Land Matters

Columbia County is a wonderful place to live and work. For most of us, one of the major attractions is the land we inhabit. We are blessed with the most significant concentrations of valuable farmland in the Hudson Valley, a vast expanse of unbroken forests, and hundreds of rich wetlands, woodland pools, streams, ponds, and lakes. All of these, in turn, give rise to exceptionally rich and diverse wildlife habitats and ecosystems.

Columbia County is a place of tremendous beauty. Ask anyone what they love about the county — whether they have been here for generations or just closed on their first weekend home — and the reply will be the same: the working farmland, forests and streams, the hamlets and villages that provide the focus of human community. These are the qualities that distinguish Columbia County from the crowded cities, suburbs, and still heavily developed areas that surround us.

Our proximity to New York City, Boston, and Albany makes Columbia County a uniquely attractive place for people looking to live and work in a rural setting. A central question is whether the county will be able to retain its unique characteristics and valuable natural resources while creating jobs and an economy to support future generations. The answer will be determined by those of us here today, by our understanding of the land, our commitment to it, our vision for the future and our willingness to work together to ensure that the vision is realized.

We have the opportunity to guide growth in a manner that respects the extraordinary natural features and human resources that make Columbia County such a special place.

With high-quality farmland in abundance, Columbia County is well positioned to take advantage of the explosion of demand for food and fiber products grown close to the point of consumption. We may be able to sustain and build upon what is already a resurgent agricultural sector, and once again become a major source of farm products for our region. This would be a win-win scenario: great for the local economy; and great for the working landscapes and for conservation, as well. Many people are working in many different ways to see that this comes about.

Similarly, our countryside compares favorably with any number of beautiful spots around the world that attract and thrive upon large numbers of visitors each year. There is every reason to work to bolster our own tourism industry to provide for the county’s needed job creation and economic growth.

Such scenarios are well within our reach, but they are not inevitable. There is plenty of opportunity for haphazard, poorly planned, or uncontrolled development to damage our natural resources, our agricultural land base, and our extraordinary scenic landscapes beyond recognition. It will require commitment and concerted effort to ensure that this does not happen. Knowledge and understanding of the land, appreciation for what it is and does, how it “works,” and a commitment to use and care for it wisely are essential.

The Columbia Land Conservancy envisions a future in which the county enjoys a strong economy structured in a manner respectful of the exceptional conservation qualities of the area. I’m looking forward to discussing these and related topics in the months ahead. I hope these pieces will promote thought, discussion, and understanding about the extraordinary land we all inhabit, and about the Columbia Land Conservancy — who we are, how we work, and how we don’t work. And I hope that, together, we’ll all learn a little bit more each month about why, in Columbia County, land matters so very much.

Peter Paden is Executive Director of the Columbia Land Conservancy, a community-based land trust dedicated to land conservation in Columbia County. He may be reached at peter.paden@clctrust.org.

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