By ALAN VIA
As you walk, cycle or drive around the rural areas at the fringes of our towns, do you ever wonder when that scenic view, woodland or field may be lost to development? The nonprofit Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy was founded in 1992 with the purpose of saving and protecting rural property in Albany, Schenectady and Montgomery counties for current and future generations. In the years since, the MHLC has saved more than 3,000 acres from development in our region, of which over 1,700 acres are open for public recreation.
In addition, the conservancy promotes voluntary conservation of woods and farmland.
There’s not enough room to highlight all 18 of their preserves but here’s a sample of some of my favorites.
Bennett Hill Preserve — This 155 acre jewel is located at the edge of Clarksville, visible as you approach the village. The entry trail follows an old woods road along a scenic pasture, behind which are views of the Helderbergs. As the trails ascends, you are surrounded by open hardwood forestlands with enough uphill terrain to provide a good workout. One of the trails passes through a hemlock forest and the path around the perimeter of the summit provides an open viewpoint that looks down on the village and hills of Rensselaer County in the distance. When the leaves are down, the bare trees provide the best views. In winter, Bennett is also a great location for snowshoeing and intermediate level cross-country skiers.
Holt Preserve — Located a short distance south of Feura Bush, the 150-acre Holt Preserve is one of my favorites. It has two trailheads, the upper less accessible in winter, but with long distance views as you ski or snowshoe the last quarter mile to the upper lot. The lower parking area is off of NY Route 32 at the end of Lower Copeland Hill road. From the parking area it’s an uphill walk to the upper trailhead. Holt has a little something for everyone. There is a large, clear pond where birds and wildlife congregate, areas of open white pine forest, a red pine plantation, wetlands, a stream and a large variety of trails suitable for families. Go for a hike on a summer evening and listen for barred owls calling. Spring birding, nature watching, fun with kids near the pond and excellent snowshoeing are just some of its attractions.
Albany County Rail Trail — The MHLC has overseen stewardship of what people refer to as the Albany County Rail Trail. By the time you read this, the paving from downtown Albany to Veterans Park in Delmar will have been completed. Until at least next year, though, the unpaved 2.5-mile section of the trail from New Scotland to Voorheesville remains a wonderful place to walk, run or cross-country ski as the trail transits woods and fields with only one road crossing at Hilton Road. Join the many people who have discovered this piece of wild at the edge of suburbia.
Wolf Creek Falls Preserve — Located a few minutes outside of Altamont, its 145 acres are laced with stone fences, a wetland ideal for spring birding and myriad trails. Part of the trail system follows a series of cascading waterfalls on Wolf Creek, a delight for photographers. The preserve is home to the “musical bridge,” constructed by builders who reportedly wanted eight of its floorboards to serve as a human sized xylophone capable of making music when tapped by walking sticks. Kids and children at heart should give it a try.
Bozen Kill Preserve — This brand new MHLC preserve saw its opening in October. Located in the Helderberg foothills in the town of Guilderland, on the outskirts of Altamont, the 214-acre preserve has two trails. One short spur trail from the parking area leads to the Bozen Kill, where the stream tumbles over rocky ledges. Where the trail departs the stream there is a short connecting trail leading to the main part of the preserve. At the end of the main trail, there is an overlook above the Bozen Kill, and on the way back to the car another viewpoint just off the trail.
The MHLC has wanted to protect this area for some time and teamed up with the Open Space Institute to protect the area in perpetuity.
Schoharie Creek Preserve — A little farther afield, part of this Montgomery County preserve follows the west bank of Schoharie Creek. The 1.3-mile loop passes through almost 200 acres and is worth the short drive if you enjoy water. The trail follows a section of Wilsey Creek, and its waterfalls almost demand photography. You’ll also descend and hike along Schoharie Creek, which feels more like a river after period of rain or in the spring. In midsummer, you wade through sections of wildflowers along the banks of the Schoharie.
The MHLC office is located a short walk from the Four Corners in Delmar, where the dedicated staff works on preservation issues and coordinates trail establishment, marking and maintenance. I urge people who want to know more about their great work or ways to support their ongoing effort to visit their website at mohawkhudson.org/.
Alan Via is the author of The Catskill 67 – A Hiker’s Guide to the Catskill 100 Highest Peaks under 3500’. He is a frequent contributor to Adirondack Sports and Fitness, The Watershed Post and Adirondack Magazine. Alan is the founder and trip leader of the Bethlehem Area YMCA hiking program which takes members on hikes and snowshoes to the Adirondacks and Catskills, as well as to some of the preserves mentioned in the article.