2,518 Acres of Shawangunk Ridge Protected (NY)

Albany, NY, March 10, 2006: In a stunning conclusion to a decades-long effort to preserve the Shawangunk Ridge’s Awosting Reserve, Commissioner Bernadette Castro of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced today the protection of 2,518 acres adjacent to Minnewaska State Park Preserve. The state purchased the parkland from The Trust for Public Land (TPL), which negotiated the purchase along with the Open Space Institute.

“Our acquisition of the Awosting Reserve marks a landmark agreement for conservation and open space protection in the region,” Governor Pataki said. “For years this parcel has been threatened with development, but because of our investment, these acres will now be safeguarded for public enjoyment of the site’s natural beauty and a variety of outdoor activities. Together with our partners, we recognized this property as a priority and the enduring legacy of conservation that securing this open space provides for our children and generations to come.”

“The loss of this land to development would have been a tragedy. It would have forever changed the face of the ridge,” said Rose Harvey, senior vice president of The Trust for Public Land. “I couldn’t imagine a more fitting capstone to Governor Pataki’s work to protect the Shawangunk Ridge. This is a major victory for the state and all the organizations and individuals who have spent years working together to protect this unique resource.”

The Awosting Reserve and properties along the Shawangunk Ridge are identified as priority projects in the state’s Open Space Plan. The $17 million purchase is being supported through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. The Awosting Reserve occupies the southern slopes leading up to both the Minnewaska and Mohonk Preserves.

State Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro said, “With the Awosting Reserve acquisition at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, we have not only furthered our commitment to open space protection along the Shawangunk Ridge and forestalled development, but expanded public access to outdoor recreational opportunities at this popular site. With this latest investment, Governor Pataki has demonstrated his support for strengthening our award-winning state park system and furthered a tradition of extraordinary stewardship of our park properties.”

For decades, developers and environmentalists have eyed this land with its ridge top views and abundant streams, pools, and waterfalls. Yet, a long list of development plans were proposed for the Ulster County land that is just 90 miles from New York City. Most recently, the land was targeted for a private vacation community-349 homes and a 296-acre golf course were proposed. Development was bogged down in the approval process and a lawsuit among the owner partners resulted in a court-ordered sale of the land.

“The Awosting Reserve is the holy grail of the Shawangunks,” said Open Space Institute President Joe Martens, “and OSI is proud to have played a supporting role in its protection. Governor Pataki and the staff from The Trust for Public Land deserve enormous credit for persevering through the long and challenging process that led to its protection.”

The conservation of the property adds to a 32,000-acre swath of protected land on the Shawangunk Ridge that includes the Mohonk Preserve, Minnewaska State Park Preserve, and the Sam’s Point Preserve and the Witch’s Hole Conservation Area, both protected by OSI.

The Shawangunk Mountains-or the “Gunks” as they are known-are sandwiched between the Hudson Highlands and the Catskill Mountains. With signature white cliffs, they are popular among mountain bikers, and hikers from the Northeast and beyond and a major destination for rock climbers from around the world.

As an addition to Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Awosting will link to carriage trails and network of hiking trails in the park and Mohonk Preserve to provide additional access for horseback riding, hiking, and other passive recreational pursuits.

This latest acquisition furthers the longstanding environmental goals set by the governor that have made New York a national leader in open space protection and natural resource stewardship. Since taking office in 1995, the governor has protected more than 945,340 acres of open space statewide. In the 2004 State of the State address, the governor committed to opening five new state parks in the next two years and opening or expanding 20 parks over the next five years.

Conservation partners working together throughout New York State, The Trust for Public Land and the Open Space Institute have protected more than 21,300 acres on and around the Shawangunk Ridge.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL (www.tpl.org) has helped protect two million acres of land in 46 states, including more than 78,500 acres in New York. In 1991, TPL purchased 109 acres for the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. Since 1991, thousands of local residents and visitors have enjoyed the trail, which stretches 12.2 miles between Gardiner and New Paltz.

The mission of the Open Space Institute is to protect scenic, natural and historic landscapes to ensure public enjoyment, conserve habitats and sustain community character. OSI achieves its goals through land acquisition, conservation easements, special loan programs, and creative partnerships. The Open Space Institute (www.osiny.org) has protected more than 90,000 acres in New York State.