By Georgette Weir, Trail Walker contributing editor
In October, The Open Space Institute (OSI) joined with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey, and the Black Rock Forest Preserve (BRFP) in announcing the largest ever conservation easement in the Hudson Highlands. The easement on 3,777 acres of mountainous, undeveloped land in the western Hudson Highlands, known as Black Rock Forest Preserve, was purchased by OSI from the Preserve and is to be donated to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.
The easement will assure the permanent protection of Black Rock’s prominent open space, significant mature forest, and at least 23 miles of trails, most maintained by Trail Conference volunteers for the benefit of hikers and walkers, who have long been welcome to explore the Preserve. Black Rock Forest is adjacent to Storm King State Park and West Point Military Academy (see West Hudson Trails map 113).
Dr. William Schuster, executive director of the Black Rock Forest Consortium, which leases and manages the Preserve for research, education, and recreation purposes, explained that while most of the land had been somewhat protected by deed restrictions, permanent protection was not guaranteed and several areas had no protection at all. Perhaps most significantly, the unprotected land included the extensive parcels that border Route 9W, where there is a trail head for the popular Black Rock Hollow Trail. The conservation easement provides the long-sought permanent protection.
He noted that the agreement specifically requires that a minimum of 23 miles of trails—the current number—be provided for public use in the future, though the configuration of trails may be subject to change.
In addition to securing long-term protection of the Preserve, Schuster reports that OSI will create a conservation fund, to be co-managed by BRFP, with the goal of protecting additional adjacent parcels that will extend the corridor of protected land toward Schunnemunk Mountain State Park. A “public access” fund will also be established to support the Preserve’s maintenance of parking areas and trails.
Hudson Highlands Connectivity Project
Securing the future of Black Rock Forest is a key part of the Hudson Highlands Connectivity Project, in which numerous organizations, including the Trail Conference, seek to preserve a green corridor from the Hudson River through Storm King State Park, Black Rock Forest, Schunnemunk Mountain State Park, and beyond to Goosepond and Sterling Forest State Parks. In plotting and blazing the Highlands Trails and Long Path through these parks and intervening areas, the Trail Conference has helped to define the corridor and identify cooperative landowners.
“The Trail Conference is a member of the Black Rock Forest Consortium and we are delighted that this important forest is now permanently protected,” says Executive Director Edward Goodell. “Our volunteers have been maintaining trails at Black Rock Forest for decades, and it is a favorite destination for thousands of hikers and walkers, as well as countless young people who visit with school groups to learn environmental science and enjoy real field experience, many for the first time. We look forward to working with our Consortium partners to secure more land for the Hudson Highlands Connectivity Project and protection for more long distance and local trails.”