The William Penn Foundation’s watershed protection initiative, enhanced
by the experience of the Open Space Institute, is
poised to usher in a new age of clean water in our nation’s most densely
April 1, 2014 - With the launch of the Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund, the Open Space Institute will sharpen its focus on watershed quality while broadening its geographic reach in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Through its Bayshore-Highland Fund, OSI is currently protecting landscapes in New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore and the Pennsylvania Highlands; the new Fund will also target regions in the upper part of the Delaware River Basin, specifically in the NJ’s Highlands and the Upper Lehigh and Poconos/Kittatiny in Pennsylvania.
For OSI, the Fund’s emphasis on water is a natural extension of one of our longest-standing New York State initiatives: watershed protection in the Catskills and Hudson Highlands.
Descending westward from New York’s Delaware County through Sullivan and into Ulster County, the Beaverkill River and its largest tributary, the Willowemoc Creek, are among the most famous fly-fishing waters in the country. The 44-mile-long Beaverkill is a tributary of the East Branch of the Delaware River, and because it sits near the top of the Delaware watershed, the protection of this quiet Catskills fishing stream has broad implications for the William Penn Foundation’s larger focus area.
The Beaverkill, however, is the only major river in the Catskills that is not part of the New York City watershed, and thus has historically not been given the same level of protection as other watershed streams. In the early 1970s, seeking to prevent fragmentation of this pristine and extremely biodiverse landscape, the Open Space Institute launched a comprehensive initiative to protect the Beaverkill Valley.
Beginning with the purchase of former Boy Scout camps 40 years ago, OSI has preserved approximately 20,000 acres in the Beaverkill region of the Catskills, including eight miles of Beaverkill River frontage and many more miles of tributary streams.
OSI also partnered with The Trust for Public Land in 1997 to orchestrate a 17,000-acre acquisition to create Sterling Forest State Park, preserving important watershed lands that protect drinking water for 25 percent of New Jersey. The landmark acquisition involved federal and state government agencies, as well as multiple private partners, and required a unique combination of conservation and transactional skills to be completed.
Through this initial acquisition, OSI and TPL helped create Sterling Forest State Park, part of a 150,000-acre block of protected recreational land in a densely populated area. Prior to the acquisition, the Sterling Forest parcel had been the largest tract of privately held undeveloped land in the metropolitan New York area.
Building on those four decades of experience, OSI and ANS are now overseeing the analysis of the eight “sub-watershed” areas in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. That analysis will help the William Penn Foundation form strategies for use across the watershed, including the protection of forested headwaters, improved management of agricultural lands and implementation of best practices for stormwater reduction.
At stake is our most valuable natural resource. Given the more than 1,000 community water systems and millions of users in New York City and surrounding states, the William Penn Foundation’s watershed protection initiative, enhanced by the experience and qualifications of the Open Space Institute, is poised to usher in a new age of clean water in our nation’s most densely populated region.