 acres owned by the Heldeberg Workshop, located at the base of the escarpment on Picard Road. The workshop has hosted a summer camp on the land for half of a century.

“The workshop board is very protective of the land,” said King. “But it’s an asset that doesn’t help financially.” Asked what the easement will cost, King said, “We’re still talking ... It will be hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

“We’ve applied for grants and talked to individuals,” said King, noting the fundraising efforts can range from bottle drives to galas. “We’d like to close in November,” he said.

King concluded of assembling the corridor, “It’s a long process, putting the pieces together but we’ll get there.”

He notes that the corridor is highly rated in the state’s open-space plan. It is home to more than 14 species of reptiles and amphibians, King said, noting the diversity is possibly the greatest in the Northeast. He notes there is also a remarkable diversity of ferns at the base of the escarpment as well.

Every few years, King said, the state sets up local committees to prioritize the lands they think are important to conserve. “It’s a great guide for land conservation,” King said, although it does not result in direct funding. Rather, being ranked as a priority on the state’s open space plan serves as a catalyst for funding, King said.

Similarly, The Nature Conservancy prioritizes places to be conserved so that limited resources can be used most effectively, King said.

“The Nature Conservancy is looking for resilience, to survive under climate change,” said King, and has identified a band of area that reaches from Rensselaerville in the Helderbergs, across the escarpment, into the Bozenkill — another corridor the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy is working to protect — and up to the Adirondacks.

“The diversity of the wetlands around Indian Ladder was recognized by the Native Americans,” said King. “It was a great place for hunting and gathering.”

King sees the Helderberg Conservation Corridor as moving in a positive direction. Much of the land that was logged by European settlers and cleared for farming has since become forest again.

“The environment has improved with less human activity,” he said.

“If my dream came true,” King concluded, “I’d like to see a protected path from the Catskills to the Adirondacks — two great natural areas with protected land.”

More Hilltowns News

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  • The Carey Institute for Global Good had jettisoned much of its core programming during the pandemic years while it figured out its own future. It has now changed its name to Hilltown Commons, and partnered with three different local organizations that now call its Rensselaerville campus home. 

  • R’ville Stage Creations artistic director and founding board member Tara McCormick-Hostash told The Enterprise this week that she wanted the group to offer a space for people who might otherwise be uncomfortable with theater “because it’s the spot I wished I had” as a youth in Rensselaerville.

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