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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 5, 2006

Black Creek Marsh named BCA

By Rachel Dutil

Lush green trees line the pathway that leads into Black Creek Marsh from Meadowdale Road in Guilderland. The vegetation there is dense and so, too, are the calls of various species of birds.

Governor George Pataki announced that Black Creek, along with 15 other sites, will now hold the title of "bird conservation area."

The announcement came at the Sept. 25 opening of the Montezuma Audubon Center in Savannah, N.Y.

The Black Creek Marsh straddles the towns of New Scotland and Guilderland. The marsh itself encompasses over 1,000 acres. The designation applies to the 450 acres of the marsh owned by the state.

The program designates state-owned lands, and focuses on populations of birds and their habitats, said David Adams, with the non-game and habitat unit of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

The New York State Bird Conservation Area (BCA) Program was signed into law by Pataki in 1997. The program is modeled after the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Areas (IBA) program.

The IBA program is an international initiative that focuses on identifying areas that are most important for birds, and conserving them. New York started its program in 1996.

The programs are very similar, but IBAs are often larger and more complex, Adams said. The BCA program was passed "as a means of fostering avian resources throughout the state," Adams told The Enterprise.

The marsh is one of the premier birding sites in the Capital Region, said Karl Parker, a senior wildlife biologist with the DEC, who oversees the Black Creek Marsh.

A number of water-associated birds can be found there such as: geese, ducks, and great blue herons. American bitterns and Virginia rails are common marsh birds that can be seen there.

Designation for a BCA is based on nine criteria. The site must meet one or more of the criteria to become eligible for consideration. Sites must be at least one of the following: a waterfowl concentration site; a pelagic seabird site; a shorebird concentration site; a wading bird concentration site; a migratory concentration site; a diverse species concentration site; an individual species concentration site; a species at risk site; or a bird research site.

BCA designation does not affect any existing recreational activities, such as hunting. The marsh is used by hunters in the fall and trappers in the late fall. They hunt and trap animals such as deer, rabbit, squirrel, duck, grouse, and waterfowl. The site is also used for hiking, fishing, snowshoeing, and bird-watching.

The marsh spreads east to west over the railroad tracks, which act as a backbone to the marsh, Parker told The Enterprise.

The purpose for the BCA designation of the Black Creek Marsh, Parker said, is primarily for the conservation of wildlife habitat. Secondarily, it is for public use and enjoyment.

"We have plans to continue to make it accessible to the public," Parker said. The various entrance locations to the marsh are relatively small, to help keep traffic minimal. "We don’t want 20 cars showing up at one spot," he said.

"While we don’t have nice big centers at all of our BCAs, we do usually have access, boardwalks, trails, viewing platforms, and kiosks," Adams said. The kiosks generally have maps, and show pictures and descriptions of birds and their habitats. A kiosk is located at the Meadowdale Road entrance to the Black Creek Marsh.

In addition to the Black Creek Marsh site, Albany County has two other BCAs. The Helderberg site includes the Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area and state forest, the Knox Wildlife Management Area, and Cole Hill State Forest. The John Boyd Thacher and Thompson’s Lake site includes areas of the two nearly adjacent state parks.

Con jeweler pleads guilty

By Jarrett Carroll

NEW SCOTLAND — A jeweler who lives in New Scotland has admitted to conning his customers out of thousands of dollars by selling fake diamonds and switching their family heirlooms with duds.

Peter Spinelli, 50, proprietor of a Central Avenue jewelry shop in Colonie, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of grand larceny on Tuesday morning. Admitting to stealing jewelry from customers at his store, Spinelli is now facing between $200,000 and $400,000 worth of restitution and could serve between two-and-a-half years to eight years in prison.

Albany County Court Judge Thomas A. Breslin heard the case and will sentence Spenelli in February.

Spinelli stands convicted of selling fake diamonds to his customers on several occasions, and, in some instances, even trading real stones with fake ones during routine cleanings and repairs.

Spinelli was arrested last May when a customer noticed that the stone in her ring looked different after dropping it off at his store for repair; another jeweler determined the stone was a high-quality fake, according to the Office of District Attorney David Soares.

Soares’s office said they "prosecuted the case on behalf of an honorable profession that relies on the confidence of its customers."

Spinelli is currently out on $40,000 bail. Christopher Bynes, the assistant district attorney of Soares’s White Collar Unit, handled the case.

"He is trying to make restitution," said Soares’s spokeswoman, Rachel McEneny. "He has already made some restitution. The more that he makes will really determine what will happen during his sentencing."

