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Funding New York State's Great Open Space Plan
Comments on the plan will be accepted until 4:45pm, December 17, 2014.
Public comments will be accepted until 4:45 on December 17, 2014 via email or by mailing:
Open Space Conservation Program
NYS DEC, 625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233-4250
email: [email protected].
Trail Conference Talking Points re NYS Draft Open Space Plan
Trail Conference Senior Program Coordinator Jeff Senterman was a member of the committees that drafted recommendations for DEC Regions 3 & 4 in this Draft NYS Revised Open Space Conservation Plan for 2014.
The Trail Conference is very pleased with the Open Space recommendations for DEC Regions 3 (p. 87) & 4, which together cover the area of New York in which our organization is most active in New York State.
Trail Conference staff and volunteers work extensively with state and local partners throughout these regions to preserve, maintain, and build trails for public access; to connect preserved lands with trails; and to preserve land for its conservation, recreational, and economic values and benefits.
With respect to this draft plan, we want to highlight and endorse several specific projects:
Shawangunk Ridge Area
- We strongly endorse the high priority given in this plan to protecting trail linkages along the Shawangunk Ridge and associated Basha Kill Wildlife Management Area, and ask DEC and the Governor to make this area a land acquisition funding priority in 2015.
- Despite the fact that the state has identified the Ridge as a priority area for open space protection for many years, worked with the Trail Conference in the past to add land to ridgetop state forests, and is currently funding Trail Conference efforts to promote a Gunks Greenway on the Shawangunk Ridge, in recent years it has consistently failed to back up its efforts with funds for additional land acquisition.
- The Trail Conference, a small nonprofit, has put its own money into protecting key parcels along the Shawangunk Ridge, where we have developed a now 70-mile Shawangunk Ridge Trail. This trail is gaining attention among outdoor recreationists, most recently being the site of an inaugural multi-day, trail racing event that brought participants from out of the area.
- Appendix E of the draft 2014 New York State Open Space Plan proposes to amend the NYS Forest Legacy Program Assessment of Need (AON) to include a new Shawangunk Ridge Forest Legacy Area (FLA). This would allow the NY State DEC to apply for federal cost share funds to assist with protection of valuable forest lands in the Shawangunk Ridge Region. The Trail Conference supports this recommendation for the following reasons:
- The proposed Shawangunk Ridge FLA is outstanding in the degree to which it meets ALL of the criteria for establishing a Forest Legacy Area in New York State.
- Notably, it contains two Regional Priority Conservation Project areas identified in the draft 2014 NYS Open Space Plan — Shawangunk Mountains Region and the Bashakill Wetland System — and overlaps portions of nine others (Neversink Highlands, Lower Neversink River Valley, Karst Aquifer Region, Great Rondout Wetlands, Plutarch/Black Creek Wetlands, Bashakill Wetland System, Hudson Valley/New York City Foodshed, New York Highlands and the Wallkill Valley) and amply provides all seven of the public benefits outlined in the FLA criteria.
- Development poses the most urgent and direct threat to forests in the proposed FLA area, particularly along unprotected ridgetop areas in the southern portion of the FLA and in the US Route 209 corridor which flanks the ridge to the west along its entire length. In addition, commercial development continues to expand along Route 209 in Wawarsing and Rochester, threatening some of the most viable routes for connectivity between the Shawangunk Ridge and Catskill Mountain landscapes. The overarching goal of the proposed Shawangunk Ridge FLA is to maintain high levels of forest cover within the FLA (>75%), with a focus on expanding and connecting important forest blocks in order to protect important forest habitats and maintain water quality. Expanded land protection efforts would protect and/or enhance the myriad benefits that forest lands currently provide in the region, including habitat for wildlife, clean air and water, quality-of-life attributes and economic returns for local communities.
Hudson Highlands Area
We endorse the recommendations to expand protection of lands in the Hudson Highlands, both east and west of the Hudson River, including:
- Fahnestock and Hudson Highlands State Parks, where the Trail Conference works extensively with state park managers to preserve, maintain, and build trails for public access;
- Northern Putnam Greenway: Trail Conference is partnering with state, NYC, and private land managers to extend trails and connect land parcels for conservation and recreation benefits
- Schunnemunk Mtn, Moodna Creek, Woodcock Mtn, Goosepond State Park, Sterling Forest, Hudson Highlands connectivity projects
Long-Distance Trail Corridors, Networks and Linkages
- The Trail Conference strongly supports this expanded section and the new trails and trail types that have been included in the 2014 draft. The Trail Conference looks forward to working with New York on long distance trails where we have management responsibility including the Appalachian Trail, Long Path and the Highlands Trail.
The need for this plan, and for funds to make things in it happen—is perhaps nowhere made more evident than in the current controversies surrounding development plans at Sterling Forest and Harriman State Parks, where the lack of protection for contiguous land parcels has resulted in significant threats to the parks and watersheds via proposals for massive casino resorts. The Trail Conference and other groups are actively opposing these threats to some of our most important conservation lands.
While we have nothing but praise for the goals and recommendations in this plan, the realities of NYS budget decisions in recent years that have essentially wiped out funds for land acquisition by the state, require us to ask, How are these recommendations going to be achieved?
Are there plans to restore meaningful funding for land acquisition in next year’s EPF?
If not, what new sources of funding are proposed?
We urge everyone attending these public hearings to contact the Governor’s office and their state representatives in the Assembly and State Senate (especially after their swearing in in January), and ask them to RESTORE MEANINGFUL LAND ACQUISITION FUNDS TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION FUND IN 2015. WE ARE ASKING FOR RESTORATION TO THE 2008 LEVEL OF $66 MILLION.