For the Good of the Earth

Many small organizations in our region are working to preserve the environment and teach the public about conservation. We supported those efforts with several grants in 2018. 

For instance, we awarded $3,259 to the Michael Kudish Natural History Preserve in Stamford. Named to honor Dr. Michael Kudish, who has been researching the natural history of the Catskills since 1971, the Preserve supports conservation, research and sustainability through education, recreation and the arts. It put the grant money toward two programs.

One was the Arts for All Festival, a day-long event in June that drew more than 280 visitors for workshops in numerous art forms, plus a nature-themed scavenger hunt, theatrical performances and music. 

“We believe that art is a vehicle to connect people to the land and living things,” says David Turan, executive director at the Preserve. “It’s also a way to get people onto the land to learn something.” And, of course, human culture is part of the region’s natural history. 

The grant also supported “The Catskills – A Sense of Place,” a month-long workshop for youth ages six to 14, held in August. Meeting five days a week, the kids spent mornings learning about water resources, geography and geology, ecosystems, human history and arts and culture, with lessons based on the New York State Learning Standards.

After lunch, the kids moved on to supervised outdoor play. “Their favorite thing to do in the afternoon was to make dams in a stream and get full of mud,” Turan says. “And their parents didn’t seem to mind!”

Another small nonprofit we were glad to support is the Otsego County Conservation Association (OCCA). With just three full-time staff and one part-timer, it runs programs in three areas: education and outreach, research and management, and policy and planning. OCCA used our $5,000 grant to create training for local planning and zoning boards, so they can do a better job when they evaluate development proposals. 

None of Otsego County’s 34 municipalities has full-time planning staff, says Danny Lapin, environmental planner at the OCCA. When a developer makes a proposal, a volunteer board decides whether the project will move ahead. These boards have little or no expertise in environmental regulation, he says. But if a board doesn’t follow correct procedures and ask the right questions, its decision could trigger a lawsuit—from the developer, if the board nixes the project, or from neighbors, if it approves a project they say will harm the environment. 

“This grant allows us to avoid that pitfall, working with both entities to ensure the proper planning goes on, but also that the proper community relations and conflict resolution can occur,” Lapin says. 

Lapin expects the training will give local communities the same benefits that one town gained a couple of years back, when he stepped in to help after a bitter dispute over a proposed hotel. “Their planning board has greatly improved the efficiency with which they review and evaluate projects,” he says. “Their review procedures have survived legal scrutiny, and they’ve greatly improved their credibility within the community.” 

In Sherburne, a $15,000 grant from the Community Foundation is helping the Rogers Environmental Education Center start a maple sugaring operation. Owned by the Friends of Rogers, the 600-acre Center offers educational and recreational programs for individuals, families and scout and school groups. 

The Selleck Sugaring Project—named for the late Bruce Selleck, who served on the Friends of Rogers board—got its start when someone from Cornell Cooperative Extension Chenango County pointed out that the stands of sugar maples on the Rogers property offered an opportunity to make and sell syrup. 

“We figured if we could get funding to offset the initial expense, we would then have a new source of revenue that we could use for day-to-day operations in the future,” says Simon Solomon, the Center’s executive director. 

Rogers used the grant money to install 700 taps on 12 acres of sugar bush, plus a gravity-fed network of plastic lines and holding tanks to collect the sap. Heartwood Maple, a local producer, will boil the sap into syrup. “If we have a good year we should be able to produce between 250 and 350 finished product gallons of syrup,” Solomon says. 

Besides tapping the commercial potential of the maples, Rogers will use the sugar bush for educational programs, Solomon says. 

Eventually, the Friends of Rogers hope to raise enough money to build a sugar shack, so the Center can produce its syrup on site. Rogers will sell the syrup at local farmers markets and online. Colgate University Dining Services has also expressed interest in the product, Solomon says. Depending on the yield in a given season, syrup sales could bring in from $7,500 to $15,000 a year, he says. 

For a nonprofit seeking a new source of revenue, that’s certainly a sweet prospect.

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