Volunteers build on nature’s beauty

The Register Star
Saturday, June 30, 2012


Bog bridge builders Jacquelyn Hokamp, Eric Newman and Allison Lent assemble the basic elements of the bridge — sill, stringer and rebar rods hammered into the dirt to anchor things. | David Lee/Hudson Catskill-Newspapers

Source: The Register Star

By Tom Casey, Hudson-Catskill Newspapers, Published: Saturday, June 30, 2012 2:07 AM EDT

GREENPORT — Thanks to the work of a youth-oriented volunteer group, the Hudson-Greenport area has added another place for nature enthusiasts to enjoy.

Close to 50 college-age interns working with the Student Conservation Association participated this week in a project to create a 1-mile stretch of trail that will connect Harrier Hill in Hudson to the Greenport Conservation Area.

The association is a partner with AmeriCorps and works to “protect and restore national parks, marine sanctuaries, cultural landmarks and community green spaces” throughout the country. The volunteers, mostly between 18 and 25 years old, hail from across the 50 states including California, Oregon, Illinois and Texas with backgrounds varying in all fields of study, from government and environmental studies to biology.

The project split the volunteers into three groups for the work through the natural preserves along the North Bay, constructing new trails and rehabilitating the landscape connecting the two preserves.

“This work is for the people who live here,” said Group Leader Kali Bird of Poughkeepsie. “I hope the trails here are used and people gain a better understanding of the environment and find refuge in nature.”

One of the groups was tasked with the identification and remediation of invasive flora, primarily buckthorne, phragmites and knotweed, and trimming them back so that the balance will favor the native species. Another group worked to create the trails themselves, and a third group worked on the construction of a 140-foot bog bridge where land was wet and prone to erosion.

“It was incredible, the work that all those interns spent in the three days with us,” said Scenic Hudson Director of Parks Rita Shaheen. “We were totally impressed with how hard they all worked and what was accomplished in such a short time.”

The idea for the project was hatched in 2010, when Scenic Hudson first obtained the land that is now Harrier Hill. Shaheen said the land fit exactly into the conservation group’s mission.

“This is a very important part of the landscape in Columbia County and the Hudson Valley region,” she said. “Scenic Hudson’s mission is to protect and restore these landscapes along with river for public benefit.”

The group had begun work with a contractor to start creating the trails inside the parks and put in for a grant to make the trail to Greenport. When Scenic Hudson started looking for volunteers, Shaheen said the nonprofit knew exactly where to turn.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the SCA,” she said. “We have three interns who are working with us right now and we’ve worked with the association going back to 1998. When we had heard of the opportunity to work for this larger project we thought that would be terrific and applied.”

The project was one of only two available in the Hudson Valley region, but securing the grant was not the only obstacle in getting the conservation effort off the ground. While Scenic Hudson owns a portion of the parcel that the trail would fall in, the Department of Environmental Conservation, Columbia Land Conservancy, the Open Space institute and the town of Greenport own parcels along its path. But despite the difficulties of trying to bring all these different organizations together, Shaheen said it was never an issue to get the project done.

“There was never a question by any of the groups that there wasn’t consensus of the making of these connections,” she said. “We just had to work out who is going to do what … this is a really great success story about the dynamics with working with other organizations and volunteers.

“The trail is an outstanding example of how public-private partnerships can benefit a community.”

With most of the work completed, the volunteers will be able to use the experience as part of a 10-month internship program that many said can help open doors to future employers. SCA’s Hudson Valley Program Director Kathy Schmidt said while work is physical and laborious, it also has many benefits.

“This internship is a life-changing experience for most of them,” she said. “They see how much work can be accomplished by a group — they see the beauty of teamwork as well as the beauty of the Hudson Valley.”

Shaheen said Scenic Hudson will continue to work to maintain the trail and looks forward for the public to be able to have many different uses throughout the season, from hiking and birdwatching to snow shoeing and cross-country skiing.

“It was a lot of work, planning and actual construction but the outcome is beautiful and functional,” she said. “I can’t wait for people to enjoy it.”

Hudson-Catskill Newspapers photographer David Lee contributed to this story.