Land conservation, public access at the headwaters of the Chesapeake

Chesapeake Conservancy and the Otsego Land Trust have worked together during the past year to conserve ecologically significant properties and create public access around the headwaters of the Susquehanna River and the most northern reach of the Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

Their mutual efforts have identified and secured the political support and funds needed to purchase key properties, develop interpretive signage, and begin plans for public access points at the headwaters of the Susquehanna River near Cooperstown, New York.

“Our partnership with Chesapeake Conservancy has been a big boost that has accelerated developing a Blue Way all along Oaks Creek and down the Susquehanna. Tying in to the Captain John Smith Trail is a very good linkage as well,” said Harry Levine, Chairman of the Board of the Otsego Land Trust.

Joel Dunn, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Conservancy, based in Annapolis, MD., noted that by working with partners throughout the watershed together we are able to create more public access to the Chesapeake and its great rivers and to conserve ecologically and culturally significant landscapes.

“Our partnerships with other land trusts, local governments, universities, and businesses make it possible to accomplish a lot and get a great collective bang for our buck and our time,” Dunn said.

Their partnership began last year when Chesapeake Conservancy supported the Otsego Land Trust’s successful application to the National Scenic Byways Program for a grant to improve safety and public access at Brookwood point – a 22-acre protected property on Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, NY. The land trust received a $188,000 Scenic Byway grant for this work.

Brookwood Point, a former estate that is a part of the Glimmerglass Historic District, which surrounds the lake, is a logical northern terminus for the Captain John Smith Trail. It is on the northwestern edge of Cooperstown, where other attractions are located along the shores of Otsego Lake, including the Fenimore House Art Museum and the Farmers Museum. It has beautiful views of Sleeping Lion, an iconic ridge at the end of the lake; of Cooperstown to the south; and of a 9-mile forested ridgeline-one of the first landscape-scale reforestation projects in the country-to the east.

Otsego Land Trust, meanwhile, supported efforts to expand the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail from the Susquehanna Flats in Maryland to Otsego Lake in Cooperstown. The trail expansion, which was a primary goal for the Chesapeake Conservancy, was completed in May, 2012 through a proclamation from U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar.

One of the goals of the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail system is to connect people to the Chesapeake Bay and the bay’s great rivers. Public access points are critical to achieving this. The Otsego Land Trust was able to secure $47,000 of federal funding through the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network. The Chesapeake Conservancy is the lead advocate for the Gateways Program. Most of the funding will go to the trust’s most visible site, Compton Bridge, which is located at the confluence of Oaks Creek and Susquehanna River, just south of Cooperstown.

There, working with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation they will put in a facility to provide canoe and kayak launches.

The Compton Bridge access site demonstrates the feasibility of creating water access at bridge crossings, an approach to creating access the Chesapeake Conservancy has been advocating, and one which New York state officials have supported.

Working together, the two organizations secured $25,000 from a private foundation, which was then matched 2:1 by local donors. The proceeds of these grants are being used to purchase Deowongo Island in Canadarago Lake, significant natural areas on Oaks Creek, and land around the new access point for the John Smith Tail at Compton Bridge.