Known for its celebrated thoroughbred racetrack, famed Revolutionary War battlefield, and history as a health and wellness destination, today’s Saratoga County is a fast-growing, sprawling community of high-end housing developments, superstores, endangered farmland, and new technology centers. With all this commercial expansion, the window of opportunity to protect this special place is fast closing. Within this community lies a landscape with world-class recreational potential, critically important habitat, and a forest products economy rarely found outside of the Adirondack Park boundary.
Hoping to take advantage of this opportunity to develop a long-term conservation strategy, the Open Space Institute and local partners are joining forces to create a master plan that will not only set priorities and strategies, but also identify new stakeholder partners across varied interests and sectors to develop a “green corridor” in the Palmertown Range, one of the wildest and most natural terrains in Saratoga County.
“We all know that smart land conservation strengthens communities — economically, culturally, recreationally, and by protecting our drinking water,” says Katie Petronis, OSI’s Northern Program Director. “But by engaging with the community and reaching out beyond traditional land partners through a planning process, we can really build support for smart, effective conservation.”
Such is the goal of the recently completed master plan for New York’s Southern Palmertown Range, located in the Adirondack foothills. Here, not far from the population centers of Glens Falls and Wilton, the landscape that extends from Saratoga Springs north to Fort Ticonderoga is filled with extensive, unfragmented forests and wetlands.
Working together with local land trust Saratoga PLAN, OSI is engaging with a broad alliance of residents, state agencies, leaders from the business community, local governments, and recreational users to build support for land conservation — and to find new allies in the process.The new master plan sets long-term land acquisition goals, promotes community forests, seeks to expand trails and other recreation options, bolsters recreation- based businesses, and encourages sustainable forest-based economic activity. Among the most ambitious aims of the plan is establishing a thirteen- mile-long, north-south conservation corridor and trail system connecting Saratoga Spa State Park and Moreau Lake State Park.
“The Master Plan not only seeks to create a ‘green corridor’ in this fast-growing region, it also seeks to leverage our conservation successes for more livable, prosperous communities,” says Arthur Johnson, supervisor of the Town of Wilton. “A new trail system connecting the two popular state parks would be an enormous boon for this area.”
Just three months after its completion, OSI achieved the Master Plan’s first significant conservation victory, by acquiring the 890-acre Smith Farm property that adjoins Moreau Lake State Park. This property was a Master Plan conservation priority, and the acquisition marks OSI’s return to Moreau, where for the past 25 years OSI has protected more than 3,400 acres of the 4,500-acre park, including 14 miles of pristine Hudson River shoreline.
“It’s great to be able to point to a tangible, successful project identified in the plan as we move forward,” says Petronis. “This park is sensational, and the community really loves it. Being able to kick off implementation of the Master Plan with a solid accomplishment sets the right tone moving forward.”
Maria Trabka from Saratoga PLAN shares Petronis’ enthusiasm. “This new ‘green corridor’ called for under the community strategy has the potential to establish this community as a hub of trails and protected lands. Moreover, we are underscoring the point that smart conservation makes communities stronger, healthier, and more vibrant.” And that, she notes, “is exactly what we want to achieve as we set out down this planning road.”