NEW YORK – It’s quite a mouthful, but it offers important possibilities to the two towns in the heart of the Rondout Valley: the joint Rochester & Wawarsing Intermunicipal Open Space/Natural Heritage Planning Project is being pursued with several notions in mind. At two recent meetings, planning consultants Dave Church and John Mickelson gave a presentation of the Natural Heritage Plan to the town boards of Rochester and then Wawarsing.
The work, said Mickelson, "builds on the 2016 natural heritage and open space inventory of the towns, and includes an audit of existing town properties along with codes relevant to open space and resources, and provides an analysis, with maps, of town resources."
The plan recommends actions to protect and enhance important space and the natural heritage of the towns.
Some of the recommended actions include:
• Adopt Open Space and Natural Heritage Plan as Amendment of Town Comprehensive Plan (and Complete an Environmental Assessment)
• Accept and Approve the Conservation Open Area Map and Open Space Inventory as Part of the Towns’ Open Space Indices
• Designation of the Catskill-Shawangunk Greenway Connection and Great Rondout Wetlands as Critical Environmental Areas
• Amend Town Subdivision regulations to Strengthen Conservation Subdivisions and Dedication of Parkland Option
• Amend Town Zoning Relevant to Stream and Wetland Setbacks as well as Dark Sky Protection
• Establish a Formal Agricultural Advisor to the Town
• A Fuller Evaluation of Town Scenic and Biodiversity Resources
The reason for having a plan that spans two towns is discussed thusly, "When considering important resources such as landscape linkages, corridors, habitats and aquatic resources including watersheds, inter-municipal approaches are needed when resources cross borders."
The plan language also notes: "Using the best available science-based information, public input and stakeholder based collaborations, this Plan provides the background and recommendations for each town to pursue consensus building across municipal lines."
Both towns sit in the Rondout Valley, with flanks reaching eastwards onto the Shawangunk Ridge, and west up into the Catskill State Park. With Minnewaska State Park and Sam’s Point on one side and the Catskills on the other, the towns have a crucial role to play in preserving and utilizing these areas of natural beauty.
Indeed, as the plan notes, nearly 33% of Wawarsing’s land area is already in permanently protected status — as New York State Park and Forest and NYC DEP watershed lands. In addition, there are significant private conservation lands.
Church pointed to the importance of Colony Farm, a disused 500-acre former state prison farm. "If you look at the map, it just jumps out at you," he said. "The Colony Farm is the sole remaining vegetative link between the Shawangunks and the Catskills. It’s really important that the property be used appropriately and ecologically."
Colony Farm and other nearby DOCCS lands, have been mentioned repeatedly as potential parts of a "wildlife corridor" linking the Shawangunk Ridge to the much larger Catskill Park. The advantages of such a corridor for wildlife would be in greater genetic diversity on both sides.
At the Rochester meeting, Church expressed hope that the Department of Corrections will eventually allow that property to be used for something, "rather than the nothing it sits there doing now. There have been Colony Farm projects around for decades. The property provides a great opportunity for agri-tourism and that would bring people and money into the area."
A joint project team was appointed by the town boards to work with the consultants. Former Rochester Supervisor Carl Chipman and current Wawarsing Supervisor Terry Houck lead the effort, with assistance from Jack Grifo and Jorge Gomes of Wawarsing, and Laura Finestone and Rick Jones of Rochester.
Members of both towns’ environmental conservation commissions also provide regular participation. The plan is funded in part by a $50,000 grant from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund through the Hudson River Estuary Program of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in partnership with the Towns of Rochester and Wawarsing. Additional funding payments of $5,000 each from the Towns of Rochester and Wawarsing are also pledged to the plan.