The Open Space Institute recently completed a large-scale land acquisition in the Hudson Highlands. By protecting certain wildlands, OSI has preserved important wildlife habitat and has connected parklands.
The property OSI acquired is the 702-acre Legacy Ridge parcel in the town of Woodbury in Orange County. The landowner had previously received local approval for the construction of 287 homes, which would have severely compromised the scenic landscapes of the Hudson Highlands. OSI’s acquisition, however, ensures that the property will remain in its natural state, which showcases forested ridgelines, streams and wetlands, and varied habitat for birds and mammals and waters for New York’s state fish, the brook trout.
In fact, it is that wildlife habitat that is perhaps the most important reason for preserving this land. Legacy Ridge sits between the Black Rock Forest to the east and Schunnemunk State Park to the west. To date, it is the largest parcel that OSI has protected in what we call a conservation corridor—a network of properties that connects the 3,800-acre Black Rock Forest to the 2,700-acre Schunnemunk State Park.
OSI and its partners began working three years ago to protect this important wildlife corridor. The acquisitions we’ve made so far provide roaming ground for wildlife and preserve vitally important connectivity in a region of New York State known for its diverse habitat and clean water.
Creating connectivity between protected preserves like this is extremely important, especially as the effects of climate change take hold on our landscapes. For wildlife, what once was dependable habitat may no longer be, as changes in temperature can deplete food sources and, over time, eliminate essential breeding grounds. Cool, wet habitat for box turtles, for example, may have become warm and dry due to changes in climate.
Therefore, it’s important to protect and connect places that offer a broad diversity of land features, which will provide species options as they seek to adjust to these changes.
The Hudson Highlands, and the Black Rock/Schunnemunk corridor in particular, have earned high marks for their natural diversity, which is why the Open Space Institute, along with its partners at the Black Rock Forest Consortium, the Hudson Highlands Land Trust and the Orange County Land Trust, have developed the Hudson Highlands Connectivity Project—a unified vision for long-term ecological connectivity in this vital corridor. In addition to habitat preservation, we’re planning to provide opportunities for recreation and to preserve scenic viewsheds for the public to enjoy.
As Earth Day approaches later this month, we should strive to remember that the Earth doesn’t just belong to humans. Whether it’s the black bear of the Black Rock Forest or the box turtle, life on Earth truly is connected, and conservation projects like this have far-reaching benefits. The protection and connection of natural, diverse landscapes is good for humans, wildlife and the planet.