The Rensselaer Plateau in upstate New York is getting its second community forest. What's a community forest? Well, it depends on the community.
When the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance (RPA) helped create a community forest in the town of Poestenkill, a steering committee of local citizens decided to create trails for hiking and mountain biking. They also created a demonstration forest, offering sustainable forestry workshops and logging safety classes. Income from timber harvests will offset some of the costs to acquire and maintain the property.
Jim Bonesteel, executive director of RPA, says "We've been overwhelmed by how the community has responded and how excited the committee members are to be involved, coming up with their own ideas for what to do on the land. Volunteers have come out to build trails on the land — hours and hours of volunteering. As more people are learning about it, people are getting really excited and involved."
RPA acquired the 350-acre property in 2014 — in part, through a grant from the U.S. Forest Service's Community Forest Program. This federal program funds projects that benefit the local community, provide public access and involve community members in management decisions. Additional support came from private donations, Callanan Industries, The Conservation Fund (accredited) and the Land Trust Alliance's New York Conservation Partnership Program.
This year, RPA got a Forest Service grant for another community forest on 315 acres in the Village of East Nassau, Town of Nassau and Town of Stephentown. Again, community members will decide what kind of recreational and educational benefits they want to see. For example, Bonesteel says, this community may want to create equestrian-friendly trails.
Rose Jenkins is a frequent contributor to Saving Land, the Alliance’s quarterly magazine.