In late July, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a series of upcoming actions that the state is taking to expand the protection and conservation of New York’s parks and open spaces. “Getting outside and enjoying nature has been one of the few pleasures for many New Yorkers during these challenging times and with the continued expansion of preservation we are providing even more opportunity for recreation while ensuring that critical open spaces are protected,” Governor Cuomo said.
The State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the advocacy group Parks & Trails New York have awarded grants to improve and expand successful park stewardship. Not-for-profits that manage and maintain 29 different State Parks, historic sites, and public lands received the grants. The Park and Trail Partnership Program grants are funded through the state Environmental Protection Fund, which has awarded $2.7 million through this initiative since its establishment in 2015. The grants, totaling $900,000 in this fifth round of the program, aim to:
- Enhance and maintain New York State parks, trails, historic sites and public lands
- Increase sustainability, effectiveness, productivity, volunteerism and fundraising capabilities of parks and trails not-for-profit organizations
- Promote the tourism and economic benefits of outdoor recreation
In addition, the state has added thousands of acres to Taconic Ridge State Forest and Berlin State Forest that will protect critical open space and expand outdoor recreation to support local economies. These forests, located along the Massachusetts and Vermont border in Rensselaer County, are gateways in the Taconic Mountains that conserve important natural resources and promote outdoor recreation.
The new acquisitions will add 2,446 acres to Taconic Ridge and 3,343 acres to Berlin State through a partnership with The Conservation Fund. The parcels, known as the Stickles, Nugent, East Mountain, and Misery Mountain tracts, were added using $4.85 million from the Environmental Protection Fund. These acquisitions will double the size of both state forests and provide connection between valuable recreational resources, including the Taconic Crest Trail. The land will become part of a larger 16,000-acre working forest landscape that supports the Rensselaer Plateau and Taconic Region’s forest economy, including wood supply to local mills, recreational access, and protection for water quality and wildlife habitat.
The region supports several unique wetland communities, including sedge meadow, dwarf shrub bog, spruce-fir swamp, and kettle hole bog. Mammals that are not typically found in the greater Capital region live here, as well, such as black bears, fishers, otters, bobcats, and moose. Rensselaer Plateau is included on National Audubon Society’s list of Important Bird Areas in New York. The large forest blocks, expanded by these acquisitions, extend wildlife corridors to other forested areas and provide potential refuge for wildlife moving away from southern areas or lower elevations in response to climate change.
The Governor’s office also announced the start of a construction project on a new section of the Erie Canalway Trail between Ilion and Mohawk in Herkimer County. The trail will be built by Carver Construction of Altamont and is expected to be completed by the winter of 2020. It includes a 10-foot wide, 1.9-mile asphalt path and a 130-foot-long pedestrian bridge over Fulmer Creek. The expansion will help close a 20-mile gap in the Mohawk Valley section of the Empire State Trail. The new project is one of four construction initiatives in the region that aim to close the gap; the other three projects are currently under construction and are also expected to be completed by the end of 2020. The Empire State Trail, announced by Governor Cuomo in 2017, will be a continuous 750-miles route across the state from New York City to Canada to Buffalo and Albany. Once completed, it will be the longest multi-use state trail in the nation.