The Putnam County Land Trust is Paul Fitchen’s legacy. Paul retired in the early 1960’s to his former weekend-only home on Starr Ridge Road in the town of Southeast. As Paul observed the ribbon of concrete creeping into Putnam County that we now know as Interstate 684, he brought together thoughtful and influential friends to discuss ways to save open spaces. This interest in preserving the land around him shaped the remainder of his life as well as the future of eastern Putnam County.
Paul realized that development couldn’t be stopped, but believed it should meet certain community standards and wanted to see responsible development. Thus, Southeast Open Spaces (SOS), a land trust, was formed in 1969. The Putnam County Land Trust is continuing to work to ensure that land acquisition continues in Putnam County – to forever protect the beautiful hills and valleys, wetlands and streams before they are lost to development.
The organization is a 501(c) (3) and is an all-volunteer and membership corporation. It is managed and overseen by a 15 member board of trustees each serving a 3 year term and supported by membership donations and its Annual Benefit Dinner and Auction. Other fund raising efforts include its Friends of the Trails program.
What follows is a chronology of our work over the past 43 years:
In 1971, Helen Field Gatling donated 20 acres of farmland which had been part of her family’s working dairy farm. The Field family had come from Long Island in 1753 and were the first settlers of record to move to Southeast. The property, now known as Field Farmstead Preserve, is located on Fields Lane at the southern end of Southeast , and contains spectacular rock outcroppings known as hog back ridges.
In 1974, Luther Baumgartner donated 19 acres of property within the town of Carmel. The property was named Top Hill Preserve.
That same year, the organization’s name was changed to Save Open Spaces in recognition of the need to preserve land throughout eastern and central Putnam County.
In 1976, George Shawe, a well-known local artist and his wife, Pam, donated 18 acres of property on Ice Pond Road in Patterson, now known as the Shawe Preserve. It was the first piece of land in what later became a much larger Ice Pond Conservation Area.
In 1977, Dr. Henry Ross donated 38 acres on Milltown Road in Southeast in memory of his life partner, the actress Glenda Farrell. This preserve, named the Glenda Farrell- Henry Ross Preserve contains many historic rock walls and unusual rock formations, and borders a Revolutionary War cemetery. The preserve sits on the area referred to as “The Oblong”, a tract of land between New York and Connecticut that was contested when these states borders were being laid out.
In 1985, members of the Putnam County Land Trust worked with the Putnam County Legislature to pass Resolution 555 which allowed the County to keep wetlands acquired through non-payment of taxes as open space. This has resulted in the protection of over 2,000 acres of environmentally critical water filtering wetlands.
In 1986, recognizing that Save Open Spaces had an admirable and widespread reputation for land protection, the Audubon Society transferred ownership of 31 streamside acres on Cobb Road in Southeast to PCLT. PCLT named it the Birdwood Preserve. The stream serves as the outlet for Peach Lake and empties into the East Branch Reservoir on Route 6, between Brewster and Danbury. PCLT works closely with New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to protect the stream along its property boundaries. The East Branch is part of New York City’s East of Hudson – Croton Water Supply.
During the 1980’s and 90’s, Mark Dollard and several others served in PCLT leadership positions. Michael Ciaiola (a high school science teacher) also served terms as President of the land trust. These leaders were totally dedicated to the concept of preserving open space and protecting sensitive wildlife habitats.
In 1990, Putnam County transferred ownership of a 48 acre tract of wooded wetlands and red maple swamp located near Peach Lake to the land trust.. This preserve was named the Paul Fitchen Preserve, in honor of PCLT’s founder.
Another 59 acres called Cedar Swamp was donated by Putnam County in 1991. This parcel, which is adjacent to the Fitchen Preserve and Birdwood Preserve, contains bogs, ferns, mosses, and sweet pepper bush. Following this acquisition, PCLT owned 138 acres of land around the north end of Peach Lake, referred to as the Peach Lake Natural Area.
Also in 1991, the land trust acquired its first parcel in the Great Swamp. This 13 acre open, wet meadow is extremely important to migratory and nesting birds. It was donated by Vera and Henry Keil and was named the Doansburg Preserve.
In 1992, the organization changed its name again – this time to the Putnam County Land Trust (PCLT), to reflect the broader mission of preserving land and protecting sensitive habitats throughout Putnam County.
