by Peter Paden
Published May 4, 2012 in the Register-Star
For anyone who loves the outdoors, Columbia County is a spectacular place. We are blessed with an extraordinary array of forests, fields and streams, brimming with plant and animal life. We are surrounded by scenic landscapes – breathtaking panoramic vistas and exquisite short and mid-range views. There are innumerable opportunities for hiking, bird watching, canoeing or kayaking, fishing, bicycling, painting and photography, and similar pursuits.
But where can you go to find out about places where these activities can be pursued? There are guidebooks focused on New York State, or the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires, or on specific pursuits, such as canoeing and kayaking, and these contain occasional references to areas in Columbia County. But to date there has been no single collection of such information focusing exclusively on the fabulous place where we live.
This month, the Columbia Land Conservancy is publishing Columbia County Outdoors: A Guide to Recreational Areas in Columbia County, NY, by Sheldon Evans, a long-time county resident and CLC board member. Assisted by local author Rebecca Stowe and a number of CLC staff members, Sheldon has assembled what is without doubt the most comprehensive and useful guide for anyone eager to get out into and enjoy the natural world here.
What’s In It?
The book begins with short essays by two distinguished local experts. Conrad Vispo is an ecologist with the Farmscape Ecology Program at HawthorneValley, who has been studying the county’s flora, fauna and ecosystems for years. He presents a learned, entertaining and thought-provoking reflection on the forces that have shaped the county’s landscape from pre-historic times through the course of human settlement to the present day. He notes that the survival of our exceptionally vital natural world is attributable largely to the “whims of history.” That is, we’ve been lucky. And he closes with the sobering observation that our luck can’t last forever. It will only be conserved if those of us here today make conscious choices and have the commitment to follow through.
The second introductory essay is by historian Ruth Piwonka, of Kinderhook. Ruth’s piece, too, provides a remarkably rich snapshot, in this case an overview of our history since the time of European settlement. She touches on the evolution of community life from an early period of rigorous, subsistence farming in the “wilderness,” where the historical record contains little indication that people had much time to spend taking pleasure in the views or the natural beauty of the land, through a period in the nineteenth century of heavy industrial activity, such as mining, brick making and textile manufacturing, and intense agriculture, all of which took a heavy toll on the land. The fascinating story is reflected in the landscape before us today.
Following these two pieces are six informative essays by local experts on opportunities for cycling, running, hiking and walking, fishing, kayaking, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The essays present important basic information, health and safety tips, suggestions about particularly good places or areas of the county to enjoy the activity and references to websites where additional resources can be found.
The heart of the publication presents information on 39 separate places in the county that are available for outdoor recreation. For each, there is presented on one side of the page a “highlight,” location and directions, a descriptive overview, and where applicable, there are links to related web sites. On the opposite page there is a clear and detailed site map. The sites, of course, include the 10 properties owned or managed for public recreation by CLC, our Public Conservation Areas, but include many more, as well. Some of these are well known, Olana, Lake Taghkanic State Park, Lindenwald. Some, I am quite sure, will be news to many.
The book then presents a list of places to launch a watercraft, a list of municipal parks in the county and comprehensive lists of places where various activities, such as fishing, mountain biking, picnicking, horseback riding, sledding and swimming (28 different activities in all), may be enjoyed.
The book closes with a brief description of the mission and work of the Columbia Land Conservancy.
The guide is not only informative. It is beautifully produced. The maps are clear and attractive and wonderful illustrative photographs appear throughout.
Why Did We Publish this Book?
One of our core commitments is to foster a knowledge and love of the land. We encourage people of all ages to get out into the natural world. We are confident that as people learn about the wonders and mysteries it holds, the pleasures of being part of it, and the profound satisfactions to be derived, they will as well come to appreciate the fundamental importance of maintaining it in good health. Hence, we’re eager to do whatever we can to encourage people to enjoy and learn to love the outdoors. You may recognize Sheldon’s name, as the author of CLC’s very popular Walks by Protected Land in Columbia County. First published in 1995, it describes 20 separate walking routes on county roads that pass by properties that have been permanently protected from intense development by CLC. The book, now in its third edition, remains in high demand. The new volume greatly expands on the concept. We are pleased and proud it is finally here.
We are especially pleased to have received a gracious and laudatory preface from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Here, in part, is what she has to say:
[ColumbiaCounty] is not a place to admire from afar, it is a place to be – to live and work and play – and the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC) has played a critical role in forging that reality. Its relentless commitment to the preservation of farms, forests, wildlife and open space, agricultural development, trail building and restoration, and conservation education has been instrumental in ensuring that these communities retain their productivity, authenticity and vitality. . . .
As you leaf through the pages of this book to explore some of Columbia County’s finest recreational offerings, you’ll discover the magnitude of CLC’s contribution to the region. I extend my deepest gratitude to the organization for having the foresight and dedication to ensure that this is not just our land to enjoy, but also our children’s.
How and When Can You Get a Copy?
The book goes on sale on Saturday May 5th. We’re having a release party at noon that day – a bird walk through the Fields sculpture park at Art Omi, after which Sheldon will autograph copies. Please join us. To order a box lunch, call 392-4747. The book will also be available starting Saturday at the CLC store at 49 Main Street, Chatham and, soon, at several bookstores throughout the county.
Peter Paden is Executive Director of the Columbia Land Conservancy. His column appears on the first Friday of every month.