Putting the rocks back in rock climbing in the Shawangunks

NEW YORK, NY — March 10, 2010 — The Open Space Institute (OSI) announced today the acquisition and permanent protection of 67 acres of dramatic cliff face on the southeastern edge of the Shawangunk Ridge. The area has cliffs reaching 350 feet in height and massive boulders at its base, making it visible from across the Hudson Valley. The property has played an important role in regional rock climbing history, provides key habitat for rare plants and cliff-dwelling animals (such as peregrine falcons and five-lined skink), and is part of an international flyway for raptors and migratory songbirds.

Known locally as the Millbrook Mountain Cliffs, the property was acquired by OSI’s land acquisition affiliate, the Open Space Conservancy, from longtime landowner Julien J. Studley. OSI’s acquisition now paves the way for opening the site up for public access and enjoyment, as it will be added to the neighboring Mohonk Preserve for management as a public recreation area.

“This project reflects the strong partnership among landowners and conservation organizations that exists in the Shawangunks, and which ultimately benefits the public and the environment,” said Joe Martens, OSI’s president. “This is not only a visually stunning parcel of land; it is also of interest to the international rock climbing community and ecologists.”

In the 1930s, renowned climbers Fritz Weissner and Hans Kraus discovered the rock formations that today make the Shawangunks one of the most challenging and popular rock climbing sites on the East Coast. Weissner and Kraus forged a path on the highest cliff in the area—located on the just-protected Millbrook Mountain Cliffs parcel—which not only established rock climbing as a sport in America, but established the Shawangunks as a mecca for the sport.

The rock formations that comprise the cliffs on the Shawangunk Ridge feature many different microhabitats for plants and animals, making the talus on the property a rare and unique ecosystem. As such, it had been regarded as a conservation priority in the New York State and Town of Gardiner open space plans.

The Open Space Institute has protected more than 26,000 acres over the last two decades along the Shawangunk Ridge, from Rosendale in Ulster County to Port Jervis on the New York–New Jersey border. Over the past several years OSI has teamed up with Mohonk to add more than 500 acres to the Preserve, which is the largest publicly supported nature preserve in New York State.

The Mohonk Preserve safeguards and manages in perpetuity nearly 7,000 acres of mountain ridges, forests, fields, streams, ponds, and other unique environments. Every year 150,000 visitors come to the Preserve to rock climb, mountain bike, hike, ski, and study and enjoy nature.

“For over thirty years I have lived at the base of the Shawangunk Ridge and marveled at its beauty and grandeur,” said Julien Studley. “These pristine and unspoiled lands mean the world to me, and I am pleased to pass on this legacy of stewardship to the Open Space Institute and the Mohonk Preserve.”

“This acquisition is based on today’s land protection strategies, but has deep roots in the historic appreciation for the unique qualities of the area,” said Glenn Hoagland, executive director of the Mohonk Preserve. “Climbers will now be able to enjoy the challenges and beauty of Millbrook Mountain and the land will be protected forever. We are grateful to Julien Studley, OSI, and our generous supporters for making this possible.”

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