In Columbia County, two hours north of New York City, extensive forests, working farms and historic hamlets give rise to a scenic rural landscape rich in conservation value. It has 18 towns, each with a distinct mindset. “If you want to talk about conserving a beautiful place like this, you need to engage the people who live here,” says Peter Paden, executive director of the accredited Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC).
With a reputation for adherence to Land Trust Standards and Practices, professional transactions, responsible financial policies, good land management, programs that connect people to the land and a voice that resonates with the community, CLC offers a compelling model for multi-faceted, quality conservation.
“Our vision developed over time as we saw what we could do and what we needed to do,” says Michael Polemis, a CLC co-founder and a board member for more than 26 years. That vision became one of permanently protecting the county’s rural character while reflecting community goals. “We’ve become involved not just in the obvious work of conservation, but also in theunderlying work of the county,” he says, including town land-use planning discussions. Board Chair Debbie Lans adds, “We try to make the case in many different ways for all the benefits of land conservation, and why it is important to protect the qualities of the area that are valued by everyone who lives here."
Most planning decisions in this 400,000-acre at the township level, where the bigger picture of countywide conservation sometimes gets trumped. So how does CLC continue to foster support for conservation and a shared responsibility for safeguarding the county’s natural resources for the long term?
“By pursuing a number of strategies and remaining ever mindful of the need to maintain the respect and trust of the community,” says Peter. In addition to its conservation easements and fee-owned public lands, CLC operates a Farmer Landowner Match Program, a Community Assistance Program for town planners and environmental education programs. Much of this work has been supported through the Land Trust Alliance’s New York grants program.
Reaching young people is especially important to CLC. “We could find ourselves with a population of young adults who have grown up disconnected from the real, tactile qualities in nature,” says Michael. “If that happens, then they as voters will value this landscape less. Our constant job is to find and make those connections.”