The land trust acquired 6 acres of wetland from Orlando Papaleo in 1994. This was the first parcel in the town of Kent to come under the protection of PCLT.
In 1996, the land trust acquired the Twin Hill Preserve from David and Muriel Tischler substantially enlarging protection of the Ice Pond area. At that time, Board member Robert Lund began overseeing the development of trails on our preserves with the help of Boy Scouts seeking their Eagle Scout rank. Bob’s son, Michael, constructed and marked trails at the Twin Hill Preserve.
The following year, Tom and Edie Keasbey donated 38 acres on Cornwall Hill in Patterson. It was named Sterling Farm Preserve in memory of Edie’s grandparents who ran the Sterling Farm Dairy as recently as the 1930’s. This parcel was part of a number of 160 acre sites offered to soldiers returning from the Revolutionary War. Today, this beautiful, wooded property ascends to a ridge overlooking Turtle Pond and Ice Pond. Eagle Scout Troy Townsend was responsible for the construction of the first trails on the Sterling Farm Preserve.
In 1998, after the death of nature lover and long-time land trust member Dorrie O’Brien, the land trust was the beneficiary of her Cobb Road home and its surrounding 2 acres. This bequest increased the land trust’s holdings at the north end of Peach Lake to 140 acres and provided an alterative access to the Birdwood Preserve. After significant restoration and renovation, the building would become a much-needed headquarters for PCLT. Dorrie called her parcel “Chickadee Haven” but the board of the land trust voted to name it “Dorrie O’Brien House” in honor of her donation.
Once repairs to the sill-plate were completed through a generous donation from Eleanor Fitchen, many persons contributed to the renovations managed by PCLT Board member Denis Castelli. Denis was relentless in finding donors and volunteers to assist in the restoration. These volunteers pitched in to remove an old chimney, all of the old plaster & lathe, useless closets, obsolete bathroom fixtures and non-bearing walls. Once the studwork was visible throughout the first and second floors, rebuilding began following all current building codes. Dill’s Best provided the insulation for the entire house without charge and then provided discounts on all the construction material purchased from them. Volunteers insulated the house and Rick Correll of Sanjon, provided a crew who swept through in a weekend, sheet rocking and taping the interior as a donation to the Land Trust and leaving the walls ready for a paint job. Jeff Green donated his services to paint the interior.
John Folchetti of J. Robert Folchetti and Associates provided “as-built” drawings for necessary permits and engineering drawings for structural support for the main meeting room on the first floor. Stillwell Stairs donated the banister and railing. Structural work, inside and out, reconstruction of windows and storm-windows, installation of a new balustrade and handrails were done by Andrew Chastant’s company, AES Services Inc. All electrical work was brought up to code by Eagle Eye Electric and plumbing work by Dennis Palmer.
Early on, Denis Castelli brought his close friend, Jack Gress, who help immeasurably reducing or eliminating basement flooding and leaky foundation walls. Jack, a licensed contractor in Putnam County, volunteered for projects from installing fixtures to doing finish carpentry, from grading the property to installing curtain drains, and from installing bathroom tile to installing kitchen cabinets. Jack’s efforts were countless and are ongoing. Whenever there is an issue, it only takes a phone call.
George Tammany was able to secure a donation of radiant floor heating from Viega, the manufacturer, and arranged for donation of the plumbing hardware and a water heater needed to complete the installation. Then Tammany Hardwood Floors installed wide plank flooring throughout the house at the cost of the flooring. PCLT volunteers painted the outside of the house, installed landscaping, mowed lawns, loaded dumpsters, set up furniture and generally completed all the work that did not require paid professionals.
Finally in 2008, all was completed and the Dorrie O’Brian House received its Certificate of Occupancy. PCLT was more than ready to move in.
In 1999, three sisters – Leslie Sweedler, Dr. June Handler, and Dr. Beverly Spatt – donated 6 acres in Kent, north of Route 84 along the Drew Lake outlet stream. Originally farmland, the donation of this parcel protects the stream corridor and is called the Ludingtonville Preserve.
The same year, Boy Scout Mike Cadigan completed the trail and observation platform at the Doansburg Preserve in Southeast.