McEneny told The Enterprise that Spinelli admitted to defrauding his customers and that his sentencing will be based on two class E felonies, including restitution.

William Gray, Spinelli’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.

Spinelli currently lives with his wife, Karen, at their 658 Krumkill Rd. home in New Scotland. The couple bought the land for their home in 1993 for $100,000, and built their house the following year, according to town records. The two-story house, and its adjoining 27 acres of land, is now currently assessed at $775,000.

An adjoining 500-square-foot garage was also added in 1994 and a barn was erected on the property in 1997.

Grave concerns: Neglected rural cemetery needs help

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – Preserving history is not something that comes easily.

Just ask the members of the New Scotland Cemetery Association, which maintain and oversee the cemetery. It is perched on a hillside, with the Helderberg escarpment providing a serene backdrop. Buried within it lies more than 200 years of New Scotland town history that the association desperately hopes to preserve.

The cemetery is located behind the New Scotland Presbyterian Church on New Scotland Road. The church – the oldest in New Scotland – was organized in 1787, and the first church building was constructed in 1791. The church that stands today was built in 1849.

At the time the church was formed, New Scotland had a population of about 100 people. According to town records, there was a small general store, a blacksmith shop, and four saloons.

The section of the cemetery adjacent to the church holds the bodies of Revolutionary War soldiers. Jacob Moak was in the Albany County Militia; his is the oldest known grave in the cemetery. He died in 1795.

That section of the cemetery is still attached to the church. The part of the cemetery known as New Scotland Cemetery is no longer part of the church.

Help needed

The New Scotland Cemetery Association has only a handful of members. Three of the members – Corinne Weeks, Martha Oden, and Arlene Herzog – spoke to The Enterprise about some of the problems the group faces.

One of the most frustrating problems, the women agreed, is that the cemetery has no records prior to 1917.

Whoever was in charge at the time probably took the records home and put them in their attic, and who knows what happened to them, Weeks hypothesized.

"The records just simply disappeared," she said.

The women have been working to get the names and dates of those that are buried in the cemetery. "We’re missing half the people, yet," Herzog said.

The research and maintenance is daunting for three retired women with busy lives and aching backs. The difficulty increases with the overturned stones, the stones that have been overgrown with brush and trees, the stones with names that have been weathered off the surface over the years, and the stones covered with lichen and moss.

Aside from the physical labors involved with maintaining a cemetery, there are financial burdens. The cemetery gets about two to five burials a year, on average.

The money from those burials is the only income that the cemetery receives. The cost for a lot space in the cemetery is $400. The burial cost is $690; the gravedigger is paid $550.

In lawn care alone, the association pays about $5,000 per year.

"We can afford to exist for three more years," said Herzog.

If the cemetery runs out of money, the town then takes it over. Towns really don’t like having the added burden, the women concluded.

They are hoping that the town does not have to take over the New Scotland Cemetery.

Herzog, Weeks, and Oden are searching for descendants of people who are buried in the cemetery, or anyone who may know names of individuals buried there.

They are also in need of volunteers. Even one day a year would help, they said.

"There are probably people that just don’t know about us, that would be willing to help out," said Weeks.

"You really should have at least 20 people who want to be involved," Herzog said. "And people who are under 50," she added.

Anyone who is interested in volunteering, or who has any information about people buried in the cemetery should call Arlene Herzog at 439-1559.

"A little bit of time here and there is just as important as total involvement," Weeks added, reinforcing that every hour of time helps.

The association has gotten some much needed help from Bill Morrison and his troop of Boy Scouts. The Scouts worked on straightening and cleaning the stones of the Revolutionary War soldiers.

"The Scouts have been wonderful," Oden told The Enterprise.

The distinction is clear between the area of the cemetery where the Scouts have been, and the older portion of the New Scotland Cemetery, which is in disrepair and needs attention.

The New Scotland Cemetery, like many other cemeteries in the state, performs burials only while the ground is thawed. The thawing machinery, and proper backhoe are expensive, and for small cemeteries, like New Scotland Cemetery, it is just not an option.

If a law requires winter burial, Weeks said, "It could put us right out of business in no time."

Even if the cemetery association were able to afford the winter-burial equipment, Herzog said, "You couldn’t get the machinery in without disturbing other graves."

37 Acres – Wetlands will go to state

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – Peter Ten Eyck recently finalized the sale of a 37-acre property to the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.

The land sold for $18,500, according to records filed with Albany County. "Not what you would call a princely sum of money," said Ten Eyck.

