Critical water resources and unique habitat preserved forever
Westchester Land Trust (WLT) announced the acquisition and conservation of 125 acres across three land preservation projects in the Town of Cortlandt, NY. The newly protected open space is a critical addition to an existing 2,700-acre conservation corridor within the Croton-to-Highlands Biodiversity Area which includes the Town’s Hudson Highlands Gateway Park, the Hudson Highlands State Park, and the Appalachian Trail. The land will be protected in perpetuity as a nature preserve and open to the public as soon as practical for hiking and nature study.
“This is an extremely important landscape-scale conservation project because it preserves one of the largest remaining pieces of unprotected open space in Westchester County and is located near other large blocks of open space,” said Lori Ensinger, President of WLT. “We have been working on this project for six years, and we are deeply grateful to all who contributed to its success. It is truly an investment in clean air and clean water for the residents of Cortlandt, Peekskill, and the surrounding communities.”
The property has a rich history. Originally inhabited by the indigenous peoples of the Lenape, or Delaware tribe, the proximity of the property to the Hudson River and its tributaries made it a likely seasonal Lenape camp site or hunting ground. The land also played a role in the American Revolution and is documented as the site of a military parade ground and gallows. Most recently, much of the property was used as a private camp until the 1980s. The land has remnants of an unmaintained trail system, a diversity of forested wetland habitats and views toward the Hudson Highlands. Permanently conserving this property protects locally unique habitats and woodlands that sequester carbon, buffers the Hudson River from stormwater runoff, and ensures that the land will not be further fragmented by development. WLT’s stewardship staff will develop a plan for opening a formal hiking trail system to the public, and for conducting research with conservation partners to study the land use history and unusual biodiversity on the property. Opportunities for local school groups and volunteers to participate in this work will be publicized locally.
“The land is remarkable in many ways,” said Brendan Murphy, WLT’s Director of Stewardship. “Most impressive are its stunning, but fragile wetlands and diverse terrain. This means the property is more resilient to the effects of climate change and provides shelter for important plants and wildlife, including several species designated by New York State as Threatened or Special Concern.”
Over 100 acres of the conservation assemblage on Sprout Brook Road was generously donated to WLT by the landowner, who has chosen to remain anonymous. This property had long been identified as a priority for preservation by the Town of Cortlandt, and WLT has collaborated with the Town over the past few years to plan for the future public enjoyment of the property. The donation also included a separate parcel that has been heavily damaged by extensive ATV trespass over the years, and WLT and the Town will be evaluating its future use.
Town of Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi stated “I am delighted to see the completion of a land protection project that has long been a goal of the Town. We are so thankful to the land donors, and to the Westchester Land Trust for investing their own funds in this property for the benefit of our community. It illustrates the balance we are trying to achieve between conservation of the most environmentally sensitive areas of town with development where it can reasonably be supported.”
To add to the assemblage, another landowner donated four acres of land on Kingston Avenue to WLT. In addition, WLT purchased a nearby 13-acre parcel on Birch Brook Road that protects the water quality of the Peekskill Hollow Creek, which is the drinking water supply for residents of the City of Peekskill.
This project was entirely privately underwritten. In addition to the donations of land, it was funded by a generous bequest from the Estate of Worthington Mayo-Smith, who was a former Director of WLT, a grant from The Nature Conservancy of New York’s Resilient and Connected Network grant program and WLT’s land acquisition fund. It is notable that these properties fall within one of seven priority linkage areas in New York State that were identified by The Nature Conservancy as providing critical connections between core forests.
WLT will be working with the Town of Cortlandt and conservation partner Hudson Highlands Land Trust to put a conservation easement on the preserve, adding an extra level of legal protection to the property.
For additional information, contact Kara H. Whelan, Vice President, at 914.234.6992 or Kara@westchesterlandtrust.org.