OSI preserves agricultural heritage lands, New Paltz scenic views and new public trails

NEW PALTZ, NY—February 11, 2015—Realizing one of New Paltz’s top conservation goals, the Open Space Institute (OSI) today announced the acquisition of prime scenic farmland, long recognized as the bucolic backdrop to New Paltz and one of the first and best views for travelers heading west along Rt. 299 from the town. The transaction will preserve the agricultural landscape and establish a framework to link the town with protected lands atop the Shawangunk Ridge, creating a premier recreational corridor.

OSI’s preservation of the 135-acre Watchtower property, a $2.1 million acquisition, achieves one of the top priority project goals of New Paltz’s Open Space and Farmland Protection plans. The property is widely recognized for its scenic and agricultural value, and its acquisition will preserve scenic views of the Shawangunk Ridge, while enhancing recreational and farming opportunities for years to come.

“It is gratifying that OSI’s long-standing commitment to New Paltz and Ulster County has resulted in this huge conservation win, with a recreational trail that will be among the most scenic in North America,” said Kim Elliman, OSI’s President and CEO. “This transaction caps years of conservation efforts that will permanently protect this irreplaceable scenic, agricultural and recreational landscape, while preserving the community character of New Paltz.”

“OSI’s protection of this iconic property will not only preserve the incredible beauty of our area for generations to come but will also make possible critical connections between New Paltz and the extensive trail network along the Shawangunk Ridge,” noted Ulster County Executive Mike Hein. “As the County continues to develop and connect its growing bike and pedestrian trail network, we are grateful for OSI’s leadership and work towards realizing the vision to create a world-class tourism destination and keeping Ulster County a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

“The acquisition of the watchtower property by the OSI enhances the value of the community as a recreational destination, while preserving the natural beauty of the local landscape,” said Assemblymember Kevin Cahill, representative of the 103rd Assembly District. “The establishment of a major trail corridor, such as the one made possible by the new acquisition, is a valuable bolster to the area’s already thriving tourist economy. I look forward to continuing to work with the OSI to responsibly develop recreational opportunities in our region.”

“The trail system envisioned in association with the  protection of Watchtower, will provide New Paltz residents greater and more varied recreational opportunities, said Jason West, mayor of the Village of New Paltz. “Now, someone in downtown New Paltz will be able to walk, hike, bike, snowshoe or ski up to the Shawangunk ridgeline, formerly only accessible by car.”

“New Paltz is that rare town whose planning foresight has combined with citizen support to bring about concerted conservation success, to the benefit of many,” said Jeff Logan, New Paltz Deputy Town Supervisor. “We are delighted to be a part of this important conservation and recreation project that also protects our citizens’ scenic viewshed and brings our community closer to the ‘Bridge-to-the-Ridge’ connection.”

“The purchase by OSI of the Watchtower property is most appreciated and ensures that this most iconic of all New Paltz views survives in perpetuity for future generations of this community,” said Marty Irwin, Chair of the New Paltz Clean Water and Open Space Protection Commission. “OSI is demonstrating to the residents of New Paltz that there certainly is a very direct connection between land conservation, biodiversity protection, farmland protection and economic development.”

“Wallkill View Farm and the Ferrante family are delighted to work with OSI on this important conservation project,” said Peter Ferrante, a partner of Wallkill View Farm. “For three generations our family has lived and farmed in the middle of this spectacular landscape. The acquisition of the Watchtower property and Van Alst Farm by OSI will permanently preserve a long-time agricultural heritage, protect prized community views, and allow the public to use and enjoy a multi-use recreational trail from the Wallkill River to the Shawangunk Ridge.”

“We thank and congratulate OSI on taking this major step to help realize the longstanding vision of the people of New Paltz for the entire foothills region as expressed in their open space plan,” said Mohonk Preserve Executive Director Glenn Hoagland. “This project complements the Preserve’s commitment to whole-landscape, mixed-use conservation and extending river-to-ridge access for the public.”

“The Wallkill Valley Land Trust is ecstatic that the Watchtower property was successfully conserved,” said Chris Bernabo, President of Wallkill Valley Land Trust. “The property is key to protecting the unique rural character of the New Paltz landscape, and vital to giving New Paltz that unique sense of place that makes living here so special.”

Preserving New Paltz’s Premier Scenic and Agricultural Landscape

This acquisition of this prominent agricultural open space is important in that it preserves the scenic backdrop to the town of New Paltz and protects a scenic and historic farm. 

Historically, the protected lands of the Shawangunk Ridge were located several miles west of the Village of New Paltz, separated by extensive agricultural flats and a low-lying set of hills known as the Butterville Hills. Acquisition of the Watchtower property builds on a decade-long commitment by OSI to connect the protected lands of the Shawangunk Ridge to the Wallkill River, while supporting the strong tradition and economic viability of agricultural operations in the area. 

Since 2011, OSI has purchased approximately 1,200 acres of scenic farmland lying between the Village of New Paltz and the Shawangunk Ridge, including the 856-acre Mohonk Foothills tract, the Van Alst Farm, the Studley farm on Butterville Road and now, the Watchtower property. All of these contiguous acquisitions bring the protected lands of the Shawangunk Ridge to the Wallkill River and the foot of the Village of New Paltz.   

