4th Annual Benefit Trail Ride for SPARC
Early on May 2nd, 2004, at the Ridge Road trailhead, equestrians will gather to celebrate the arrival of spring on the Stewart Buffer Lands. Years past have brought riders from five states to participate in the daylong event. Courses are posted in advance so riders can enjoy a long 3+ hour ride or a less demanding 11/2 ride.
People familiar with our forest know of the 50+ miles of interior single track trails and the 14 miles of old roadways. We are fortunate enough to have farm fields, orchards, woodlands, swamps and ponds, along with the varied terrain of flats and hills.
Fine vistas featuring the Hudson Highlands to the south, Beacon's mountains to the east and the famous Shawangunk Ridge to the northwest, provide riders with inspiring views. In May our lands bloom into spring. When the former community was displaced they left behind all their perennials, which are still where planted. Daffodils, forsythias, grape hyacinths, iris, quince, day lilies, apple trees, periwinkles and others lie in wait for the passerby. Rounding a bend in the trail may reveal splashes of color and a variety of scents. Deep forests' quiet renews the soul, and heightens the bond with your four-legged companion.
In previous years just under 200 people came out for our day. In addition to the riders were our people who drive horse-drawn vehicles, which truly evoke images of the past community. Also available is the two-hour tour on a wagon pulled by teams of Belgian draft horses. Denman Farm of Pine Bush comes equipped to give 20 visitors a scenic tour. This outing is always booked in advance and highly enjoyed.
This year we once again will be treated to product samples donated by Blue Seal Feeds, Performance Health Care Products, Farman. Door prizes will be provided by Pine Bush Equipment and Exclusively Equine Real Estate. Other donations are still arriving and will surprise entrants.
Calendars are marked and flyers are out. If you are interested in bringing your horse and doing a premier event in Orange County, and need more information, call Linda Meyer at 845 895-3409.
Seats on the wagon tour are still available also, but don't wait too long.
Linda Meyer, Chair
Stewart Buffer Lands Vital as Development Accelerates
As cries grow shrill for more water, sewer, and road capacity to accommodate development growth, preserving open space becomes more urgent. We must redouble our efforts to save the Stewart Buffer Lands, the 2nd largest parcel of contiguous open space in Orange County, after Sterling Forest.
"26,000 New Homes Planned", announced the Times Herald Record of Feb.22, '04, and their breakdown showed that the Towns of Newburgh, Montgomery and New Windsor, which immediately surround Stewart, were generating some of the biggest numbers. Roadways around the airport ---Rt.17K, I-84, the Thruway---are already packed with cars, and especially trucks, making travel difficult while generating substantial air pollution.
As never before, our county must preserve all the open space it can. Daily, lands are torn up and lost for recreation, farming, hunting, wildlife and protection of the environment, as increasing numbers of people move into the area. Given this scenario, the Buffer Lands are an oasis of rolling countryside becoming more precious and vital each passing day.
Thousands of residents have come to enjoy the Stewart Buffer. What began and continues as a hunting cooperative, has also become a park for mountain bikers, horseback riders, birders and other naturalists, hikers, and cross-country skiers. Even children are discovering the lands and walk its country roads from adjacent residential areas. Couples stroll through the peaceful landscape, as joggers puff along. Farm fields continue to be cultivated. A thousand yards into the land, the sound of traffic fades away. What a pleasure.
Documented studies show that the lands are home to a diverse population of birds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians, and even the casual observer can appreciate Stewart's biodiversity in a landscape encompassing woodlands, meadows, large and small wetlands, vernal pools and ponds.
However, eyeing more than 1,600 acres of the Buffer are pro-development leaders, whose names and organizations are intensely covered in the press. They are a special interest group, paid to encourage development of our county and valley. They do this for a living and they do it very well, benefiting personally from development projects
What about the general public? How would building warehouses and parking lots on lands the public has enjoyed for recreation for over 30 years provide any benefit? It would not.
