Open Space Institute year in review 2009

The Open Space Institute flourished in 2009 by focusing on financially sensible land protection projects, chosen for their impacts on the communities in which we work. From the creation and expansion of beloved recreational amenities to wildlife habitat conservation, to the preservation of our agricultural heritage and research that is respected industrywide, OSI again established itself as a conservation leader this year.

All of our work, however, would never be possible without your ongoing support. Year in and out, your generosity enables us to protect the lands most in danger of being lost while setting the standard for lasting, effective conservation.

In 2009, donor support allowed OSI to protect 1,330 acres in its home state of New York while making grants and loans that assisted in the conservation of 13,399 additional acres from Maine to Georgia.

Please help us continue this important work by making your tax deductible year-end gift for conservation today.

Expanding Places for Recreation 

Building on years of conservation in New York’s picturesque Shawangunks, OSI, in partnership with the Wallkill Valley Land Trust, enhanced a major Shawangunk Ridge recreational amenity this year by extending the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail by 11.5 miles, nearly doubling its current length. In August, the two groups acquired approximately 65 acres of the former Wallkill Valley Railroad in Ulster County, creating a nearly continuous recreational trail that runs through the towns of Gardiner, New Paltz, Rosendale and Ulster, and on to Kingston.

The extended Wallkill Valley Rail Trail will run for nearly 24 miles, providing recreational access for walkers, runners, equestrians, birders, bicyclists, and cross-country skiers and affording users outstanding views of open farmlands, the scenic Shawangunk Ridge, and the limestone caves of the Binnewater Lakes region. 

OSI acquired a strategically located parcel directly adjacent to the Mohonk Preserve’s Trapps Gateway Visitor Center in July. Mohonk will use the property for its educational and stewardship programs. 

Earlier in 2009, OSI acquired 35 acres of undeveloped mountainous land on the eastern side of the Shawangunk Ridge. These lands, which protect the headwaters of the Verkeederkill Stream and the eastern escarpment of the Ridge as it looks out over the town of Shawangunk, were added to the Sam’s Point Preserve, another longtime OSI signature Shawangunk effort. 

OSI’s additions to the extremely popular Sam’s Point Preserve will protect scenic views from the hiking trail to Verkeederkill Falls, and contain extensive rock-walled crevices, slabrock and pitch pines.

Funding for Wildlife Habitat

Since its inception nine years ago, OSI's Conservation Finance Program (CFP) has been recognized as an industry leader, making capital for conservation available where and when it is needed most.

Much of our conservation finance work this year was guided by a series of plans drawn up by each state to protect threatened wildlife habitat. In 2009, OSI launched Saving New England’s Wildlife, a fund capitalized by a $6 million grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, to make grants and loans to land trusts in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to preserve threatened habitat. Thus far, $2.3 million in grants have been approved of which nearly $700,000 has been distributed to four different organizations working to save wildlife.

OSI also launched a program that will create conservation opportunities in the vast forestlands of the 80 million-acre Northern Appalachian-Acadian region.

Bridge loans in the Roan Highlands and along the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina, and in Walker County, Georgia—where OSI has established a presence by assisting in the conservation of more than 2,500 acres in the last two years—helped protect habitat in those regions as well. 

In August, a more-than $4 million loan to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) enabled TNC and the Georgia Land Conservation Program to protect several miles of land adjacent to the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia, as well as an ancient forest containing champion trees, and rare and endangered species.

OSI teamed up with The Kestrel Trust for the third time in four years, this time to protect threatened farmland in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts. Using a bridge loan from OSI, Kestrel acquired an agricultural preservation restriction (APR) that will preserve 12 acres of prime agricultural land in the historic Great Meadow, the first farming zone in the town of Hadley.

Protecting Working Farms

A full 25 percent of New York State’s land area is devoted to farming, and OSI has been working for years to ensure the preservation of that agricultural heritage. Often utilizing conservation easements, we’ve protected thousands of acres, sustaining farmers and supporting the production of healthy, local food.

Also in the Shawangunks, and close to several other OSI farmland preservation sites, sits the 149-acre Domino dairy farm. OSI secured a conservation easement on the property in May as part of its ongoing effort to save working farms in New York’s scenic Rondout and Wallkill valleys. 

OSI acquired conservation easements on three different Orange County farms in the fall, keeping more than 300 acres in active farming. The farms sit in proximity to a number of additional OSI agricultural preservation projects, as we continue building a network of working farms in Sullivan and Orange counties.

Research and Best Practices

Although traditional land acquisition slowed predictably in 2009, OSI remained connected via a host of policy and financial issues that inform and surround land conservation, both in New York and regionally. One, a research study on timberland ownership trends in the eastern U.S., examines forestland conservation in light of the frequent ownership shifts that have left hundreds of thousands of acres potentially vulnerable to conversion. 

When Maine’s Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC) approved the Plum Creek Development Corporation’s revised development plan this fall, it closed a major chapter in the long-running debate about land use in the Northern Forest. Afterward, LURC members praised OSI for its thorough and objective analysis of Plum Creek’s development options. In the end, the commission endorsed a scaled-down plan that attempted to strike a balance between lucrative development and well-reasoned conservation. v

A landmark U.S. Court of Appeals decision in September set a significant precedent by permitting climate change litigation that OSI is involved with to proceed. The suit, brought in 2004 by eight different states, New York City, and several land trusts, including OSI, alleges that emissions from large utility companies have irreparably damaged public lands—some of which OSI protected.

In years to come, the court’s decision may ultimately be seen as a turning point in the climate change debate, as it opened the door for citizens to take action against big business polluters.

In an effort to provide for land protection on a national scale, OSI also put considerable firepower this year toward full funding of the nation’s Land and Water Conservation Fund. The primary federal fund dedicated to protecting our nation’s natural resources, its rejuvenation holds the key to land conservation on a national level.  

We invite you to take a moment to reflect on all that we have accomplished together this year and to make your year-end contribution to the Open Space Institute. We thank you for your past support and count on your generosity now more than ever—for what is most dear to us all, the land we love.

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