Spurred by the generosity of one couple, fundraising is underway to protect more land around the Bozen Kill

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Bryan and Lauren Swift stand at the start of a trail out their back door that leads to the land they have bought on Bond Road which they hope will become part of the Bozen Kill Conservation Corridor protected by the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.

GUILDERLAND — Lauren and Bryan Swift, who for decades have enjoyed hiking and skiing in the wilderness near their home, have now purchased that land with the hope of making it part of the Bozen Kill Conservation Corridor.

They recently sat in the Bond Road home they largely built themselves in 1984 with an expansive view of the Helderbergs before them — not another building in sight — and talked about their love of the land.

Lauren, a botanist, spoke with reverence about a two-century-old oak on the Bond Road property.

Bryan, a wildlife biologist, listed some of the animals they have observed on the land — black bear, owls, porcupines, bobcats, and fishers among them.

The Swifts’ two children are grown and gone; their son, Greg, with a degree in architecture, does interior design and woodworking in Oregon and their daughter, Hilary, is a doctor doing her residency in Michigan.

Lauren and Bryan Swift would like others, for years to come, to enjoy and appreciate the land just as they have.

“As they say, you can’t take things with you, but you can always leave them in a better state than you found them, so this is our way of doing that,” said Bryan Swift in an email to The Enterprise, explaining why he and his wife took the risk of buying the land along with neighbors, knowing full well they will not get back all of what they paid for it.

The Swifts are working with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, which has launched a drive for funds to purchase the 225 acres. The Bozen Kill corridor currently covers 467 acres.

Mark King, director of the conservancy, recalled walking those 225 acres with the late Daniel Driscoll, a founder of the conservancy, in 2003. The woman who had inherited the property lived out of state, King said, and did not want to sell.

For 20 years, the conservancy kept track of the land — at one point it was listed for sale at $1 million, well over its appraised value, King said.

His organization, as a public charity, is not allowed to pay more for land than its appraised value, King said. The land is valued at “significantly less” than the Swifts and their neighbors paid for it, he said, “so they are making a significant donation.”

The fundraising goal is $550,000, which will cover the conservancy’s purchase price as well as establishing an endowment for long-term needs such as stewardship and clean-up costs, King said.

There is an abandoned house and a collapsed barn on the property, which will have to be removed, he said, and a kiosk and parking area will be built.

“We are at about $315,000,” said King, noting that the sum includes grants from Scenic Hudson and The Nature Conservancy. There is a one-year deadline to raise the remaining funds, he said.

King said the 225 acres — made up of a 10-acre parcel and a 215-acre parcel — “check every box.” There’s great potential for further public use of the already popular Bozenkill Preserve. With the new land, trails could be looped, rather than just back and forth, he said. Also, the Bond Road property, which is relatively flat, would be ideal for cross-country skiing, he said.

The land will also protect water quality, he said, as tree roots stop erosion along the steep banks of the Bozen Kill, keeping the water clean as it flows into the Watervliet Reservoir, Guilderland’s major source of drinking water.

Wildlife protection is also important, King said, and parts of the land may be closed to public use. Also, he said, having a large block of protected land is valuable so, for example, with climate change, if temperatures rise, certain amphibians might do better in a ravine.

Habitats on the land are varied, including old farmed fields, wetlands, forest, and a hemlock hardwood swamp.

Speaking of “the big picture,” King said The Nature Conservancy has identified corridors throughout the country for species to move with climate change. “They’ve done mapping and provided data,” he said. “We are strategically located between the Catskills and the Adirondacks, a linkage between large natural areas. The long-term goal is connectivity between those landscapes.”

The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy now has 22 preserves across three counties, King said. “We want to disperse people,” he said, to avoid overuse of any particular preserve.

“COVID was a change for us,” he said, noting that many people discovered that hiking was safe and fun.

While “overuse is definitely a concern,” King said, “The bright side is, people want to go back. People come to cherish an area.”


The Swifts

The Swifts certainly cherish the land they’ve looked at and used over the years.

