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Open Space Institute and Woodstock Land Conservancy announce acquisitions to launch campaign to protect Overlook Mountain

WOODSTOCK, NY - November 24, 2003 - On December 8th at 11:00 a.m., the Open Space Institute and the Woodstock Land Conservancy will announce the acquisition of 291 acres on the upper reaches of Woodstock's most cherished landmark, Overlook Mountain. The acquisition represents the first step of a major capital campaign to preserve the iconic mountain that inspired the Hudson River School of painting. 

After years of careful planning and quiet negotiating with landowners, the Conservancy and OSI have joined forces for this $1 million campaign, with OSI making a capital commitment of over $650,000. "This is a very exciting moment, for the Woodstock Land Conservancy, for the town of Woodstock, for Open Space Institute, and for people from all over the region and country - even the world - who come here to hike, to paint, to draw inspiration from this majestic mountain," said Michael DeWan, president of the Board of Directors of the Conservancy. 

Considered by many to be the birthplace of the Hudson River School of painting in the 19th century, Overlook Mountain has long enjoyed a prominent place in America's natural and cultural history. Thanks to efforts begun many years ago, most of the summit has been incorporated into the Catskill Forest Preserve and is protected as "forever wild" by the New York State Constitution. More recently, local conservationists - including the Woodstock Land Conservancy - have attempted to keep the summit free of television and cellular telephone towers. In its 2002 Open Space Conservation Plan, New York State placed much of the privately owned land at the highest elevations of Overlook Mountain on its "Priority List" for acquisition. Both partners are committed to protecting these priority lands and adding substantially to the 590-acre Overlook Mountain Wild Forest Area within the “forever wild” Preserve. 

As the most recognizable landmass on the eastern escarpment of the Catskill Range, Overlook Mountain provides a stunning visual backdrop to the town of Woodstock, and can be seen from many points in the Mid-Hudson River Valley. It also provides critical wildlife habitat: in November 2002, a study identified two denning sites in the Catskills for the Timber Rattlesnake, listed as threatened in New York. One of those sites is near Overlook's summit, all the more reason to keep it free of roads and structures. 

In addition to launching this joint effort, these acquisitions today signal the beginning of OSI's new Catskills Land Protection Program. While the program is new, the Catskills are familiar territory for OSI. The organization's land conservation program first began in the Catskills in the 1970s. Today, OSI holds close to 150 conservation easements in the Catskills, ensuring the perpetual protection of more than 7,000 acres. 

"This Catskills program was born out of serious concern about the latest wave of development pressure in the Catskills, where more and more second home buyers are seeking refuge from stressful city life," said Joe Martens, president of the Open Space Institute. "Open Space Institute and the Woodstock Land Conservancy are keenly aware of the intensifying pressure to develop in the Catskills, particularly on Overlook Mountain. We look forward to a partnership with the Conservancy that gains community-wide support for land protection on Overlook Mountain and throughout the Catskills. In fact," added Martens, “knowing that Overlook is such an important visual landmark throughout the Hudson Valley, we welcome the support of people on both sides of the River, on all sides of this magnificent peak." 

To kick off the Overlook Campaign, two prominent landowners on Overlook have joined forces with the Conservancy and OSI. Miriam Berg conveyed almost 90 acres to OSI on the upper reaches of the mountain, and the Woodstock Guild of Artists and Craftsmen has transferred to OSI over 200 acres stretching from Meads Meadow northeast toward the summit. OSI acquired these two properties with funds from the Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Endowment Fund, which is maintained by OSI and dedicated to land preservation in the Hudson River Valley. "I bought this land in 1972, planning someday to put in a winding road up the side of the mountain and a house with a fabulous view at the top," recalls Berg, one of the local leaders of this campaign. "Now, 31 years later, I realize I cannot in good conscience be part of its desecration. I would rather help to keep a piece of the mountain forever wild." 

"Ms. Berg and the Woodstock Guild have shown an extraordinary conservation ethic and a real commitment to the community. Private landowners like Ms. Berg and the Guild are an integral part of the land protection puzzle," said Jennifer Grossman, OSI's Vice President for Land Acquisition. According to Grossman, OSI will close on several other transactions to protect the Catskills in the new year. "This is an auspicious start and we could not have done it without the Woodstock Land Conservancy by our side. The Conservancy has been an invaluable partner," added Grossman. 

"Fifteen years ago, in an amazing outpouring of generosity and community spirit, over 550 Woodstockers came together and saved another town landmark, the Zena Cornfield. Today, the pressure to develop is even more intense, and the threat is just as immediate - and even more visible," DeWan went on to say. "From the westernmost of the three peaks of Mount Guardian to the very summit of Overlook, high-altitude building has scarred these once-pristine ridgelines that help define our sense of place. 

"For years we have been laying the groundwork, and now with OSI as our partner we can take this huge step to make a huge difference for future generations. But time is not on our side. In the coming months we will be planning a number of events, and the Conservancy is about to send out a town-wide appeal in early December." DeWan concluded, "We are counting on support just as enthusiastic and broad-based as we received to save the Zena Cornfield. " 

The Open Space Institute is a nonprofit land conservation organization that protects significant recreational, environmental, agricultural and historic landscapes. Founded in 1963, OSI has protected over 90,000 acres in New York State. Through its Northern Forest Protection Fund, OSI has assisted in the protection of close to 1,000,000 acres in NY, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. OSI's recently launched New Jersey Conservation Loan Program has helped protect 9,780 acres in the nation's most densely populated state. 

The Woodstock Land Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust, also chartered under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, whose mission is to work with private property owners to preserve those natural areas most beloved by the greater Woodstock community.

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