5,400 acres protected, linking Catskill, Shawangunk Mountains (NY)

Ulster County, NY B Governor George Pataki today announced that the State has agreed to acquire one of the largest remaining privately held parcels of land in the Catskills, thanks to an agreement negotiated by the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the Open Space Institute (OSI), two non-profit land conservation organizations. The two groups purchased more than 5,400 acres of land in Ulster County and will own the property until the State is able to acquire the bulk of the property later this year.

“This magnificent new addition to our public land in the Catskills will permanently protect more than six miles of the Vernooy Kill, a quality cold water trout stream, and provide miles of new hiking trails for the enjoyment of visitors to this exceptional forested river valley,” said Governor Pataki in a statement. “I am particularly grateful for the hard work that the Trust for Public Land and the Open Space Institute performed to enable the State to acquire this Catskill gem.”

The property, known as the Lundy estate, has long been considered one of the outstanding private parcels of land within the Catskill region and is included as a priority in the State’s Open Space Conservation Plan. The Joint Venture of TPL and OSI has also held this project as a priority for nearly a decade.

“The Department of Environmental Conservation is eager to assume the management of this spectacular property to protect its outstanding natural resources and promote compatible outdoor recreational activities, including fishing, hiking, hunting and camping,” State Environmental Conservation Commissioner John P. Cahill said.

Located in an important recreation and wildlife corridor between the Catskills and the Shawangunks, this is the single largest parcel linking the two mountain ranges. The northern portion of the property is located within the boundary of Catskill State Park and abuts State Forest Preserve lands.

“This property has been top on the agenda of the Catskill community for decades. We are pleased that we were ready and able to act when the opportunity to acquire the land presented itself,” said Erik Kulleseid, New York State Director for the Trust for Public Land. “Important for wildlife habitat and recreation, this property is also the linchpin for the long hoped-for connection between the public land of the Shawangunk Ridge and Catskill State Park.”

Protection of the Lundy tract is a milestone in the conservation history of the Catskills,” said OSI President Joe Martens. “The acquisition of this magnificent parcel for public recreation would not have been possible without strong support from Governor Pataki and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner John Cahill.”

In addition to thousands of acres of undeveloped woodlands, the property encompasses six miles of the Vernooy Kill, the largest un-dammed tributary of Rondout Creek and the only major undeveloped stream in the region. Protecting the land as a park ensures fishing access along the length of the creek. The land is primarily forested and mountainous and provides habitat for protected species, including several dens of timber rattlesnakes.

“This is one of the largest acquisitions of open space in the Catskills since the creation of the Catskill Forest Preserve in the 1880s,” said Bob Anderberg, General Counsel of the Open Space Institute. “This is a rare opportunity to preserve an entire river valley in one transaction.”

The property also abuts a portion of the 328-mile regional hiking trail known as the Long Path. Stretching from the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge through Harriman State Park, up to John Boyd Thatcher State Park near Albany, the trail offers excellent recreational opportunities and spectacular views of the Shawangunks and Catskills. More than ten miles of the trail also run along the crest of the Shawangunk Ridge. When the land is purchased by the State, the Long Path (currently running along Cherrytown Road) could be rerouted along the Vernooy Kill to eliminate miles of road hiking.

The estate has an interesting past. It was first assembled in the 1920–s and 30s by Frederick W.I. Lundy, a well-known New York City restaurateur, whose Sheepshead Bay institution served as many as a million meals a year between 1934 and 1979. The property contains two houses dating back to the 1920’s and several estate buildings currently in various stages of disrepair.

After leaving Lundy ownership in the early 1980s, the property was subject to several large scale proposed developments, one being a European theme park. This and other failed development proposals eventually landed the property in bankruptcy proceedings. The estate was sold at bankruptcy auction last October, and purchased by its senior creditor, PNL Asset Management, who later entered into negotiations with TPL/OSI.

Approximately 470 acres of the land–including the two estate houses–will be transferred to a private buyer subject to a stringent conservation easement restricting future development on the property and ensuring that taxes will continue to be paid on the improvements. TPL and OSI will clear abandoned buildings from the remaining land and prepare the property for public ownership.

The State will acquire 4,930 acres for approximately $4 million in Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) and Clean Air/Clean Water Bond Act resources. Since 1995, the State has invested more than $200 million to preserve more than 260,000 acres of land across the State.

The Trust for Public Land, founded in 1972, specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiation, public finance, and law to protect land for public use and enjoyment. To date, TPL has helped protect more than a million acres, valued at more than $1.8 billion. Working in partnership with the Open Space Institute, TPL has helped protect more than 50,000 acres in New York State since 1981.

The Open Space Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting land in New York State, and supporting the efforts of citizen activists working to protect environmental quality in their communities. In less than two decades, OSI has protected over 70,000 acres for the benefit of the public, creating and adding to parks and preserves throughout New York.