WAWARSING, NY(Dec. 27, 2022)— The Open Space Institute (OSI) today announced the permanent protection of land in the Town of Wawarsing. Completion of the project marks a critical step in establishing a green corridor between the Catskill Park and the Shawangunk Ridge. The property will safeguard local sources of clean drinking water; provide critical wildlife habitat; expand recreational options into the future; and, through its capture and storage of carbon, aid in efforts to fight climate change.
OSI purchased the more than 1,000-acre “Shawangunk-Catskill Connector” property from T&T Associates, Inc. for $2.3 million. The property is situated in Ulster County between the southern boundary of the Catskill Park and the northwestern boundary of the Shawangunk Ridge.
Now protected from future development, the acquisition is a critical step toward establishing regional trail connectivity of forested lands.
“With the permanent protection of this property, a years-long effort to link the Catskill Park to the Shawangunk Ridge is finally taking shape,” said Kim Elliman, OSI’s president and CEO. “In fast growing regions like Ulster County, it is becoming increasingly important for OSI to identify conservation opportunities, and act swiftly and with determination to save the land that matters for the health of our of our families, our communities, and our planet.”
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “Thanks to the significant connectivity this land acquisition will provide to the Catskill Park and the Shawangunk Ridge, New Yorkers will have new and enhanced opportunities for outdoor recreation ranging from hiking, biking, hunting and birdwatching. DEC is proud to be working with the Open Space Institute in this partnership effort to protect state land and ensure that future generations of visitors have the chance to experience the scenic wonder of the region’s natural landscape, while also preserving sensitive habitats for wildlife.”
“The Town of Wawarsing is a Climate Smart Community, and OSI’s protection of more than 1,000 acres of forest and precious wetlands helps us accomplish our environmental goals,” said Town of Wawarsing Supervisor Terry Houck. “In 2019, the Town identified this area as a Critical Environmental Area and I’m glad to see that OSI has taken the necessary steps to ensure this property is permanently protected to provide recreational opportunities and clean water to residents, visitors, and future generations.”
The Shawangunk-Catskill Connector Property is an essential part of creating a corridor linking more than 30,000 acres of protected land along the Shawangunk Ridge to more than 288,000 acres of protected land in the Catskill Forest Preserve. The corridor will serve as an important landscape-level connection that will support the movement of people and wildlife between the two landscapes.
With several existing roads running throughout the property, the land has the potential to support multiple recreational uses, including hiking and mountain biking. Future trails on the property could eventually connect to an existing network of recreational trails and carriage roads, including regional trail networks OSI is developing throughout the Hudson River Valley.
The Shawangunk-Catskill Connector property contains extensive wetlands and streams, including the headwaters of the Brandy Brook and Fantine Kill, which flow to the Rondout Creek and ultimately to the Hudson River.
A significant part of the local watershed, the Shawangunk-Catskill Connector property will safeguard clean drinking water for surrounding communities, filtering rainwater as it enters the well-field that serves the Napanoch Water District.
Nationally, forests and other land sequester more than 15 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions each year, providing a natural climate solution that is helping in the fight against climate change. The Shawangunk-Catskill Connector property is heavily forested and stores and captures significant amounts of carbon, two key benefits protected and well-managed forests provide communities.
According to OSI’s data analysis, the property stores more than 92,000 metric tons of carbon, or more than 90 metric tons per acre, in soils and trees. In a 2017 report, the USDA Forest Service announced that, on average, forests in the United States store about 85 metric tons of carbon per acre.
The property also contains multiple types of wildlife habitat and is home to a diversity of plant and animal species. The property contains the majority of a 360-acre Spruce-Fir swamp, which is designated as a significant natural community by the DEC New York Natural Heritage Program. Within a corridor that has been labeled as “above average” in terms of resilience, the property is uniquely positioned to continue to support a diverse array of plants and animals even as the climate changes.
Creating a conservation corridor connecting the Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskills Park Preserve has been a long-time goal of OSI and surrounding communities. The Shawangunk-Catskill Connector property is identified as a priority conservation acquisition in the New York State Open Space Plan and the Town of Wawarsing 2019 Comprehensive Plan. Now permanently protected, the property was also designated by the Town of Wawarsing as a “Critical Environmental Area.”
The property is anticipated to be transferred to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) as additional protected land for public recreational use.
About the Open Space Institute
The Open Space Institute protects scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to provide public enjoyment, conserve habitat and working lands and sustain communities. Founded in 1974, initially, to protect significant landscapes in New York State, today, OSI has been a partner in the protection of over 2.3 million acres in North America.
Over the past 40 years, OSI has protected more than 33,000 acres on and along the Shawangunk Ridge in Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties—a total more than twice the size of Manhattan. The work, achieved with the support of local partners and generous donors, has expanded parkland, created trails, preserved local viewsheds, and protected vulnerable farmland and wildlife habitats.
In 2009, OSI partnered with the Wallkill Valley Land Trust to acquire 9.5 miles of the Rosendale and Ulster sections of what is now the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. OSI raised $1.5 million to restore the Trail's Rosendale Trestle and completed a $1.1 million renovation of the northern stretch of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail in 2020. The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail adjoins OSI's 6-mile River-to-Ridge loop trail, NY which traverses more than 360 acres of land protected by OSI. The River-to-Ridge Trail meanders through farm fields and over gently rolling hills, connecting New Paltz directly to the Shawangunk Ridge, with over 90 miles of recreational carriage roads and trails at the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park Preserve, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, and the Empire State Trail.
In 2011, OSI partnered with the Wallkill Valley Land Trust to acquire the 118-acre Joppenbergh Mountain in the Ulster County hamlet of Rosendale. The mountain sits along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail near the north end of the Rosendale Trestle.
In 2015, OSI partnered with Ulster County by providing $150,000 towards a feasibility and engineering study for the Ashokan Rail Trail. After the OSI-funded study was completed, the Ashokan Rail Trail was designed and constructed by Ulster County through a partnership with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the trail was opened in 2019.
Over the years OSI has continued to add to the mosaic of protected lands in the area. Committed to protecting the Shawangunk Ridge and improving public access to protected lands, OSI has more than doubled the size of Minnewaska State Park preserve; rebuilt over 15 miles of Minnewaska’s historic carriage roads; and most recently, OSI raised more than $3 million toward the design and construction of the Minnewaska Visitor Center which opened in 2020.