The Five Rivers Environmental Education Center has been an asset to the people of the Capital District for decades, educating children from surrounding school districts on the wonders that nature has to provide. It’s a “living museum,” as described on its homepage. Miles of nature trails take kids and curious adults around roughly 450 acres of water and woodland habitats. It’s been like this for generations.
Its location has been a matter of convenience for those interested in preserving its assets. As suburbs blossomed over the years, the development was limited to the center of the Town of Bethlehem, where Five Rivers is located on the outskirts — and farthest point away from the City of Albany.
Over the years, houses have sprouted up along the sides of Orchard Street, which ultimately leads to the center, but maintained enough distance to leave some breathing room between this wilderness wonderland and modern housing.
Now, two separate housing developments are proposed to neighbor Five Rivers; The Creekside in New Scotland, and Philipin Kill Manor in Bethlehem.
The Philip Kill Manor plans alone, call to have 49 homes, 38 townhouses and seven “estate” homes be built close enough to encourage Bethlehem’s Planning Board to require the developer to add trails to connect the development to Five Rivers.
Bethlehem residents have long taken pride in having Five Rivers in its backyard, but have also been aware that its place within the community is to serve the Capital District and beyond. Five Rivers has survived over the years because of its seclusion from development, and the hard work of volunteers that man the education center and take care of the grounds. It has served as a sanctuary. It is not, nor should it be, considered an amenity for a housing development. Though the Planning Board has the best intentions in mind by asking that a buffer zone be maintained between Five Rivers and the proposed neighborhood, opening those trails to an outside entity exposes it to more trouble.
Ideally, those who are concerned about the negative aspects of development around Five Rivers would like to see no construction along its borders. Leave it as it has, and build elsewhere. Unfortunately, those of that camp may have little they can do to prevent construction from happening. The Capital District is growing, and with it comes the need for more housing. Colonie and Bethlehem are two towns that can recall long stretches of farmland in their collective past, but those farmlands have since disappeared.
We’re not prognosticating a future without Five Rivers, but the fight to keep it as it is is getting more difficult. Those interested in preserving its magic for continued generations need to consider stepping up now. It would be the neighborly thing for Philip Kill and Creekside residents to do the same.