2016 overview: Land conservation does good

Every time a property is poised to become a shopping center or the next planned housing development but instead becomes parkland, protected forest or even a bird sanctuary, there is much to celebrate. After all, cleaner air and water, expanded access to recreational opportunities, protection of productive farmland, improved property values and of course general wellbeing—all these are just some of the many benefits of land conservation.

As 2016 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 communities love and need.

This year, OSI set into motion the protection of almost 52,000 critical lands along the east coast. Yet our successes are about so much more than just sheer numbers. Read on for some highlights.

Preserving Vital Places — New York & Beyond

This year, in our home state of New York, OSI built upon the more than 140,000 acres we have protected here over the years, deepening our commitment to promoting public access to the state's parks, historic places, and other special lands. 

In a remarkable victory, OSI worked for and celebrated Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $300 million funding commitment to New York’s Environmental Protection Fund. This historic expansion translates into greater investment in cleaner water and air, park expansions and farmland protection, among other critically important programs. Coupled with the state’s ongoing commitment to restoring state parks through the NY Parks 2020 initiative, New York is raising the bar nationally for environmental investment and we are proud of what we have helped to achieve.

Meanwhile, OSI-led private fundraising campaigns continued to improve the visitor experience at parks across the state. After a four-year campaign, Letchworth State Park's Humphrey Nature Center opened in July, while the effort to build a new gateway experience at Thacher State Park is in its final phase thanks to enthusiastic local support. A community celebration was held this fall at Fahnestock State Park to celebrate renovations to the Canopus Lake/Winterpark Complex, completed earlier this year with an OSI-led campaign. 

OSI continues its restoration work on the celebrated carriage road networks at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, while the Governor was able to announce an overhaul to the entrance at Watkins Glen State Park thanks to OSI's acquisition of two key parcels nearby. In the Catskills, OSI and its partners developed a restoration plan for the DEC's Beaverkill campground. Their effort is now bearing fruit with the careful restoration of the historic Beaverkill Covered Bridge, including its wooden peg engineering and stone clad ramps and piers, in an effort to improve this rare and public access to the Beaverkill River. 

In Ulster County, the much-anticipated, six-mile River-to-Ridge Trail connecting the city of New Paltz to the Shawangunks continues to progress. OSI announced plans for trailhead parking, kiosks and a picnic area, and enthusiasm is growing among local hikers, bikers and cross-country skiers. In Saratoga County, another long-awaited trail took a step forward after OSI acquired nearly 300 acres of forest key to eventually connect Moreau Lake and Saratoga Spa State Parks. And in the Adirondacks, OSI announced the acquisition of 836 acres of wooded lands for scenic trails and other recreational assets near Lake George Wild Forest.

As part of its longstanding commitment to expanding public land and access, in 2016 OSI announced the donation of five properties totaling 350 acres and over $3.1 million to municipalities across New York. Among the properties were the Mamakating Rail Trail and the historic Schuyler Flatts property in the Town of Colonie in Albany County, which OSI acquired 25 years ago. Each of these donations reflects OSI’s ongoing commitment to building successful conservation partnerships.

Finally, outside of New York, in OSI’s first direct land acquisition in the state of Maine, OSI conserved nearly nine miles on the East Branch of Penobscot River, preserving access to one of Maine’s best wild canoeing rivers. The news builds upon OSI’s 15-year conservation track record in the state, during which the organization made grants and loans totaling more than $13 million, helping the state’s conservation groups and agencies protect more than 1.3 million acres.

This burgeoning impact can also be felt in South Carolina, where in March OSI made possible the protection of one of the last undeveloped islands within Cape Romain National Wildilfe Refuge. An ecological treasure, the island hosts migratory songbirds, including painted buntings, during the summer for both resting and breeding.

Conserving for Climate Change, Community and Drinking Water

Furthering longstanding efforts to protect drinking water, create and expand community forests, and preserve wildlife habitat, OSI this year played a critical role in closing key transactions across six states and one Canadian province while promoting the important role of land conservation in the midst of the climate challenge.

This spring, the OSI-produced film A Watershed Moment debuted to wide acclaim from the conservation community and beyond. The film provided an insightful and important look at on-the-ground efforts to protect the Delaware River Watershed, the source of drinking water for 15 million people.

On the ground, OSI through the Delaware River Watershed Fund protected 2,300 acres of pristine forests that protect clean, fresh drinking water. Just north of Philadelphia, OSI helped clinch protection of land that also serves as habitat for one of the nation’s tiniest bats, while its work on the New Jersey Pine Barrens through two transactions helped protect the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, source of drinking water for a million New Jersey residents (Bear Swamp, Nature Preserve).

Through the Resilient Landscapes Initiative, OSI conserved 6,123 acres that will remain ideal habitat for plants and animals even as the climate warms. This initiative gained ground in Tennessee this year, where OSI’s funding through three projects helped protect a keystone parcel that successfully linked 60,000 acres of public recreation lands and habitat; precious habitat for the federally-threatened painted snake coiled forest snails; and a renowned rock-climbing area. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, two parcels conserved with OSI's help officially became parkland of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, while an OSI analysis underscored the park’s role as a haven for wildlife under a changing climate.

In keeping with its goal to help advance climate-resilient conservation within the land trust community, OSI and its partners unveiled a new guide for land conservation practitioners that captures insights from the Resilient Landscapes Initiative. Conserving Nature in a Changing Climate uses insights and real-life examples to encourage the protection of more climate-resilient lands, and has been called “ground-breaking” by users in the field.

Through its Transborder Fund, OSI’s presence was felt as far north as Canada. The Fund, which conserves wildlife corridors adjacent to the US-Canadian border, achieved the protection of 825 acres in the Sutton Mountains in southern Quebec and a nearly 6,000-acre parcel in far eastern Maine, right on the Canadian border.

Finally, through its Community Forest program, OSI’s funding helped launch homegrown land conservation projects where citizens work together to protect local woodlands and their many values. Two of the movement’s newest projects benefitted from OSI funding, including the nation’s largest community forest spanning 21,870 acres in Maine, and another launched after townspeople experienced the fragmentation and sale of local forests in New Hampshire.

Building Stronger Grassroots

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.

By year’s end, OSI’s roster included 40 groups working to protect open space and the environment. With our guidance, workshops and seminars, groups learn about structuring budgets, assessing risk, developing boards,engaging partners and building fundraising strategies.

In summer 2016, OSI and its Citizen Action Group the Christopher Park Alliance cheered when President Obama designated the Stonewall Inn and adjacent Christopher Park as the Stonewall National Monument. Founded in 2001, Christopher Park Alliance was experiencing flagging membership before joining Citizen Action in 2013. In the years since, the Alliance has raised funds to beautify the park, scene of a 1969 uprising that is regarded as the start of the lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement.

Later in the year, HarborLAB, the newest addition to Citizen Action, held a Peace Lanterns Festival with the Buddhist Council of New York for thousands of participants. Held directly across the East River from the United Nations, the event hosted people of all faiths for kayaking, meditation and environmental education.

Finally, long-time Citizen Action group the Rondout Valley Growers Association, a Hudson Valley-based, farmer-led advocate for local agriculture, officially graduated from OSI. Joining Citizen Action in 2010 has allowed RVGA to double the scope of its programs in place of worrying about back-office administrative work. This year RVGA received the Distinguished Achievement Award from Mohonk Consultations and the Pride of Ulster County Award from the county’s Legislature.

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