They each grew up with a love of nature. Bryan, who was raised in a Buffalo suburb, said his family was not outdoorsy — his mother was a school librarian and his father was a school guidance counselor — but he loved the outdoors.

As a kid, he loved playing in the woods near his house, “and I just continued that,” he said. He went to the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse and then earned a master’s degree in wildlife biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

His first job was with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which is where he met the woman who became his wife.

Lauren grew up in Glastonberry, Connecticut with parents who were hikers and campers — in New Hampshire, in Maine, and “out west,” she said. They also had a house in Vermont near Okemo where she taught skiing.

She went to the University of Colorado for botany and plant ecology and then earned a master’s degree in plant ecology at the University of Connecticut before her first job at U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

When she met Bryan, she said she knew “this was it” and followed him to Binghamton where he worked on environmental impacts for an electric and gas company.

In 1984, he was offered a job as a wildlife biologist for the state, a job he kept until he retired. Meanwhile, Lauren had several different jobs.

She worked as an environmental analyst for the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets. “It was there I learned all about the importance of good watershed management and the role of healthy watersheds in maintaining good water quality,” she said.

She also worked as an ecologist documenting natural plant communities for the New York State Heritage Program. “Both of these experiences helped me with evaluating the importance of the land across the street from us,” she said.

In 1984, while the Swifts lived in an apartment in Altamont, Lauren scouted out property for the home they would build and found six acres on Bond Road. A carpenter framed and roofed the home they designed while the couple did the rest of the work themselves.

They purchased their property from the late Joe Petrauskas. H’e had 225 acres still intact,” said Bryan Swift. “He gave us permission to walk and ski and snowshoe on the old farm roads. Our favorite time is winter ….

“When Joe died in the 1990s — he had no wife or children — his niece in Connecticut and her daughter inherited the property. They said it was still OK for us to hike and ski there.”

At first, the niece and her daughter would visit occasionally but that stopped about 15 years ago, the Swifts said. The Swifts kept an eye on the property and let the niece know if, for example, trees were down.

The Swifts were depressed when the property was listed for sale, thinking it would be developed, but it never sold. 

Four or five years ago, once the Swifts had both retired and their children were out of college, they made an offer on the property but it was never accepted. Bryan Swift likened it to Lucy perpetually pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.

“Last summer, she called us out of the blue,” said Lauren. “She said, ‘It’s yours for the last offer.’ We jumped on it.”

Lauren went on, “It’s an amazing piece of land with wetland, a mature oak forest — “

“Hemlock, pines, a lot of diversity,” her husband finished the sentence for her.

“There used to be a 20-acre beaver pond. It was spectacular,” said Bryan, whose specialty was waterfowl. But, when the dam broke, the pond disappeared.

The property, Bryan said, “has one of the largest wetlands in Guilderland, which feeds into the Bozen Kill and the Watervliet Reservoir.”

Lauren said the view from the ridge includes the village of Altamont and the city of Albany.

The house on the property has a foundation from the 1700s and was built in the mid-1800s, said the Swifts, but is now beyond salvation. “Once the roof goes, that’s it,” said Lauren.

The Swifts are able to access the property from a trail literally outside their back door. As they stand on the trail in the dappled late-summer light, both of them gaze toward the boundless horizon — and smile.

More Guilderland News

  • Guilderland resident Sue Green said the Bozenkill meets the Black Creek right behind her house where she has lived for half a century. “I’ve watched it; I’ve protected it. But most of all, I’ve watched it change dramatically over the last couple of years,” said Green.

  • After stepping back into the role of police chief while the village finds a replacement for former chief Jason Johnston, Todd Pucci, who had retired from the position in 2021, spoke with The Enterprise about what qualities the village should look for in a new leader for the department. 

  • “I’m relieved for it to have ended as peacefully as it did but have concern for his behavior,” said Guilderland Police Lieutenant Joe DeVoe who was on the scene for the entire incident. “He could have caused serious injury or death. Bullets were going into other rooms. I’m just thankful our quick responses aided in ending this peacefully.”

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