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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 17, 2011

Anonymous donors commit to protection of 182 scenic acres along the Hudson River

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

BETHLEHEM — Owners of 182 acres on the Hudson riverfront in the town of Bethlehem have donated a conservation easement to Scenic Hudson, ensuring that the property’s landscapes and biological diversity will be permanently protected.

“It doesn’t preserve the property in amber,” said Seth McKee, land conservation director for Scenic Hudson, which made the acquisition through its Saving the Land That Matters campaign. “It does ensure there won’t be a housing development along the river there.”

The donors, he said, prefer to remain anonymous.

“Conservation easements are part of our bread and butter,” said McKee, adding that one covering 182 acres was “quite generous.”

The easement, he said, puts a permanent restriction on the deed, terming it “a big commitment.” While it can diminish a property’s value, it also decreases its taxes, he said.

In this particular case, McKee said, there is “an envelope” around the house that would allow the owners to add to it if they desired, and he concluded, “There’s another spot where they can build.”

The land’s natural features include woodland, meadows, wetlands, 1,300 feet of Hudson River shoreline, and a half-mile stretch of the Binnen Kill, a significant Hudson River tributary. These resources provide habitat for myriad birds (including bald eagles), fish, and imperiled reptiles and amphibians, according to a release from Scenic Hudson.

In addition, the property’s riverfront is a source for the town of Bethlehem’s public water supply.

Safeguarding wildlife habitat

The donated easement increases to more than 400 acres the land protected by Scenic Hudson in its Binnen Kill Priority Area, which includes a mosaic of floodplains and tidal wetlands along 2.5 miles of Hudson riverfront as well as adjacent upland forests and meadows through which the Binnen Kill flows.

All of the protected lands are located within an Audubon-designated Important Bird Area and state-designated Estuarine Biologically Important Area. The A rating assigned this BIA means its habitats are of the highest ecological significance.

The Binnen Kill is a major spawning and nursery ground for American shad, blueback herring, alewives and striped bass. The area also offers opportunities to see rare bird species, including ospreys and peregrine falcons, as well as a wide variety of migrating waterfowl.

Collaborative campaign

Scenic Hudson’s campaign to Save the Land That Matters Most is a multi-year, collaborative effort with other land trusts, governments, individuals, and businesses to protect lands of the highest scenic, ecological and agricultural significance throughout the Hudson Valley.

In addition to providing the cornerstone of a sustainable economy for the region, protected lands help attract new business, according to Scenic Hudson.

A recent study by the Trust for Public Land notes that executives looking to relocate or start up firms rank quality of life—including an abundance of parks and open space—higher than housing, cost of living and good schools

To date, Scenic Hudson has conserved 4,827 acres and its land trust partners an additional 2,113 acres.

Boosting tourism

Tourism in the 10-county Hudson Valley region generates $4.7 billion annually and sustains 80,000 jobs, says Scenic Hudson. Tourism spending in Albany County is $909 million and supports nearly 16,700 jobs.

While protecting large, contiguous landscapes safeguards the interconnected habitat networks on which many species depend, it also offers substantial human health benefits. Trees sequester pollutants that contribute to asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, while releasing oxygen

Woodlands and wetlands collect and purify water that filters into the ground to recharge local aquifers, which communities depend on for drinking water. Vegetation and wetlands also intercept rainfall, preventing it from flowing into streams where it could cause flooding.

Maintaining biodiversity plays an important role in preventing diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease.

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