Huyck Preserve director wants to build stewards of the land

— Photo from The Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve

“My goal,” says Anne Rhoads, “is to build a larger population of stewards of the land, to build a stronger connection between people and the land.”

RENSSELAERVILLE — Anne Rhoads has loved the woods since her childhood and now has a job that she says was her goal in graduate school — conserving woodlands while helping others understand and value them.

On July 1, Rhoads became the executive director of The Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve and Biological Research Station.

The preserve was established by Jessie Van Antwerp Huyck in 1931, in honor of her husband, Edmund Niles Huyck, who ran  a felt mill along the falls in the Rensselaerville hamlet. In 1938, a biological field station was added.

Rhoads, who is now 45, grew up in New Paltz. Her father is a retired art history professor at the state university there and her mother, a homemaker, is “one of the pillars of New Paltz,” said Rhoads.

“They inspired in me a love of the outdoors,” said Rhoads. She spent a lot of time on family land in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, near where her parents grew up in Harrisburg.

Rhoads went to Vassar College with the idea she might want to be a veterinarian since she always loved animals, but it was the biology and ecology classes that drew her.

“I realized I wanted to take care of the larger planet,” she said. “Protecting the forest would support the animals as well.”

After graduating with a bachelor of art’s degree, Rhoads taught biology at the Emma Willard School, a private boarding school for girls in Troy. 

While she enjoyed teaching, Rhoads said, “I knew I wanted to go on to graduate school.” She started a master’s program at the Yale School of Forestry but realized she’d rather focus on forest ecology instead of management and so went to Brown University, where she earned a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology and ecology.

Describing her research, Rhoads said, “I was looking largely at effects of past human use. Almost all of New England and New York were pretty much cleared for agriculture.”

But then, she said, early European settlers realized the land was not ideal for agriculture so farming in New England and New York declined, and the forest grew back on the once-cleared land.

The central question of her research was: What was the impact of human use? How did it affect forest composition and health?

She also looked at the effects of natural disturbance, focusing on a major ice storm in 1998. “At the time, it was thought to be a once-in-a-hundred-year event,” she said. “There was a lot of damage.”

Rhoads worked at a land trust while at Brown and, upon graduating, worked for a land trust in Saratoga County.

She and her husband, Jay Goodman — “We met at Vassar as 19-year-olds,” said Rhoads — lived first in Schenectady, from where she commuted to her Saratoga job and he to Albany Law School.

They wanted ultimately to settle in a rural area and ended up in Greenville, where they have a house with some land.

Rhoads took a break from work to raise their two children; one is now in elementary school and the other in high school. “It’s important to stay connected to your passions while you’re at home with kids,” said Rhoads, “whether through volunteerism or things like PTA that help you maintain life skills.”

Huyck Preserve

Rhoads’s family had discovered the Huyck Preserve through an ECOS Guide put out by The Environmental Clearinghouse. “We came out here for a Father’s Day hike when my son was little,” recalled Rhoads.

In 2017, she became the director of Conservation and Education at the preserve. Her predecessor, Dawn O’Neal had a similar post at the preserve before she became its director. O’Neal is now working for The Nature Conservancy, said Rhoads.

No one has replaced Rhoads at her old job. She is carrying out those duties as well as adding new ones as director. Formerly, her main responsibilities were in three areas:

— Conservation, overseeing the preserves more than 2,000 acres;

— Research, overseeing the biological research station, hosting researchers from across the country and around the world; and

— Education, including programming for kindergarten through 12th grade, organizing school field trips, and planning events for the community.

“I love working with teachers and students,” Rhoads said.

In her new post, Rhoads has added more oversight of recreation and of facilities as well as membership and outreach.

The Huyck Preserve has two full-time employees — a building and grounds supervisor as well as Rhoads — and two part-time employees: an administrative and finance manager and a membership and outreach coordinator.

“Some aspects are handled by active board members,” Rhoads said. She also credited the preserves’ volunteers and seasonal staff.

The preserve has a four-part mission, which Rhoads said is largely based around the first part: conservation. “We’re here to protect the land, the water, the natural resources,” she said.

Underlying that are the educational and research components as well as recreation. “We have 12 miles of trails,” said Rhoads, “and a lake for non-motorized boats and swimming.”

“My goal,” she said, “is to build a larger population of stewards of the land, to build a stronger connection between people and the land. People need to be aware of and care about environmental protection.”

The most obvious way to do that, she said, is through education, having students practice hands-on science and explore the land.

“The adults need to recharge on the trails, and stay connected,” Rhoads said. “Research is important, too, making scientific arguments for environmental stewardship.

“It’s all connected,” said Rhoads.

She concluded of her new job, “This is my goal job, what I set out to do as a graduate student. I am committed.”

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