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2015 accomplishments: it starts with the land

Land is worth saving.

It is our home: a resource for community and economic vitality, a place to escape, a source of inspiration. It is a haven for wildlife under a changing climate, and provides life-sustaining clean air and water. The work of the Open Space Institute underscores that open land, when nurtured properly, is the prerequisite to a healthy society.

As 2015 draws to a close, OSI is reflecting on some of our success stories from a busy year. Please consider a year-end gift to support OSI in protecting more of the lands we love and need.

This year, OSI set into motion the protection of almost 20,000 acres of critical lands along the east coast into southern Canada. However, OSI’s successes are about so much more than just sheer numbers. Read on for some highlights.

Deepening our commitment in New York

This year, in our home state of New York, OSI expanded upon the more than 140,000 acres of forests, farms and parks that we have protected over the years, and expanded our commitment to promoting inviting, safe and sustainable public access. 

In southern Washington County, OSI partnered to protect the famous Hand Melon Farm, a 107-year-old farm whose eponymous sweet melon has fans such as Martha Stewart, the Saratoga racing set and the New York Yankees. And, after a decade of effort, OSI put the finishing touches on conserving long-targeted land near Schunnemunk Mountain, that protects drinking water for New York’s fastest-growing region.

Further north, after several years of effort, OSI helped a dedicated friends group save Camp Little Notch, a wilderness camp that for more than 70 years has taught generations of young women life skills and environmental stewardship.

OSI’s park and recreational enhancement work continued to gain momentum. Our Alliance for New York State Parks program is bringing private leadership and dollars to some of the New York’s flagship state parks.

A $2.1 million campaign leveraging state funds to build a new $6.8 million nature center for Letchworth State Park in Western New York is all but complete. As that campaign comes to a close, we kicked off a $1 million effort to help build a new visitor center for Thacher State Park. Half-way toward our fundraising goal, our support deepens OSI’s long-standing commitment to preserving and enhancing the spectacular landscapes along the Helderberg Escarpment outside of Albany. We amplified this work with our advocacy in support of Andrew Cuomo’s publicly-funded commitment to rebuild the entire state parks system.

Similarly, OSI is building on its decades-long commitment to the Hudson Highlands with funding support for a restored beach complex at Canopus Lake, and a new initiative to improve trails and trailheads at Fahnestock State Park. Our deep connection to Fahnestock was punctuated this fall by the successful conservation of two properties near the park in October.

Our commitment to the Shawangunk Ridge region grew exponentially this year. Governor Andrew Cuomo visited Minnewaska State Park Preserve in October to announce plans for a new $7.3 million visitor center, which will become a reality with critical project leadership and fundraising support from OSI. Along with enhanced parking, the improvements will help more bikers and hikers of all ages and abilities enjoy Minnewaska’s iconic carriage roads—also being restored by OSI.

In the Shawangunk foothills, OSI started work on a long-sought River-to-Ridge Trail after acquiring a key connecting parcel in the Wallkill flats outside of New Paltz. We opened the parcel to cross-country skiing last January, and are working up plans to create a new recreational link from the valley to the 90 miles of trails and protected open spaces atop the Gunks.

Research and Funding for the Best Lands

Furthering longstanding efforts to protect drinking water, create and expand community forests and preserve wildlife habitat, OSI this year helped to close key transactions across nine states and two Canadian provinces. In particular, OSI’s climate-related efforts attracted considerable press attention, with coverage by The Christian Science Monitorthe Asheville Citizen-Timesand the Maine Public Broadcasting Network

Through its Resilient Landscapes Initiative (RLI), OSI expects to assist in the conservation of 2,400 acres that will remain ideal habitat for climate-sensitive plants and animals even as the planet warms. Featured at OSI’s annual awards ceremony  honoring climate activist Tom Steyer, an initiative-funded project helped save resilient habitat that also protected drinking water for nearly a quarter-million people in southern Maine. And, in its first project to close in the Southeast, the RLI further safeguarded the Paint Rock watershed in northeast Alabama, one of the region’s most biologically rich places.

Meanwhile, across New England states, OSI supported regional and state planning efforts that will guide scarce conservation dollars to key resilient areas for years to come. And again this year, OSI played a key role in translating climate science for land conservation practitioners through a series of presentations including one at the Land Trust Alliance’s National Rally, that reached 900 land trust professionals across the country.

Through its Delaware Watershed Protection Fund, OSI helped to expand the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area with the first of a series of land acquisition projects that will protect drinking water quality for millions of residents. And a new, OSI-developed guide featuring lessons learned from the nexus of watershed science and land acquisition will help regional conservationists set priorities for better protecting the Delaware River area.

Through the Transborder Fund—the only private fund directed at cross-border land protection in eastern North America—OSI helped protect a nearly 3,000-acre keystone parcel in Vermont that has long been a priority for US and Canadian conservation groups. In northern New England, meanwhile, OSI’s Community Forest Fund continued to help rekindle locally-based conservation efforts that help communities rally to protect jobs and local forests.

Keeping the Grassroots Green

OSI’s longest-running program, Citizen Action, continued to help foster the growth and success of community-based organizations in New York City and beyond.

OSI closed the year with a roster of nearly 40 groups working to protect land and raise awareness for environmental causes. During workshops and seminars, groups gathered under OSI’s umbrella to share ideas and best practices on topics such as strategizing social media and focusing mission statements. Several participants said the support helped strengthen their organization and give it legitimacy, opening the door to additional partners and funding.

Other participants who had received critical founding support from OSI continued to blossom. Honoring the Future, was featured in the Huffington Post and other media outlets for spearheading art exhibits and contests with the Smithsonian Institute, the Environmental Protection Agency, and schools and nonprofits across the nation to draw attention to climate change.

Another, all-volunteer organization, Black Urban Growers, again successfully hosted its annual conference in Oakland, California, focused on discussions around health food and high rates of diet-related disease among African-Americans.

Other OSI groups announced successes such as: a transportation safety game in Queens, NY, developed and rolled out by the Rego Park Green Alliance; restoration of the 19th-century Stuyvesant Depot in Columbia County, NY, by Stuyvesant Pathways and creation of a new crop of farming trainees in the Adirondacks, by Essex Farm Institute.

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