The newly conserved High Valley Farm complex in Copake adjoins 18,000 acres of protected land in three states
Announcement comes as Governor proposes historic increase in Environmental Protection Fund
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced an 800-acre conservation agreement that will preserve a crucial gap in Taconic State Park in Columbia County. The agreement will enlarge a major protected forest area in the Taconic Mountains along the New York and Massachusetts border, benefitting those who love the natural beauty of this region, consumers of locally grown food, and more than two dozen rare animal and plant species. Protection of High Valley Farm in Copake brings to fruition a years-long collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, the Columbia Land Conservancy, New York State, and the property owner, Edgar Masters.
“The preservation of High Valley Farm continues New York State’s commitment to protecting the open spaces and its rich history of environmental stewardship,” Governor Cuomo said. “The natural beauty and agricultural vitality of this area are tremendous economic and tourism drivers in the region, and this action will help ensure they remain so for generations to come.”
Under the agreement, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation acquired a forever wild easement over 660 acres of the forestland; and the Columbia Land Conservancy acquired an agricultural easement on 140 acres. The total price was $4 million, with the state paying $2.2 million from the Environmental Protection Fund and The Nature Conservancy contributing $1.8 million toward the purchase price. The Columbia Land Conservancy will hold and monitor the easement restrictions.
As a large private inholding between the Copake Falls and Rudd Pond sections of the 6,700-acre Taconic State Park, the parcel was a top priority for protection by State Parks.
State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said, “The agreement ensures this crucial feature of Taconic State Park’s landscape – a huge swath of contiguous forestland – will never be cut, fragmented or developed into building lots, and forever remain a hugely significant view-shed and habitat for all species. New York is very fortunate to have Governor Cuomo’s commitment to protecting open space, the generosity of The Nature Conservancy for helping make it possible to preserve our state’s magnificent places, as well as the partnership of the Columbia Land Conservancy and the landowner who agreed to a charitable sale.”
Wayne Klockner, Vice President and State Director of The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts said, “This project conserves fantastic habitat in the tri-state area for a variety of wildlife species and agricultural land for people. We are grateful to our partners for their tireless efforts to make this deal happen.”
High Valley Farm owner Edgar Masters said, "I am delighted to partner with New York State Parks, The Nature Conservancy and Columbia Land Conservancy to protect High Valley Farm. Although the property remains privately owned and on the tax rolls, its fields, woodlands and wildlife are forever protected from development, timber harvesting and forest fragmentation. Surrounded by Taconic State Park and the Massachusetts Forest Preserve, the protection of these acres brings full circle what began in 1925 when my grandfather gave New York State 38 acres to establish Taconic State Park."
Executive Director of the Columbia Land Conservancy Peter R. Paden said, “This project protects an area of extraordinary conservation significance. It has been a pleasure for the Columbia Land Conservancy to collaborate with our partners at The Nature Conservancy, with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and with Edgar Masters to bring it to fruition. It is particularly gratifying to work with a landowner with such a strong connection to his property, such a strong appreciation for its unique ecological value and such a strong commitment to its protection in perpetuity.”
The Nature Conservancy, which led the project, worked closely with the parties to ensure that the two easements progressed together so the forests and fields could be protected simultaneously.
The announcement comes as Governor Cuomo is proposing a number of initiatives to bolster New York’s legacy of environmental protection as part of his 2016 agenda. The Governor announced that New York State will allocate $300 million for the State’s Environmental Protection Fund – the highest amount ever for the fund and more than double the fund’s level when the Governor first took office. This increase will provide record funding for urgent environmental investments, adding resources for land acquisition, farmland protection, invasive species prevention and eradication, waterfront revitalization, and an aggressive environmental justice agenda.
Conservation wards off the significant threat of residential development – dozens of house lots could have been subdivided along the property’s extensive road frontage – forecloses the possibility of inappropriate forest management and habitat degradation, and forever protects the view-shed of the scenic landscape. The agricultural easement placed on the farmland portion of the property will ensure that the fields are available for farming in the future, while protecting the soil resources and the integrity of the natural habitats, which will also support resiliency.
The High Valley Farm complex borders New York’s Taconic State Park and Massachusetts’ Mount Washington State Forest and Bash Bish Falls State Park, connecting the parks and ensuring contiguous and undisturbed forestland. The deal ensures that a portion of the South Taconic Trail that crosses the property will remain available to the public, although the balance of the property itself remains in private ownership. In addition to protecting critical habitat for wildlife, birds, fish and plants, this interconnected forestland will provide resiliency in the face of climate change and support wide-ranging animals like the black bear.
The High Valley Farm project also protects agricultural land leased to a local farmer who is a member of Hudson Valley Fresh, a dairy cooperative dedicated to protecting the agricultural heritage of the Hudson River Valley. The forage grown at High Valley Farm is critical to the 400-head Holstein cattle herd located nearby in Copake.
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