Palmertown2 robert Stone Aerial

Raising Funds for Trail Building at the Graphite Range, a Saratoga County Community Forest

Image Credit: Robert Stone/Lighthawk

SARATOGA COUNTY, NY (May 31, 2022)--A fundraising effort to create more than five miles of trails for mountain biking, hiking and more in the towns of Wilton and Greenfield in Saratoga County is currently underway. The effort is the result of a partnership between the Open Space Institute (OSI), Saratoga PLAN, Saratoga County, Wilton Partners LLC, and other Palmertown Partners. The group is also working to permanently conserve a 202-acre property, which will be acquired by Saratoga County for a community forest.

Saratoga Community Forest Graphite Mine
The 'caves' are actually openings in the side of a graphite mine that follow the contour of a rock ledge.

Graphite Range Community Forest will provide an essential linkage of multiuse recreational trails within a larger, 50-mile trail network known as the Sarah B. Foulke Friendship Trail System. The fundraising effort supports the acquisition and conservation of the property, as well as the creation of a world-class trail system and amenities. Family-friendly trails are being built this spring and summer, and it is expected that the property will be purchased by Saratoga County sometime this coming fall.

“The Saratoga County Community Forest property provides a key connection within the Palmertown Range green corridor and builds on a larger collaborative conservation effort that is helping to transform this region into a prime recreational destination,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of the Open Space Institute, which has protected more than 3,300 acres over the last six years within the Palmertown Range. “We are proud to be part of this wonderful community effort to create Saratoga’s first publicly-owned community forest and, with the addition of a trail network, make the land more welcoming for all.”

The Open Space Institute (OSI), a key partner for the Palmertown Range project, is working closely with Saratoga PLAN and Saratoga County to facilitate the purchase of a 202-acre Saratoga County Community Forest property in the Palmertown Range. In addition to negotiating the sale of the property, OSI leveraged years of experience to lead grant-writing efforts that resulted in the Saratoga County Community Forest Project receiving $391,000 from the USDA Forest Service’s Community Forest Program toward project costs; and is conducting all necessary due diligence work prior to the acquisition of the community forest. OSI is also managing the community forest project budget and is acting as a liaison to communicate grant requirements and updates with USDA Forest Service on behalf of the County.

“This is truly becoming not just a community-oriented project, but also a community-driven one. People are rallying to contribute through all kinds of creative ways, offering their talents, making donations, and volunteering,” said Maria Trabka of Saratoga PLAN. “This community-managed forest is certainly on its way to becoming a treasured community resource – and one that will endure for generations to come. Outdoor community places are essential for our health, prosperity, and wellbeing, and we are very fortunate that Saratoga County recognizes the multitude of public benefits and environmental services that conserved lands offer for current and future generations.”

Saratoga PLAN, a conservation organization helping people preserve the rural character, natural habitats, and scenic beauty of the Saratoga County region, has played a fundamental role in preserving the quality of life in Saratoga County. “Partnering with local municipalities, state agencies, Skidmore College, Saratoga County, and the Open Space Institute, PLAN’s primary role has been in providing the glue and support so that everyone in the community has a chance to participate in conserving land and planning and building an extensive trail network that is welcoming, accessible, and accommodates a variety of users’ needs,” Trabka said.

Saratoga Community Forest

A Rich Forest with an Even Richer History

Current property owner Ethan Winter and his wife, Anne, moved to the area 17 years ago. “We were immediately drawn to the Adirondacks,” said Ethan Winter of Wilton Partners LLC. “With the Graphite Range Community Forest, we are honoring and sharing this special place in the hope that others will be inspired to appreciate and care for these resources. It's also important to create welcoming access that enables everyone to experience what we are blessed with here.

While not opening to the public until fall 2022, Graphite Range is envisioned as a recreational hub for the surrounding communities as well as a space for environmental education. Permanently protecting the property’s ecological value and resilience is key, too, because it’s located in the southern foothills of the Adirondacks, an area vital for regional natural resource connectivity. Three stream corridors serve as headwater tributaries for the Snook Kill and Spring Run, which feeds Loughberry Lake, the source of the City of Saratoga Springs’ drinking water.

Historically, most of the property was used as timberland, although a small portion abutting Route 9 was used as a golf driving range through the 90s. Between 1900-1920, the property was used for mining graphite. Traces of the operation are still visible, including old, mossy foundations, large grinding stones, and deep pits in the side of a cliff where the graphite was extracted. Historic interpretation and education await visitors who wish to journey back in time.

Now, the property features a rocky ridgeline with a high score for climate-resilient habitat or native species, lush, forested ravines carved by tumbling creeks, and a diversity of mixed northern hardwoods crisscrossed by logging roads ready for recreation.

Saratoga County’s First Community Forest

Graphite Range Community Forest is unique in that it will be the first community forest to be owned by Saratoga County, hopefully serving as a model for future citizen-run forests in the area.

In the community forest model of land conservation, municipalities or community-based organizations own the forestland and local citizens participate in the planning and management of forests. Community Forests provide multiple and significant benefits to the community and the protection of this property will not only prevent development of the land, but also safeguard the land’s natural resources and drinking water quality, protect the property’s carbon stores, and provide a site for community recreation and education.

Unparalleled Support for the Community Forest

The Saratoga County Community Forest is backed by federal and county grants as well as strong individual support. The project was awarded $391,000 from the USDA Forest Service’s Community Forest Program. Additionally, Saratoga County has exclusively pledged $120,000, plus an additional $20,000 to benefit municipal access.

Sizeable gifts from individuals and local foundations have collectively contributed $150,000 towards the project, too, all of which will be matched (up to $150,000) by a local family. Among the numerous local contributors is long-time PLAN supporter, the Christopher Dailey Foundation.

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