Stories

2021 Year-in-Review: Creating Strong Communities

Photo Credit: Black Urban Growers

OSI’s work touched places both urban and rural — from New Paltz to Newark, and in South Carolina, from quiet Dillon County to bustling Charleston.

In northern New Jersey, OSI secured a historic $65 million agreement to acquire a nine-mile Greenway on former rail line property in one of the most densely and diverse populated regions in the nation. The deal, which represents the single largest state investment for conservation in New Jersey history, follows more than three years of direct OSI negotiations and decades of local effort. The linear park will lead to greater, more equitable access to nature and recreational opportunities; alternative transportation; green community infrastructure; and economic activity.

OSI restored land to an Indigenous community in upstate New York in a move to conserve tribal culture, community, and ecology. In 2021, almost 400 years after their ancestors were removed from the land, Papscanee Island was returned by OSI to the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Community. The 156-acre property on the banks of the Hudson River near Albany had been protected from oil storage development by OSI in the 1990s. The story of the land and the community’s long journey home is featured in an OSI Story Map. “Our land is intrinsic to who we are, it's our identity,” said Bonney Hartley, the Community’s historic preservation manager. “The greatest gift is to have our land back.”

In South Carolina, OSI launched a year-long community-based planning effort with a multimedia Story Map for its Black River Trail and Park Network, a proposed 70-mile network of public and private recreational properties — including several protected by OSI — connected along the state’s scenic Black River. The centerpiece of the network is the OSI-protected Hinds Canada property, South Carolina’s first new state park in 15 years. Thus far, almost 1,500 residents have weighed in on the initiative, showing strong support for the transformative public resource.

Elsewhere in South Carolina, OSI’s protection of land for the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge will promote public access to the historic Hasty Point; and, its purchase of The Oaks, a 205-acre property on the State Scenic Ashley River, has added a key tract to the Ashley River Historic District, home to 300 years of the Lowcountry’s cultural and ecological heritage. These and more of OSI's land protection successes in South Carolina received a special spotlight when a collective of Charleston artists chose to dedicate their sale proceeds to OSI.

OSI Citizen Action group HarborLAB's Pride Month kayak trip celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community.
OSI Citizen Action group HarborLAB's Pride Month kayak trip celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community.
Photo Credit: HarborLAB

In northern New York, OSI secured a competitive federal grant to establish Saratoga County, New York’s first locally-owned community forest, which will clean water for the City of Saratoga Springs. The new project will serve as a dynamic community hub for multi-use recreation and offer connections to a larger trail system envisioned for the Palmertown Range, a sector of the Adirondack Foothills that runs from Fort Ticonderoga in the north to Saratoga Springs in the south. And, OSI transferred ownership of a 300-year-old farm in Ulster County to give it a new life as a base for organic heirloom seed production

OSI again welcomed a new round of McHenry Scholars to partner with regional nonprofits in the fields of environmental conservation, historic preservation, the arts, tourism, and healthy communities. This year’s recipients completed projects ranging from empowering Black, Indigenous, and People of Color farmers in maintaining and securing land ownership; and developing school gardens that are relevant to diverse groups of elementary school students.

Hand-in-hand with these awards, OSI also announced a new round of Malcolm Gordon Charitable Fund awardees for exceptional Hudson Valley organizations focusing on environmental education. This year’s recipients include a nonprofit that aims to help underrepresented youth build resilience by providing experiences in nature, and another organization that seeks to create a heritage trail highlighting the history of Black and Native American people in the Hudson Highlands.

Finally, OSI’s Citizen Action groups continued to make a difference in communities far and wide. In June, groups such as Christopher Park Alliance and HarborLAB held Pride Month programming that saluted the LGBTQIA+ community and its contributions to wellness and the great outdoors; while the plant therapy kits developed by environmental education start-up iDig2Learn proved to be a popular and effective way to keep New York City residents connected to the land during the pandemic.

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