The grassroots SPARC coalition realizes this with over one hundred organizations and thousands of members struggling to preserve the Stewart Buffer. SPARC members have nothing monetary to gain, and freely contribute their time, energy and money. The opposition is well-funded and powerful, but SPARC is doing the right thing for present and future generations by saving these beautiful and irreplaceable lands in our area.
Contrary to the loud voices of pro-development organizations, the parklands of the Stewart Buffer are not needed for Stewart Airport to become the 'economic engine' of Orange County, and a new but more efficient access to the airport can be built without interfering with the integrity of these lands. Indeed, the airport can thrive without swallowing the countryside.
SPARC, Sierra, Sportsmen, Won the Appeal
SPARC, and co-plaintiffs Orange County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs and the Sierra Club, won an important victory for the Stewart Buffer Lands in the federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, last December 12, 2003. The Court decided that the lands fall under the protection of Section 4(f) of the federal Transportation Act.
Their ruling means that the lands are legally considered to be. . " a public park, recreation area, or wildlife and waterfowl refuge of national, State or local significance." Therefore, before any highway project (i.e. the Drury Lane Interchange Project) can be built on these lands, it must be demonstrated that:
(1) "there is no prudent and feasible alternative to using that land", and
(2) "the program or project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the park, recreation area, wildlife and waterfowl refuge or historic site resulting from [such] use."
The statute also states that "it is the policy of the United States Government that special effort should be made to preserve the natural beauty of the countryside and public park and recreation lands, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, historic sites."
The decision was in stark contrast to longtime claims by NYS DOT, the Thruway, and the Federal Highway Administration, that the lands were not recreation lands and should not have the protection of 4(f). The appellate court rejected this reasoning, based on actual usage for recreation for more than thirty years.
This decision culminated a process that started in September of 2002, when the Coalition filed its intent to appeal, followed by the granting of an injunction in November 2002, staying any construction while the appeal was in process. The injunction continued despite challenges from the government agencies, and the intense discomfort of pro-development groups.
Last April 29th, 2003, the hearing on the appeal was held, following the filling of all necessary briefs. Again, pro-development groups expected a quick and favorable decision, but instead months passed with the injunction still in place and no sign of a ruling.
Even days before the news on December 12th, eight months later, the director of the NYS Thruway had announced at a business breakfast his confidence that the court would rule in favor of the defendant agencies, and the road project would begin. When the ruling came down in favor of SPARC and co-plaintiffs, it created shock waves.
John Stouffer, the Legislative Chair of the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club, commented on the ruling, "The Stewart Buffer Lands are important recreational lands that are enjoyed by thousands. Fortunately, as the court has ruled, federal law prohibits the use of these lands for roads if there is any other alternative. We believe that if the New York State Dept. of Transportation looks at this issue with an open mind we can quickly arrive at a solution that both addresses airport access and protects our recreation lands. If on the other hand the DOT continues to insist on developing roads on the recreation lands, there are likely to be significant delays in any airport access project."
SPARC President Sandra Kissam said, "This ruling validates and dignifies the lands' most important function as a public recreation and wildlife area, as well as an airport buffer. Although the effort to protect all the land is far from over, the ruling is a giant step in the right direction."
Rudy Vallet, SPARC Vice President and Secretary of the Orange County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, said, "We have always felt that it is possible to have a thriving airport with adequate access and still preserve all of the recreational lands that have been enjoyed by the public for 30 years."
(The decision can be found on the court's website: www.ca2.uscourts.gov/ , click 'decisions', then 'recent decisions'.)
Currently, the defendant agencies have asked the court to rehear the case 'en banc', meaning with all the justices presiding. This motion is rarely granted. The appeal was heard with the usual three justices, and in this case the decision was split, two to one.
At the same time, it seems likely that the agencies are engaging in the required 4(f) review and doing some sort of redesign of the highway project. The situation is presently unclear and SPARC with our co-plaintiffs are preparing for a range of measures that would support and enforce the court's ruling.
Having a Ball
The huge white tent, erected for the SPARC's Virtual Ball 2004, situated on a hill with a sweeping view over the Stewart Buffer Lands, looked like a Clipper setting out on an evening voyage. An impressive group of passengers and crew attended the event that started promptly at six o'clock on Thursday March the 18th.
