BETHLEHEM — Adam Zaranko, the executive director of Albany County Land Bank, discussed during a Feb. 7 conservation-themed event at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center how the Town of Bethlehem will take one formal step closer to acquiring an ACLB-owned eight-acre parcel of land in Glenmont in its Feb. 13 Town Board meeting.
ACLB had previously approved an application from Bethlehem to buy the parcel, located by the intersection of Wemple Road and Route 9W, on Nov. 27, 2018 for $1, which the town hopes to preserve to protect its wildlife habitat and water quality, as well as potentially foster recreation for future residents.
Zaranko connected this with how working with a local municipality can help support the overall conservation cause. “We’re pretty excited about this,” he said. “I look forward to working with more municipalities and other non-profits to help accomplish their visions.”
Zaranko was among the dozen speakers who shared their land conservation stories in the two-hour event, titled “Meet the People Making Local Conservation Happen: Talks, Tastes, and a Tour! – Part One: Forests and Fields,” which was organized by Bethlehem’s Open Space Coordinator Karen Shaw.
It also included locally-grown food and apple cider from Field Notes and Indian Ladder Farms. A guided outdoor tour of the Five Rivers area happened after the event.
The following speakers, including Zaranko, were each allowed around about 10 minutes to speak about their individual efforts to conserve local forests and fields:
- Katie Petronis, northern program director of Open Space Institute
- Mark King, executive director of Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy
- Jeff Leon of Strawberry Fields in Amsterdam
- Lauren Axford, executive director of Pine Hollow Arboretum in Slingerlands
- Steve Downs, private landowner along the Vloman Kill
- Mike Knutson, senior land project manager of Scenic Hudson
- Kris Sigsby, private landowner in Glenmont
- Giles Wagoner, private landowner and forester in Selkirk
- Jim Bonesteel, executive director of the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance; Robert Davies, director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Lands and Forests; and Francis Sheehan, DEC, Division of Lands and Forests
Petronis’ speech, about how protecting forests, parks, preserves and trails yields multiple benefits, encapsulated the event’s overall pro-conservation message.
She first discussed how conservation can lead to recreation like hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, going on picnics, kayaking, canoeing and fishing.
Education is another resource from conservation, including how students can learn about the outdoors in an out-of-classroom setting, and creating interpretive trails.
Conservation would also protect natural resources, wildlife, and ecologies as well as fostering food production, forest products like sap and timber, and providing a source of drinking water.
Another highlight was when Axford spoke about the Pine Hollow Arboretum, a 22-acre, non-profit arboretum and nature preserve in Slingerlands.
According to the event handout, it contains more than “3,600 unique tree and plant specimens, 11 ponds, and a natural selection forest, all easily accessed by a network of walking trails and bridges.” The arboretum, free to the public daily from dawn to dusk, is also split up into 20 themed areas, including Azalea Field, Magnolia Field and Locust Hill.
Axford explained that it was first founded over five decades ago by Dr. John W. Abbuhl, a local pediatrician, who privately owned a residence on the land.
“Dr. Abbuhl found great joy in learning about trees from around the world and became very passionate about nurturing the landscape that really encouraged the natural ecosystem while showcasing his hortical collection,” she said. “After planting trees for 10 years, he began thinking of opening the property as an arboretum that the surrounding community can benefit from.”
The arboretum became tax-exempt in 2007 and was chartered by the state Department of Education in 2008.
Looking ahead, Axford said that due to its conservation success, Pine Hollow Arboretum plans to become more ADA-accessible, incorporate more tree plantings, increase its workforce, and continue being a place where people can learn more about the environment.
The overall topic of conservation in Bethlehem will continue with a second two-hour event, named “Meet the People Making Local Conservation Happen: Talks, Tastes, and a Tour! – Part Two: Farmland Conservation,” on Thursday, June 13 at 6 p.m. at Indian Ladder Farms. A guided farm tour will precede it from 5 to 5:45 p.m.