Additionally in 1999, the 46 acre Ice Pond, plus 58 acres of forested hills and high quality wetlands were acquired through the efforts of the Community Enhancement Facilities Assistance Program of the Empire State Development Corporation, a donation by the Ice Pond Corporation, and the efforts of Michael Ciaiola, Hunter Pollock and Laurie Wallace. This is an important historic and natural area that provides bird habitat, shelter, and corridors for wildlife.
PCLT President Michael Ciaiola died at the end of 1999, and was succeeded by Hunter Pollock, a long-time supporter of environmental causes.
In 2000, Elena Hill, with the assistance of real estate agent Don Mituzas, donated 17 acres of property which protects the confluence of the Croton River and the Haviland Hollow Brook in Patterson. It is named the Elena Hill Preserve in honor of the donor.
In 2001, Helen Sprague donated 5+ acres of her family’s former woodlot located in the Great Swamp now known as the Sprague Preserve. Boy Scout Evan Sterling renovated existing trails and constructed additional trails on the Top Hill Preserve in Carmel. Scout Eric McGregor cleared and improved trails on the Birdwood and Paul Fitchen Preserves.
In 2002, Mildred Lushinsky donated 18 acres of a beautiful ridgeline on Cornwall Hill in Patterson. Along with the 37 acres of Sterling Farm already held by PCLT, protected land holdings on Cornwall Hill now totaled 55 acres. In the same year, Boy Scout Joe Becker completed 800 feet of boardwalk at the Farrell-Ross Preserve and extended the trails so the public could have better access to this beautiful area.
Plant inventories on Doansburg and Field Farmstead Preserves were undertaken and completed by Kent resident and PCLT board member Dr. William Buck – a bryologist (mosses) at the New York Botanical Gardens – and land trust volunteers. Paul Schlansky, a soil expert, completed soil surveys for all of our existing preserves.
A fish survey on Ice Pond and other local bodies of water was also undertaken by Steven Coghlan and other ichthyologists from SUNY Syracuse’s School of Enviromental Science and Forestry’s chapter of the American Fisheries Society. Dr. James (Jim) Utter and students from SUNY Purchase also participated. Plant and soil inventories and fish surveys help in the preparation of management plans for the preserves.
Building on the land trust’s relationship with Dr. Utter and Friends of Great Swamp (FrOGS), PCLT joined with many other organizations in becoming part of the Highlands Coalition, a four-state alliance of nearly 200 nonprofit, municipal, state and federal organizations working collaboratively to protect vitally important natural resources in the Highlands of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Plant inventories were undertaken under leadership of PCLT board member Dr. William (Bill) Buck at Sterling Farm Preserve in 2003. With the help of a lichen expert from another botanical garden, lichen new to the area were identified and documented on the preserve.
After nine years as an active volunteer and PCLT board member, Judy Terlizzi became President of the land trust in 2003.
In 2004, the land trust partnered with FrOGS to apply for and receive a NAWCA grant that allowed the acquisition of the 44 acre Mendel Pond area in Patterson from Bill and Sheila Hamilton. This parcel preserves forever the important wildlife corridor that bridges Cornwall Hill. The Hamilton’s requested that this pond be known by its original name – Turtle Pond.
Also in that year, a corporate partnership program was initiated by the Annual Benefit Dinner Committee. The law firm of William Sayegh became PCLT’s first full corporate partner. Since then, many other firms and business have added their support, including Sanjon, Inc., Insite Engineering, Putnam County Savings Bank, Reservoir Realty, and The Chuckie Goodnight Foundation among others.
In 2004, with the help of Bob Lund and others, Joel Schwartz completed his Eagle Scout project on the Fitchen Preserve by extending the trail for another half mile.
In 2005, The Putnam County Land Trust made a determination to meet generally accepted standards and practices in land conservation as promulgated by the Land Trust Alliance. The land trust wanted to make a statement to its donors and members that it is seriously committed to land preservation and providing public access to its holdings. The PCLT continues to work toward this goal through grants, consultation and support from the New York State Conservation Partnership Program and the New York Council on Non Profits.
In 2007, a parcel belonging to Frank & Catherine Plunkett was acquired through the NAWCA grant adding more than five acres to the protection of Cornwall Ridge. Today, the properties of Turtle Pond, the Lushinsky Preserve, the Plunkett Preserve and Sterling Farm Preserve are collectively known as the Laurel Ledges Natural Area.
