Trail to become part of growing Hudson Valley network; farm will be used for agriculture-based autism initiative at The Center for Discovery
NEW YORK, NY — February 28, 2014 — The Open Space Institute has teamed up with The Center for Discovery on a pair of transformative conservation acquisitions in Sullivan County: the first, a nine-mile-plus rail trail that will become part of an interconnected Hudson Valley network; the second, a 165-acre farm where young adults with autism will learn valuable life skills and gain independence through farming and access to the natural world.
Both projects will enhance operations at the Center, an internationally renowned provider of research, intervention and residential services for children and adults with medical and other complexities.
“These unique partnerships with OSI are critical components to our continued growth and expansion of services for the individuals we serve,” said Patrick H. Dollard, president and CEO of The Center for Discovery. “Through our shared goals of farmland protection and enhancing life experiences for everyone we have demonstrated how much can be accomplished by working together.”
OSI, through its land acquisition affiliate, the Open Space Conservancy, acquired 9.2 miles of rail bed in the towns of Liberty and Fallsburg. A trail running along the rail bed will be developed starting near Route 17 (future Interstate 86) near the village of Liberty, and runs east through the hamlets of Ferndale and Hurleyville and to Main Street in South Fallsburg. The rail trail is scenic, passing through farms, wood and wetlands, and will eventually con¬nect Hurleyville and South Fallsburg.
The rail trail also runs along the Stonewall Preserve, a 300-acre farm preserved by OSI in 2005, which provides the Center’s homes with meat and pro¬duce and sustains its Thanksgiving Farm CSA.
A vibrant and growing Hudson Valley rail trail landscape has emerged in recent years, due primarily to the redevelopment of a Poughkeepsie railroad bridge as the Walkway Over the Hudson State Park and the extension of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail by OSI and the Wallkill Valley Land Trust. OSI’s long-term vision for the region is to help create a 180-mile long interconnected rail trail net¬work that runs from southern Dutchess County, through Ulster, Sullivan and Orange counties to the Catskills. At the heart of this proposal are five separate rail trails which can all be eventually connected into a single, unified network: the Dutchess Rail Trail, the Highland–Lloyd Rail Trail, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, the O&W Rail Trail and the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail.
Together, these five rail trails will connect 31 different towns, villages and cities, and will give users access to state and local parks, the Catskill High Peaks, forest preserves, wildlife management areas and nature preserves. The rail trail network will also span four major rivers in the region: the Hudson, Wallkill, Rondout and Neversink.
More than 80 miles of the proposed network are already publicly owned and used by the public. OSI’s vision is to acquire key remaining stretches to ultimately complete and connect the overall trail network.
The just-acquired Hurleyville trail will be part of The Center for Discovery’s efforts to revitalize the hamlet of Hurleyville (four miles from its main campus in Harris, NY) as a satellite campus. As part of this program, the Center will improve the rail trail for recreational use and make it the centerpiece of a revitalized Hurleyville.
“The idea of partnering with OSI to develop something that everyone in the community will benefit from and will spur economic activity for the entire community is incredibly important to us,” Dollard said. “We want to be sure that our surrounding communities offer opportunities that the individuals in our programs can utilize but also provide resources for our staff to take advantage of as well as our friends and neighbors. It’s critical to our business model to be a good neighbor and enhance our community.”
OSI’s second recent acquisition with the Center for Discovery, again facilitated by the Open Space Conservancy, its land acquisition affiliate, was a 165-acre cattle farm in the Sullivan County town of Neversink, within the Catskill State Park Preserve. The farm, previously owned by the Van Nostrand family, has been transferred to the Center for use as part of its innovative educational program for children with autism.
The Center’s farm-based education program teaches traditional subjects in experiential ways, but, more importantly, it is designed to help participants gain a sense of self and understanding of their place in the larger world. Children and young adults who have not responded in classrooms and other traditional environments are encouraged to interact with nature, the outdoors, and animals in ways that stimulate their senses and minds.
“Conservation is about giving people access to open space,” said Kim Elliman, OSI’s president and CEO, “and with that comes good health. Exercise and access to the natural world promote physical and mental well-being, and in this case, are a critical component of a remarkable educational initiative.”
In four transactions over the last eight years, OSI has helped protect more than 700 acres of farmland in the southeastern Catskills now owned by The Center for Discovery. In addition to the aforementioned Stonewall Preserve, the Center added the 130-acre Applebee Farm in 2011, which is being developed as a dairy farm and is protected by an agricultural easement held by OSI.
By merging traditional farming practices with 21st century sustainable farming techniques, the Center provides a healthy and innovative approach to connecting to, caring for and learning from the land.