With its expansive forests, water resources, and spectacular vistas, the Catskill Park has been at the forefront of the Open Space Institute's land protection efforts since the time of its founding. Today, OSI is building on this commitment to conservation in the Catskills by making its protected land more accessible to visitors.
In 2019, OSI completed nine projects in the Catskill Park, protecting more than 1,500 acres, safeguarding a critical water source, and driving two impressive trail projects.
OSI’s year of conserving the Catskills began just a short ride from the city of Kingston, with the protection of a 208-acre property linking two sections of the Bluestone Wild Forest: Jockey Hill to the east and Onteora Lake to the west.
Then, OSI worked with partners, including Woodstock Land Conservancy and bicycle advocacy group Fats in the Cats to build a two-mile trail on the newly protected land, connecting existing trails within the forest, before transferring the property to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) as an addition to Bluestone.
“First we linked the properties and then we linked the trails,” says Tom Gravel, who oversees OSI’s conservation projects in the Catskills. “Together, these projects are creating a first-class destination for mountain bikers, walkers, and hikers.”
Not far from Bluestone and just west of the Ashokan Reservoir, the Sundown Wild Forest offers miles of hiking trails through thick pine forest. Here, OSI protected three properties, totaling more than 1,300 acres, all within the Ashokan Reservoir watershed. These acres add to the protected lands that naturally filter drinking water for millions of New York City residents.
On one of these projects, OSI worked with Delia and Sam Adams to conserve their family land. Delia recalls a conversation she had more than 50 years ago with her dad, Lawrence Kelder, when he introduced the idea of protecting the family property. ‘There is a great need in this world for conservation,’ he said to me, and that was a revolutionary statement. In the 1960s almost no one knew what the word conservation meant, but that idea has shaped our family’s entire relationship to this land.”
Family connections drove the conservation of another OSI Sundown acquisition; the now protected Golden lands also have the potential to serve as an eastern access point to the popular Ashokan High Point Trail.
In 2019, OSI also transferred an additional 247 acres to the DEC; one property was added to Vernooy Kill State Forest; the other to the Sundown Wild Forest.
To cap off the year, OSI joined with the community to celebrate the opening of the 11-mile Ashokan Rail Trail, which was conceived after OSI provided a $150,000 engineering grant to Ulster County to assess the feasibility of the project.
Reflecting on a year filled with Catskill projects, Gravel is proud of all that got done. “Working with families and partners who share OSI’s love of the land and are eager to protect it is always gratifying,” says Tom. “By making the Catskills more inviting, we’re hoping that today’s children will be similarly inclined to protect the Park. That’s what I am hoping every time I bring my daughters out for a hike in these woods.”