Land trust program benefits Wiawaka Center
By Gwendolyn Craig
The oldest women’s retreat in the country is adding a new superlative to its legacy—one of New York’s first land trust forest conservation easements. The Lake George Land Conservancy will use $350,000 in state grant funding to purchase the easement on 47 acres at the Wiawaka Center for Women in Lake George.
It is one of four conservation easement grants totaling $1.35 million from the state’s $400 million environmental protection fund. The program’s primary goal is to keep forests as forests to combat climate change.
“Protecting New York’s publicly and privately held forests is critical in combating climate change because of the valuable roles trees play in absorbing and storing carbon, maintaining wildlife habitats, and reducing air pollution,” said state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, in a news release. “DEC worked quickly to administer these grants to help promote forest conservation and we look forward to partnering with the award recipients and continuing our ongoing collaborations with (the) Land Trust Alliance and land trust(s) across the state.”
The Lake George Land Conservancy specifically will protect the “Wiawaka Uplands” on the southeastern side of the Queen of American lakes. It includes 1,500 feet of tributaries and five acres of forested wetland.The conservation partnership between Wiawaka and the land conservancy was announced this summer, but the grant was awarded on Friday at the lakeside retreat.
Mike Horn, executive director of the Lake George Land Conservancy, said the project “illustrates the diversity of values that a forest can provide,” including clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration, natural habitat and recreation.
Horn said the grant program fits well with the Wiawaka Center, founded in 1903 to provide working women from Troy affordable vacations at $3.50 per week. Painter Georgia O’Keeffe spent time there, as have many other artists who draw inspiration from its forested grounds and sweeping lakeside views.
A project summary for the grant notes “conservation values are threatened by the high-density development that could be allowed on the Wiawaka Uplands property if not protected.”
The forest conservation easements for land trusts grant program was first announced in March and is administered by the DEC in partnership with the Land Trust Alliance. About 74% of the state’s forests, or about 13.62 million acres, are privately owned by nearly 700,000 people.
Meme Hanley, New York senior program manager for the Land Trust Alliance, said property owners are facing economic challenges that are putting private forests at risk. The new grant program “eliminates the risk of those lands being converted to other uses in the future,” she said.
It was a meaningful announcement to Katie Petronis, the DEC’s deputy commissioner of natural resources. Petronis had previously worked for the Open Space Institute for more than 14 years, focused on land conservation in the Adirondacks. She is also a former member of the Adirondack Explorer’s board of directors.
“Now, being able to represent DEC on the other side of this incredible partnership just feels to me really important, really exciting,” Petronis said. “If we want to protect our forests, plants, animals, drinking water and meet our climate change goals, then programs like this have to be the future of conservation in New York.”
Petronis promoted the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Bond Act on the ballot in November. If passed, the bond act will devote $650 million to open space conservation and recreation and $1.5 billion to climate change mitigation.
In an interview with the Explorer, Petronis declined to comment at this time on whether these forest conservation easements could be part of the proposed 30-by-30 bill that Gov. Kathy Hochul has yet to sign. The bill aims to protect 30% of New York’s lands and waters by 2030 and passed the state Senate and Assembly in May. It has not made it to Hochul’s desk. Petronis said the DEC cannot comment on pending legislation.
State and local lawmakers were in attendance Friday including Lake George Supervisor Dennis Dickinson and state Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon. State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said he’s not “a fan of every facet of the state budget,” but he is always supportive of the environmental protection fund.
“This is the way to do it—willing seller, willing buyer,” Stec said. “Regardless of your reason why to protect it, we’re all in agreement that these projects are important for our futures.”
Also receiving first round funding are:
· Scenic Hudson Land Trust, $350,000 to purchase a 200-acre conservation easement on the Steepletop property, surrounded by the Harvey Mountain State Forest in Columbia County.
· Agricultural Stewardship Association, $294,640 to purchase a conservation easement on about 262 acres on Sugar Mountain Forest and connecting Mount Tom and Chestnut Woods state forests in Washington County.
· Genesee Valley Conservancy, $348,025 to purchase a conservation easement on 275 acres next to 1,000 acres of state forest and wildlife management area lands in Livingston County.
Another round of grants, totalling–$3,075,000, will be awarded in the spring. To learn more and apply go to https://landtrustalliance.org/resources/connect/field-services/new-york/new-york-state-conservation-partnership-program.