Woodhouses donate 37 acres of wide-open wetlands to the Huyck Preserve

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — The Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve was given 37 acres on Gifford Hollow Road last week by the Woodhouse family.

This adds to the 2,000 acres already contained within this 80-year-old biological research site, dedicated to protecting and studying the Rensselaerville Falls, the Myosotis Lake watershed, and the surrounding lands, while providing field-based educational opportunities for students and teachers alike.

“This is the first addition of land to the Huyck Preserve in about 10 years, so that’s really exciting,” said Chad Jemison, executive director of the Huyck Preserve. “It’s a real testament to how people value the Huyck Preserve.”

John and Jeri Woodhouse subdivided their property into two lots; one, the much larger lot dominated by a swamp, was donated to the preserve; the remaining five acres, on which a house sits, will be sold, Jeri Woodhouse said.

“The property has been in our family for a long time; I’d say 65 years,” Jeri Woodhouse told The Enterprise. First, her grandparents owned it; then, her mother and her aunt; and, most recently, she and her husband owned it.

“My grandparents had five grandchildren, and we always spent our summers and holidays up there and came to love Rensselaerville,” said Woodhouse. “That piece of property was so physically beautiful.”

Woodhouse, who formerly chaired the planning board in Southold on Long Island, has a deep interest in preserving open space, she went on.

“As we got older, my husband and I talked about it with our family members and decided the best way to preserve that property would be to see if some place like the Huyck Preserve would be interested in it,” she said. “Our family thought it was a very valuable resource because it has some really unique properties. I myself grew berries there organically…and I know that nothing has ever been put into the soil that would damage the water and the environment, and that’s something we just wanted to pass on.”

Jemison talked this week about some of those unique properties, how the preserve might use the land, and what makes this donation so valuable.

“In New York State, the total amount of wetland habitat has been on the decline in recent years, and it’s just recently stabilized, so we’re no longer losing wetlands as a whole,” Jemison said. “But most of the wetlands that are increasing are wooded wetlands. This is a rather large, open wetland, so there isn’t a tree canopy over it; these are the kinds of wetlands that are still in decline in New York.”

Further, it’s fairly rare to have an open wetland of this size in this part of New York State, Jemison said, “So, this is an opportunity to protect a special kind of wetland.”

One remarkable feature of this land, Jemison went on, is the quality of the water.

“It was actually quite surprising when we went to test it,” he said, “because Route 85 runs right along the edge of the wetland, so we had anticipated a lot of road salt would be in it, and contaminations from the road…only the cleanest rivers or streams have an ion-concentration reading below 200, which this has.”

And quality water suggests a quality habitat, which Jemison hopes will allow for biodiversity.

“Some of the more sensitive plants that would be more sensitive to pollution might very well be able to grow here because it’s such a high-quality habitat,” Jemison said. “And, it’s almost all native species around the wetland; the trees, the shrubs, the grasses, are almost all native species. So the more sensitive birds are going to find that attractive.”

The lay of the land makes this property that much more hospitable for birds, he went on.

“There are areas that are open grasslands, and then there are trees, so there are different habitats right next to each other, and birds use different habitats for different things, so they like having that mix-up,” said Jemison. “It’s also really good protection for them, too; if a predator comes along, they’re able to quickly find cover in the shrubs. So it’s a good place for nesting sites, and it’s a good place for finding a variety of foods that they need.”

While there are no plans to do any “significant building” on the property, Jemison said the preserve may try to construct a parking area nearby for people who want to bird-watch, or for those who come to do research on the property. Either way, he sees it as a big win for the preserve and its mission.

“It shows how people care about maintaining the open space and the character of the land around here,” Jemison said. “It was just a wonderful gift from our neighbors here, who really care about protecting the natural quality of the Hilltowns.”

“Our hope,” Woodhouse concluded, “is that this will encourage other people to make similar property donations, if they can.”



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