An additional 94 acre parcel situated along the southeast corner of Route 164 and Farm to Market Road was donated to the land trust in 2007 by the Nature Conservancy. The site was named the Brandon Farms Preserve in recognition of its farming history by the Brandon Family. This property is affords PCLT the opportunity to expand its volunteer training program in conjunction with the New York New Jersey Trail Conference through workshops in trail design and construction, border posting and invasive plant management. A New York State Conservation Partnership Grant provided PCLT the funds to complete the costs associated with this donation. A second NYS Conservation Partnership Grant that year helped the land trust to gain knowledge and experience in baseline documentation work that is a component of LTA’s Standards and Practices.
In 2007, the Land Trust was approached by two Carmel High School Students, Anna Eisenstein and Krista Gabarro who were seeking an appropriate site to develop a handicap accessible trail. After visiting several land trust preserves and other areas, the area they selected was part of the Dorrie O Brien property on Cobb Road in Southeast. These two young women were responsible for the design and construction of this lovely 800+ foot path raising $33,000 in cash and in-kind donations to fulfill their commitment. Officially opened in 2008, the trail is called The Lindera Loop Trail and is open to all.
And, in Patterson, Stephen Maddock was working on his Eagle Scout project under the mentoring of Bob Lund, His project was to develop a wonderful trail along the north edge of Turtle Pond. This trail includes a floating boardwalk which allows access to the trails on the Laurel Ledges Natural Area.
Also in 2007, Daniel Atha of the New York Botanical Society began a study of the flora of the Ice Pond basin. Three Ecological systems have been identified: Lacustrene, Palustrene and Terrestrial. In these systems are some of the richest and most diverse plant systems in the area numbering 545 vascular plants, and 54 mosses and lichens.
In 2008, the Putnam County Land Trust took its first Conservation Easement with the help of the Westchester Land Trust. This property sits adjacent to the Donald Trump State Park in Putnam Valley. Also acquired in 2008 was the Cifu Wetlands Preserve from the Cifu Family on Farm to Market Road. The funding for this acquisition was provided by the NAWCA grant. This property continues to allow duck hunting as part of the conditions for the donation.
In 2009, Edie Keasbey donated a key parcel along Couch Road that allows a biotic corridor between the Laurel Ledges Natural Area and the Great Swamp Wildlife Management Area. This parcel, named in memory of Tom Keasbey who continued to walk this trail until his final days, is called Toms’ Path.
Rick Dill donated the Frederick Dill Preserve in 2009. This parcel sits along the western edge of the Peekskill Hollow Brook and is about 10 acres, abutting Piano Mountain in the Town of Putnam Valley.
In 2011, Saul and Ingrid Chase donated approximately 26 acres to the land trust protecting a small portion of the Peekskill Hollow Brook in Putnam Valley and the uplands above it. This beautiful parcel will be held for conservation, protecting the wetlands and biotic corridors on it.
Tom Frasca and the 17 Couch Road Corporation donated 14 acres to the land trust completing the preservation of historic Cornwall Ridge. This parcel named the Peter Hartford Dunlop Preserve, added to the Laurel Ledges Natural Area.
In 2012, two families made land donations that enlarged land trust holdings. Two sisters, Dorothy De Rosa and Maria Ritchie donated a small but lovely parcel along the Peekskill Hollow Brook in Putnam Valley. The Robert and Josephine and Koestner Preserve, named in memory of their parents, will be used for wildlife conservation and nature programs.
Another family; Marilyn Price, Stephen Hick and Julie Paulsen donated two parcels totaling more than 19 acres along North Horse Pound Road in Kent that protect additional wetlands and wildlife habitat and will lend itself nicely to a lovely trail system. This preserve will be called the Dorothy and Gerald Hick Preserve in memory of their parents.
The Putnam County Land Trust has been and continues to be a membership corporation. Memberships start at $15. Community support enables this all-volunteer land trust to protect critical resources, especially forests that provide clean air and wetlands that help filter and retain clean water. That support also allows us to do more in the management of land trust properties by allowing public access for passive recreation. PCLT maintains a website (www.pclt.net) with information about our preserves, pictures including maps and descriptions of the many trails that are open to the public. There are also suggestions about how one can support the land trusts goals and efforts – via memberships, volunteerism, and land donations. Help the Putnam County Land Trust continue to Preserve Your Big Backyard.