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Groups Secure Grant to Create Saratoga County’s First Publicly-Owned Community Forest

Photo Credit: Greg Miller

TOWNS OF WILTON AND GREENFIELD, NY (June 4, 2021)— The Open Space Institute (OSI) today celebrated a grant to establish the first publicly owned community forest in Saratoga County. The Saratoga County Community Forest, a joint project of OSI, Saratoga County, and Saratoga PLAN, will serve as a dynamic community hub for multi-use recreation and offer connections to a larger trail system envisioned for the Palmertown Range, a sector of the Adirondack Foothills that runs from Fort Ticonderoga in the north to Saratoga Springs in the south.

In the community forest model of land conservation, municipalities or community-based organizations own the forestland and local citizens participate in the planning and management of forests. Community forests are a powerful force for strengthening communities and ensuring long-term forest conservation. 

Easily reached off busy Route 9 and with ample space for developing public parking, the proposed Saratoga Community Forest property’s gently sloping old logging roads will allow visitors of varying abilities, fitness levels, and experiences to easily utilize and enjoy local trails and quickly immerse in an Adirondack experience. Additionally, as the first publicly owned community forest in the area, the project is intended to serve as a model for future community forest development.

“Saratoga County is a rapidly growing region with significant development pressure and OSI is excited to partner with county officials and local conservation organizations to create the first publicly owned community forest in Saratoga County,” said Kim Elliman OSI’s president and CEO. “Community Forests provide multiple and significant benefits to the community and the protection of this property will not only prevent development of the land, but also safeguard the land’s natural resources and drinking water quality, protect the property’s carbon stores, and provide a site for community recreation.”

“This community forest project is an excellent example demonstrating the simultaneous conservation, recreation and economic development benefits resulting from the collaborative efforts of the Palmertown Partners,” said Maria Trabka, executive director of Saratoga PLAN. “Local municipalities, Saratoga County, state agencies, businesses, property owners, and nonprofit community organizations like the Open Space Institute and Skidmore College have been working together for many years to realize the vision for protecting and benefiting from the 40,000-acre Palmertown Range region. As the project grows and evolves, there will be many more opportunities for people of all abilities to get involved in building, managing, and enjoying community forests and trails in this special corner of the Adirondacks close to home.”

“The protection of the proposed Saratoga Community Forest will be a great asset to Saratoga County, the Town of Moreau and the general public. The project will not only advance plans to create a 50-mile publicly accessible trail network that benefits local communities and increases tourism, but it also has the potential to start a new tradition of publicly owned community forests in the region,” said Theodore T. Kusnierz, Jr. Chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors and Town of Moreau Supervisor.

The $391,000 award, made available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Community Forest Program, will support the permanent protection of the proposed 202-acre Saratoga County Community Forest property, which includes a rocky ridgeline, forested ravines along streams, a diversity of mixed northern hardwood forest communities, old logging roads, and an historic graphite mine.

The Community Forest Grant Program provides financial assistance to help qualified organizations create, expand, and enhance community-owned and community-managed forests. The program pays up to 50 percent of the project costs and requires a 50 percent non-federal match. OSI, Saratoga County, and Saratoga PLAN are pursuing additional partnerships, private fundraising efforts, and grants to help fully achieve this ambitious plan.

The proposed Saratoga Community Forest, to be owned and managed by Saratoga County with assistance from the community, is a key linkage toward the protection of the Palmertown Range green corridor and creation of the proposed Sarah B. Foulke Friendship Trails network. The community forest will serve as a central entryway into the approximately 50-mile Sarah B. Foulke Friendship Trails network that will link five protected landscapes within the Palmertown Range: Saratoga Spa State Park, Skidmore College, Daniels Road State Forest, Lincoln Mountain State Forest, and Moreau Lake State Park.

The land features historic logging roads that run throughout the property. Once improved and expanded, the logging roads will support walkers, hiker, bikers, and runners of all abilities and provide a unique opportunity to showcase the history of the property through interpretive signage.

In addition to serving as a recreational hub and a space for environmental education, the protection of the community forest will also safeguard the water quality, ecological value, and carbon storage potential of the area while supporting regional connectivity of protected lands.

The proposed Saratoga Community Forest Property contains four acres of wetlands, more than 6,700 linear feet of streams, and is within the Lake Loughberry watershed, which is the main source of drinking water for the more than 28,000 residents of the City of Saratoga Springs. The protection of this property will help filter rainwater before it drains into Lake Loughberry and help maintain water quality.

Containing many different types of wildlife habitat, including wetlands, cliffs, and high ridgelines, the Saratoga Community Forest will support a diverse array of species as the climate changes. Almost completely forested, the property includes a mix of northern hardwood forest and mature hemlock-white pine forest. According to mapping completed by OSI, the property stores more than 104 tons of carbon per acre and, when managed correctly, the land has the potential to continue capturing and storing additional atmospheric carbon.

ABOUT THE PALMERTOWN RANGE

In 2017, OSI, in partnership with Saratoga PLAN and local partners created the Southern Palmertown Range Community Conservation and Recreation Strategy, a conservation and recreation road map for the sector of the Adirondack Foothills that runs from the Hudson River at the northern edge of Saratoga County, to the City of Saratoga Springs in the south. The Palmertown Range offers one of the best opportunities to protect a continuous swath of land between the Green and Adirondack Mountains, providing wildlife with a corridor for habitat and movement.

Since the Strategy was created, a Community Outreach Coordinator has been hired to help implement the plan and the project has received more than $550,000 in grants to continue conservation and trail work. OSI has also protected five significant properties, together totaling more than 3,300 acres, in support of creating a connected, green corridor in the Palmertown Range.

The centerpiece of the Palmertown Strategy will be the development of a landscape scale, 50-mile multi-use trail system called the Sarah B. Foulke Friendship Trails System. A year-long master planning process for an inclusive trail network is scheduled to wrap up this summer. As a gateway for the larger Sarah B. Foulke Friendship Trails system, the Saratoga County Community Forest property will offer a spectrum of outdoor recreation opportunities such as hiking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, wheelchairing, hunting, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking.

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