The daringly lit and decorated reception area played host to a gathering mosaic of gentlemen and ladies. The men in their finest attires, mostly classic tuxedos but some also decked out in Commes De Garçon and the likes.
And the Ladies.
The ladies they where breathtaking. Each one out-did their neighbor with glorious ensembles of gowns, shoes, accessories and hair-does (not one 'hair-don't' was visible in the crowd). As of by design they had all chosen natural colors and materials for the night. Looking out over the crowd one could see the greens of forests, the red and gold of the autumn leaves, shades of blue from the lakes and streams, and the deep dark colors from the wetlands. All mixed together like a reminder of why we where here this evening.
Champagne was served in tall, narrow stemmed glasses from shiny trays carried around by volunteers, as the guests mingled and talked. A large map of the Buffer Lands was projected on one of the walls.
After a short welcome from the President of SPARC, Sandra Kissam, she proposed a toast and all raised their glasses and in unison made a toast "To The Land".
The music that had been heard from behind the big tent wall, separating the reception area from the main hall, beckoned as the tent walls was pulled to the sides. As the guests streamed in to find their table and seat, huge images from the Buffer Land and SPARC events could be seen projected on all the walls and the top of the tent was lit with blue lights to evoke the sky. Center pieces made from indigenous Buffer Land flowers and plants finished the transformation from indoors to outdoors.
The appetizers was lready placed on the tables, and as people sampled what was on the dish, old friends where greeted and new ones where made.
While the appetizers where cleared off and the main course served, Rudy Vallet, SPARC's Vice President, reminded the donors that all the expenses for this, as for most SPARC events, from organization to printing was donated or covered by the SPARC board and members so that all the money raised can go straight to the legal costs incurred fighting to keep the Buffer Lands undeveloped. In this specific case the Ball comity: Linda Meyer, Paul van Niewerburgh, Mary Kay Stoller, Diana Krautter, Anne Gayler, Patricia Williams, Chuck Tibbert, Bo G, Eriksson, Patricia O'Dwyer was to thank for their great work and generosity.
The main course, a choice of meat, fish or vegetarian, was being served by a swift staff of volunters.
With coffee and dessert the first couples took to the dance floor for the evening. The music was provided by the Sparks a ten person band with style, swing and grace.
As the grand finale and as a sign that the evening was drawing to a close a panorama of the Lands is projected on the tent wall, on the side facing the Lands. Then slowly it started to move to the side, section by section reaviling The Buffer Lands in front of us in perfect darkness outlined by countless lights from houses, roads and businesses. A darkness that proofed a piece of land untouched by mans hands and left to nature to rule and govern.
Standing in silence, the guests and support staff were each strengthened in their belief and will to preserve this unique contiguous area in the middle of our fast growing area and that a nations wealth should not be measured in money, but the legacy that is left to the generations that follow.
Walking towards our car a firework display erupted in the black sky above and we traveled home in a landscape lit by a multitude of stars.
Money had been raised and a good time was had by all.
Save The Land
If You See Red
Please look at your address label. A red mark means you need to send in your 2004 dues right away, so that your membership continues. Don't delay. Your dues fund our mailings and other vital costs. We thank you in advance for your check.
Check Out the Birds on the Buffer
by Tom Fitzgerald (Excerpt reprinted with permission of Mid Hudson Times)
I'm a backyard birder, not a serious bird watcher. In recent years I've spent a lot more time filling bird feeders and trying
to outsmart the squirrels than I have watching birds. Many people in the area
are serious, however, so I wasn't really surprised that the Stewart Park & Reserve Coalition (SPARC) offered a program "Birds on the Buffer" last week at its monthly meeting. I decided to go.
"Birds on the Buffer" was presented by Herbert Stein and Kelly
Sheridan. Mr. Stein has been the president of both the Orange County Audubon
Society and the Edgar Mearns Bird Club. He's a real birder. Ms. Sheridan has been
studying Stewart's buffer birds since 2000 as part of the Breeding Bird Survey
sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and other groups. She's a
real birder too. They are both very excited about birds and very knowledgeable
about the birds that inhabit or pass through the Stewart buffer lands.
