WILTON, NY (December 13, 2023) – The Open Space Institute (OSI) celebrates the opening of the Graphite Range Community Forest (GRCF), Saratoga County’s first community forest.
Owned by Saratoga County, the new community forest will be maintained by local nonprofit land trust Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land and Nature). As an essential early partner, OSI was an early supporter for the creation of the GRCF, securing initial funding, bringing together partners, and providing valuable legal services.
While the concept of community forests dates back hundreds of years, to qualify for funding under the US Forest Service’s Community Forest Program, community forests must be publicly accessible and provide community benefits such as recreational use. More than a dozen community forests have been formed under the program in the last decade, with GRCF being the first in Saratoga County – one of the fastest growing regions in New York State.
Stretching across more than 200 acres and containing more than five miles of multi-use trails, the community forest will be an off-road recreational hub for the surrounding communities, offering a space for environmental education and economic benefits for the region – all while helping to permanently protect the ecological value and resilience of the southern foothills of the Adirondacks, an area vital for natural resource connectivity.
OSI played a key role in the creation of the GRCF, including writing the initial grant application to the USDA’s Community Forest Program and coordinating grant management and follow-up reporting. OSI also provided nearly $100,000 in direct funding and legal services including due diligence, surveying, appraisal, and environmental assessments of the property. OSI has supported the creation of more than two dozen community forests in New York, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, conserving more than 40,000 acres for community use and benefit.
“Creation of this community forest underscores the value of conservation and the impact people can have when we work together toward a shared and worthy goal,” said Tatum Justice, OSI’s Northeast Land Project Manager. “OSI celebrates our partners at Saratoga PLAN, Saratoga County, and the Winter family for their vision and commitment to this project. We also thank the GRCF Advisory Committee, which defined what this forest could mean to the community.”
Nestled amid the picturesque Palmertown Range and within the towns of Wilton and Greenfield, GRCF is designed to cater to outdoor enthusiasts, offering various activities such as hiking, mountain biking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, birdwatching, nature photography, and more. The trail system is located just a few miles from downtown Saratoga Springs.
GRCF stands on land that the Winter family generously sold to Saratoga County at a decreased price in combination with a charitable donation. The project was then funded using a mix of grants and private donations, including a $120,000 grant from the Saratoga County Farmland and Open Space Program, a $391,000 grant from the U.S. Forestry Service, and over $215,000 from private donors. Alongside this, Saratoga PLAN and the GRCF Advisory Committee provided considerable support. The project’s cost of nearly $1 million was significantly offset by grants and private donations.
“GRCF will remain forested forever because of the Community Forest Program (CFP) and the dedicated efforts of our conservation partners,” said Neal Bungard, Eastern Region Community Forest and Open Space Program Manager with the USDA Forest Service. “Not only is the land now protected from conversion to non-forest uses, but it will be managed by a community involved and supported CFP, which will ensure that any activity on the property is conducted in furtherance of the CFP while continuing to provide the many public benefits this forest provides to the local community.”
The GRCF offers lush forest, a meadow, and babbling streams. Between 1908 and 1922, part of the property was used for mining graphite. Traces of the operation are still visible, including mine shaft openings.
With a mix of gently sloping paths and challenging ascents, this trail offers terrain to suit every level of hiker and mountain biker. Designed with inclusivity in mind, GRCF boasts well-maintained paths for visitors with varying physical abilities. Safety is also a top priority at the GRCF, with clearly marked routes and well-designed trails to ensure a secure and enjoyable outdoor experience.
Former landowners Ethan and Anne Winter said, “This project has been a labor of love, inspired by tremendous community support and generous contributions from nearly 200 families and local businesses. We thank Saratoga County, Open Space Institute, Saratoga PLAN and the USDA Community Forest Program for sharing the vision and making public access possible. Our family also wishes to recognize the trail volunteers, gracious neighbors, and many skilled hands who helped to install the new trails, bridges, fences, boardwalks, markers, interpretive signage, and parking area. We hope Graphite Range Community Forest can be a catalyst for more multi-use trails that get people outside in nature and build support for strategic land conservation in our area. It all about community building trails, and trails building community.”
“We’re thrilled to introduce the Graphite Range Community Forest to our community and visitors alike,” said Theodore T. Kusnierz, Jr., Chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. “The trail is a welcome addition to Saratoga County’s already robust trail system. Our goal is to promote an appreciation for the natural beauty in our region while fostering a sense of camaraderie among outdoor enthusiasts. We believe this trail will become a beloved destination for years to come. We thank the Winter family, Saratoga PLAN, GRCF advisory committee, and the many community members who made this project possible.”