The land was part of Ten Eyck’s Indian Ladder Farms that lies in the town of Guilderland. The remainder of his property is in the town of New Scotland.

"The state, it is my understanding, is going to be the final owner," Ten Eyck told The Enterprise.

The property is adjacent to the Black Creek Marsh area, which is managed by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. "It’s a true genuine wetlands," Ten Eyck said.

He described walking on the property a few years ago, and coming upon vast stands of cattails. "There are several different vegetation forms," he said.

Ten Eyck told The Enterprise that the definition of wetlands has changed over the years. He said that wetlands are now defined by the vegetation that is present there, and the land doesn’t actually have to be wet.

"Some of the area that is wetlands was not always wetlands," he said. "Over the years, it has all silted in, and grown over."

The land will eventually be overseen by the DEC and managed the same as the rest of Black Creek Marsh, said Karl Parker, a senior wildlife biologist with the DEC.

The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1992. Since then, the conservancy has helped preserve more than 1,200 acres in the Mohawk and Hudson valleys. The organization focuses on land that protects wildlife habitat, scenic vistas, hiking and biking trails, working farms, and historic areas.

Ten Eyck said the conservancy first came to him about acquiring the land several years ago.

Ten Eyck worked with the conservancy before, when it was known as the Albany County Land Conservancy. In 2001, Indian Ladder Farms sold its development rights for $838,225, to remain farmland forever. The state covered 75 percent of the cost and the rest was raised through the conservancy. That agreement protects 317 acres of Ten Eyck’s farmland from development. Even if the property is sold, it may not be used for development purposes.

Thacher Gets $10K grant

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – The John Boyd Thacher and Thompson’s Lake State Parks have been awarded a $10,000 grant in support of education and the environment from the Consumer Lending Department of HSBC bank.

"We try to get grants for programs that the state normally can’t do because of budget constraints," said Fred Schroeder, treasurer for the Friends of Thacher Park volunteer group. Schroeder, along with his wife, donated much of the money that made the nature center on Thompson’s Lake possible.

Sondra Keith, who manages human resources for HSBC, said she was interested in going hiking with her husband, and found out about Thacher Park on-line. On the website for the park, Keith noticed a section titled, "grants." She clicked on it, and learned about the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center on Thompson’s Lake.

The center opened in 2001. It offers a model of the Helderberg escarpment, a live honeybee hive, a bird-viewing area, fossils, and other hands-on exhibits. The center hosts a number of educational programs for school children, youth groups, clubs, and the public.

Because HSBC is committed to being active in the community, and focusing on programs dealing with education and the environment, Keith said, Thacher Park was a great candidate for a grant.

She called the nature center and was put in contact with Schroeder. Schroeder put together proposals and projected costs for programs that would increase the educational value of the park, Keith said.

"He’s been wonderful to work with," she said of Schroeder.

The consumer lending department of HSBC has a goal of spending $60,000 in 2006, on educational or environmental projects, Keith said. Including the Thacher Park grant, the total donations have reached nearly $52,000 so far this year, to various locations throughout New York State.

The money will be divided between four programs at the park. Half the money, or $5,000 will be used to help restore the waterfront on Thompson’s Lake at the nature center.

Some funds will be used to help establish a series of aquatic study classes for children. Funds have been designated to purchase a dock, rowboats, and class benches. The area behind the nature center will be made accessible to people with handicaps and to large groups of children.

Ten volunteers from the bank were out at Thacher Park this past Saturday. They helped landscape around the nature center, which will prove useful in teaching children about plants.

"We’ve always wanted to get inner-city children to the nature center," Schroeder told The Enterprise.

One of the programs will do just that. The Nature Center Outreach Program will use $2,500 to set up a year-round program to bus children from the inner-cities of Albany, Schenectady, and Rensselaer. This would give the children an opportunity to learn about the natural world, and experience it firsthand.

The Indian Ladder Trail is an awe-inspiring hike through Thacher Park. It is used extensively by visitors of the park. The trail offers views of the Helderberg escarpment, limestone cliffs, and waterfalls. There is currently no informational brochure detailing the geologic formations on the trail; $1,500 will be used to print handouts to help hikers understand the history being experienced on the hike.

Volunteers from both the bank and the community will be helping with trail work – hardening trails against erosion, and constructing bridges and boardwalks. Schroeder estimated that $1,000 would be sufficient to cover the costs of materials and labor. The park also hopes to possibly increase the quantity and size of trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, and nature study.

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