Mr. Stein brought part of his slide collection to the meeting,
beautiful photos of bucolic scenes and wildlife on the buffer, including amazing
closeups of butterflies, shots of meadows and wetlands, and of course,
birds--ducks, pheasants, a Great Blue Heron, an egret, owls, a bobolink, something
called an Upland Plover, and a Grassland Sparrow. He explained that grasslands are
the most endangered habitat in New York State. The Stewart buffer lands have some of the best remaining grasslands around. Mr. Stein told us to go out to the buffer lands and find a Grassland Sparrow, which is also endangered. "Finding a Grassland Sparrow will get us the designation of IBA--Important Bird Area--from Cornell," he
said. Bird watching takes on new meaning for me.
Ms. Sheridan easily transmitted her excitement about birds to the
audience. With a collage of bird photos and a large map of the Stewart buffer
lands, she told us where the various bird species can be observed. "The best
time to go is in the early morning at sunrise or at dusk. That's when the birds
are most active," she said, stressing that "it's relatively easy to see many different
species of birds on the buffer lands but much more difficult to prove that they
are breeding there." That's what she's been doing since 2000, looking for
and documenting evidence of breeding. She gave a detailed description of a male woodcock "displaying" for females, an example of some of the stunning bird watching available on the buffer lands.
As a backyard birder, I'm encouraged to spend some time in the
Stewart buffer lands right in our backyard. What does a Grassland Sparrow look like
Youth Day and the 11th Annual SPARC Scholarship Award
SPARC is once again holding a special free event for youngsters and their families. Welcome to our second annual YOUTH DAY, next to beautiful Wilkins Pond off Barron Road on the Buffer. This will be on Sunday, April 25th, from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, celebrating our young people, Earth Day, and the Buffer Lands, all in one swoop. There will be nature walks, bird walks, Labrador retrievers, environmental activities, a kayak demonstration, and a raffle for a kayak ride into Constitution Marsh. Bring your bicycle and fishing pole also to Youth Day, if you like.
In the afternoon we will present our 14th Annual Ben Kissam Environmental Conservation Award. Applications for this $350 award have been previously distributed to area high schools and others, and are due to SPARC's postal box by April 12, 2004. If you have done projects to help the environment, and are between the ages of 14 and 18, you may be eligible for this award. The application is also available as a download from SPARC's website, www.frontiernet.net/~sparc..
For more information about Youth Day and the scholarship, please call Verne at 845 569-8965 or Joan at 845 562-5709. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you there on the 25th of April!
Operation 'Shove It'
Unfortunately the melting snow and arrival of spring revealed the ugly sight of trash along SPARC's Adopt-a-Highway section! And so we must tackle Operation 'Shove It'---that is, into our big orange trash bags, to make the roadside look decent again.
SPARC is responsible for cleaning two miles along the Buffer Lands on Rt. 207. All equipment will be provided and the date is Sunday, April 18th, at 9:00 AM.
Our valiant cleanup chairman, Joe, will gladly provide you with snacks on Sunday morning before we take on the mess, at our meeting place in the Buffer parking lot off Rt. 207 at Weed Rd. No, it's not a nice job, but someone's gotta do it, and we should all be out by noon. Please call Joe ahead of time at 845 778-3189.
Sunday, April 18, 2004, Highway Cleanup, Rt. 207 nr. Buffer Lands
Sunday, April 25, 2004, Youth Day, 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, Barron Rd., Buffer Lands
Sunday, May 2, 2004, Horse Trail Ride, 8:30 AM till? Ridge Rd., Buffer Lands
Thursday, May 13, 2004, SPARC meeting, 7:30 PM, Amer. Legion Post #1420,
Town of Newburgh
Tuesday, May 25, 2004, SAC meeting, 8:00 AM, Stewart Airport Adm. Bldg.
Sunday, June 6, 2004, Birdwalk, Stewart Buffer Lands, call Ralph at 845 496-9487.
Sunday, June 13, 2004, Buffer Bike Tour, details to follow.