The Watchtower parcel will remain on the town’s tax rolls as an agricultural property, with the expectation that the prime agricultural parcel will largely remain in use as a working farm. Talks are currently underway between OSI and the owners of the neighboring Wallkill View Farm that would allow the thriving farm located south of Rt. 299 to expand its operation to the newly acquired land. 

Building a Premier Recreational Corridor

The scenic beauty and unique geology of Shawangunk Ridge has made the area a regional mecca for outdoor recreation. Large tracts of open space have been protected and are managed as Minnewaska State Park Preserve, the Mohonk Preserve and other conservation holdings. 

The Watchtower acquisition will allow OSI, working with the Mohonk Preserve, Wallkill Valley Land Trust, the Town of New Paltz and other partners, to develop a network of recreational trails beginning at the Carmine Liberta Bridge spanning the Wallkill River and run west across the New Paltz Flats and Butterville Hills to connect to the larger network of recreational trails and destinations on the Shawangunk Ridge. The proposed recreational corridor, which is expected to include the parcel known locally as the “Hillside” property, will support hiking, bicycling and cross-country skiing activities. The trail project will be privately funded by OSI and its partners, with no additional costs to the town or county.

OSI will lead in the development, construction, maintenance and patrol of the new “New Paltz Flats Trails” to ensure that they are well-planned and cared for; and that they balance the interests of recreational users, successful agricultural operations and area residents. OSI is providing outreach to Wallkill View Farm and neighboring property owners to discuss the anticipated farming and trail expansions.

The preservation of the Watchtower property is crucial to realizing ambitious goals in Ulster County to create the premier network of recreational trails on the east coast, attracting visitors to ski, hike, bike and enjoy an unparalleled network of carriage roads and rail trails that spans the width and length of Ulster County.

When completed, this recreational trail network will include the extensive carriage road networks on the Shawangunk Ridge, running from Sam’s Point to the northernmost reaches of the ridge in Rosendale, and connect to rail trails that will run from the Walkway Over the Hudson to the high peaks of the Catskill Mountains as well as from Kingston south to Ellenville and points south. The recreational trails will also wind through and showcase the agricultural work of the nonprofit Glynwood Farm, which runs the largest (by acreage) farm incubator in the United States on lands leased from the Mohonk Preserve.

A Continuing Commitment to Preservation and Recreational Access in New Paltz, the Shawangunks and the Catskills

OSI has been preserving open space in the Shawangunk and Catskill regions for the last 40 years, acquiring over 33,000 acres of ridgetop lands and scenic farmland on the Shawangunk Ridge and tens of thousands of acres of forest lands in the Catskills.

OSI’s preservation efforts go hand-in-hand with its commitment to improving the public’s access to these spectacular settings. Through the work of OSI and its partners, Minnewaska State Park Preserve has more than doubled to more than 22,000 acres; the park’s Hamilton Park carriage road has been fully restored; the Rosendale Trestle has been preserved and converted to a pedestrian walkway; and more than 10 miles of rail trail in the towns of Rosendale and Ulster have been renovated for public recreational use.  

Looking ahead, OSI is working with a number of partners, including the New York State Office of Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, Ulster County, Mohonk Preserve, Wallkill Valley Land Trust, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail Association, Kingston Land Trust, Woodstock Land Conservancy, Catskill Mountainkeeper and others, to build on this success in support of an expanding Shawangunk-Catskill Trail Network. When ultimately realized, three separate rail trails will be connected into a network comprised of:

  • Wallkill Valley Rail Trail – currently 22 miles in length, this rail trail will ultimately run from the Village of Walden, through Gardiner, New Paltz and Rosendale and into the City of Kingston. 
  • O&W Rail Trail – this rail trail could eventually extend from the Sullivan County border and Village of Ellenville to the City of Kingston, where it will connect to the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and future Ulster County Rail Trail.
  • Ulster County Rail Trail Project – owned by Ulster County, this proposed rail trail would run from the City of Kingston to the Ashokan Reservoir and High Peaks of the Catskills, a distance of at least 18 miles.

When taken into account with the nearby Kingston Point Trail, a 1.5-mile rail trail currently under construction that would connect mid-town Kingston and the three trails above with the Hudson River, the group will form a nearly 100-mile rail trail network. Furthermore, these rail trails will connect to the 110-mile long network of Victorian-era carriage roads on the Shawangunk Ridge in both New Paltz (via the new New Paltz Flats Trails) and the Village of Ellenville (via the Smiley Carriage Road), allowing hikers, skiers and bicyclists to cross the vast expenses of wilderness lands on the Shawangunk Ridge to traverse from New Paltz to Ellenville. 

Other connections to this major trail network are ultimately envisioned, including a pedestrian bike trail which connects New Paltz to the Highland (Hudson Valley Rail Trail), the Walkway Over the Hudson, the Duchess Rail Trail, and the extension of the O & W Rail Trail south into Sullivan County, where it will connect the extensive stretches of rail trail owned by OSI and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation at the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area.

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