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Letter: Protect town’s open spaces to maintain quality of life

Editor, The Spotlight:

I applaud the town for appointing a committee of talented and committed individuals to review progress on the town’s comprehensive plan that included many references to the importance of maintaining the character and open spaces of our town.  As part of that review, I encourage them to listen to Bethlehem Tomorrow, a volunteer group of residents in Bethlehem interested in open space protection, and the over 900 residents who signed petitions calling for the creation of a town open space program.   

 Saving special places in Albany, Schenectady and Montgomery counties is the mission of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy (MHLC). We strive to protect scenic vistas that have particular value to the public; significant habitats, wetlands, working landscapes such as farmlands; geological, scientific and cultural resources; and stream and trail corridors. These areas are important to protect our water and air quality, contribute to the health and welfare of animals and humans, provide recreational areas close to where we live, and generally contribute to our quality of life.

 I have found great solace in walking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on the trails of MHLC’s five preserves in Bethlehem, Five Rivers Environmental Center and nearby Thatcher Park. These excursions have provided a great break from the stresses of raising children, careers and the challenges of life generally. They have enabled me to instill an appreciation of the outdoors and nature in my children. 

 I love the small community feel of Bethlehem, with its open spaces and easy access to places to walk, bike and enjoy the beauty of open lands. I appreciate the farms and open spaces throughout our community.  Sadly, many of those quiet country roads and farmlands are now developments and not so peaceful anymore.

 The value of open space is immense. Open space saves more money than it costs.  It holds back rising tax dollars, maintains property values, attracts new businesses, and preserves our community’s environmental character and our residents’ quality of life. But, opportunities for open space protection are fleeting.  When a golf course, a tract of woodlands, or a farm field suddenly comes on the market, the Town needs to be able to react quickly.  With an open space program, the Town can act, guided by carefully thought-out standards for purchase of property or development rights. 

 As the town of Bethlehem begins its review of the town’s comprehensive plan, I encourage them to look closely at protecting open spaces and determine what has and has not been done during the last ten years and recommend concrete actions to save open spaces before it is too late. Once open space is developed, it is gone forever.

Judy Thomson

Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy Board President

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