Hudson Valley Bald Eagle (Steve Sachs photo) Bald eagles were officially declared an endangered species in 1967, improved to the status of threatened in 1995, and, only as recently as June 28, 2007 taken off the Endangered Species List. While the recovery of the bald eagle is a great conservation success story — and we owe great thanks to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Hudson River Estuary Program for their successes — caring for eagles in the Hudson Valley well into the future will require continued resources and commitment from New York State.

The growing population of once nearly extinct eagles is a tribute to the concerted effort among environmental groups supported by New York State funding. However, recent cuts to New York’s budget for the Environmental Protection Fund, State Parks and DEC threatens to undermine important environmental projects like the preservation of the bald eagle. Though their numbers have increased, caring for the bald eagle requires an ongoing public-private partnership to protect eagle habitats, including the Hudson River.

Each winter, between December and March, bald eagles from Canada and northern New York and New England fly south to the lower Hudson Valley to feed on fish and waterfowl found in unfrozen waters.  Biologists estimate that about 150-200 bald eagles overwinter in the Lower Hudson Valley, and it appears that this number is growing.  Bedford Audubon Society annually conducts surveys of roosting bald eagles at several sites along the River and at the New Croton Reservoir. In 2009, Bedford Audubon recorded an average of 74 and a peak of 139 bald eagles at the monitoring sites, compared with an average of 51 and a peak of 84 bald eagles in 2008. These trends continued in 2010 and the eagles have again been returning this winter in recent weeks. The rescue of the bald eagle, our national emblem is in and of itself cause for celebration, but it also highlights the ongoing need for sound environmental policies and an adequate environmental budget to support efforts to preserve and sustain the bald eagle and its habitat.

Studies also show that the lower Hudson Valley is one of the largest wintering areas for bald eagles in the eastern lower 48 states outside of the Chesapeake Bay region. According to Birder’s World, the Hudson Valley was ranked #18 on their list of best bald eagle viewing spot in the country. Every year the bald eagle’s return affirms the continued health of the Hudson River and nearby habitats for wildlife and people.

While this writer appreciates the need to be fiscally responsible, I ask Albany not to be too short-sighted and forsake important environmental projects, such as the continued cleanup of the Hudson River, which has led to the return of the bald eagle in New York State. Governor Cuomo has made a great first step by appointing Joe Martens to lead the Department of Environmental Conservation, now the Environmental Protection Fund needs to be fully restored and supported by the Assembly and Senate. EPF projects are making a significant difference to the long-term health of the economy (e.g. tourism brings the State $4.6 billion annually) and sustainability of New York State, which I hope you agree is money well spent!



Posted by: teatown | October 11, 2010

Major New Westchester Hiking Trail Opens!

The 6.5 mile Teatown-Kitchawan Trail links three County Parks, Teatown Lake Reservation and three popular trailways. It is the result of an innovative partnership between Teatown Lake Reservation, NYC Department of Environmental Protection, Westchester County Parks, and NY-NJ Trail Conference.

Get the trail map!

On October 6th,  a new hiking trail opened in Westchester County that links the North County, the Briarcliff-Peekskill and the Old Croton Aqueduct trailways. It also links to the Teatown Lake Reservation’s network of more than 15 miles of trails and eventually will be tied to the Hudson River Walkway at Croton. The trail also links three county parks in the towns of Yorktown and Cortlandt:  Kitchawan Preserve, John Hand/Bald Mountain and Croton Gorge.

The new 6.5-mile Teatown-Kitchawan Trail, TKT for short, is the culmination of a 13-year effort by Teatown to tie together the three major north-south trailways and for the first time to provide hikers access to a rugged wilderness area with deep ravines and steep slopes – and spectacular views of the Croton Reservoir. Special congratulations go to former Teatown Board Chair, Geoff Thompson, who led the team effort.

An opening ceremony on October 6 was attended by Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, state, county and local officials, and representatives of Teatown, the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference, and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The DEP played a pivotal role in making the new trail possible.  “While there are many challenges to balancing water quality and recreational needs, NYC DEP is always interested in collaborating on public access with our municipal and non-profit partners in the watershed,” said Assistant DEP Commissioner Dave Warne. “This particular partnership has resulted in a brand new 6.5 mile trail that can be enjoyed by local residents and visitors alike while still protecting the source of drinking water for nine million New Yorkers. I want to thank the Teatown Lake Reservation for bringing this opportunity to our attention and their work creating this new open space.”

DEP manages the city’s water supply, providing more than 1 billion gallons of water each day to more than 9 million residents, including 8 million in New York City, and residents of Ulster, Orange, Putnam and Westchester counties. Approximately 1,000 DEP employees live and work in the watershed communities as scientists, engineers, surveyors, and administrative professionals, and perform other critical responsibilities. Since 1997, DEP has invested over $1.5 billion in watershed protection programs that support sustainable farming practices, environmentally sensitive economic development, and local economic opportunity. New York City’s water is delivered from the Catskill, Delaware, and Croton watersheds that extend more than 125 miles from the City, and comprises 19 reservoirs, and three controlled lakes.

The idea for an east-west “long trail” linking the three county parks was conceived by Teatown which initially broached the idea with the Westchester County Department of Planning.  Teatown, which has a well equipped environmental education center with parking and necessary public facilities, envisioned itself serving as the “hub” at the center of some 2,000-plus acres of open space, all of which could be directly accessed from Teatown.

After careful evaluation, DEP added its support for the concept.  Working with representatives over several years, an agreement was worked out under which the DEP developed and issued a recreational Land Use Permit for a trail across its lands on Stayback Hill and Bald Mountain to be maintained and managed by Teatown.  This is a unique public-private partnership.

With this agreement in place, a specific route was mapped out and over the last six months, staff and volunteers of Teatown and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, working in close cooperation with the DEP, constructed the new trail.  Improvements were also made to existing trails on the county’s Kitchawan and John Hand parks.  The result is the new east-west trail.  Information kiosks with a map of the trail route have been installed at the primary access points to the new trail.

The trail, which is marked or “blazed” with distinctive purple blazes, begins at the North County Trailway near Route 134 and makes its way west across the Kitchawan Reserve near Route 134 in the southeast corner of Yorktown.  When it reaches Arcady Road it crosses onto DEP land and makes its way through the woods and meadows of Stayback Hill.  The trail then follows Croton Lake Road, a lightly-traveled and largely dirt-surface road in order to pass under the north and south lanes of the Taconic State Parkway that are widely separated at that point.  Once under the parkway the trail returns to DEP lands and climbs Bald Mountain passing through beautiful forest and isolated old meadows affording stunning views of the Croton Reservoir, a wide area of northern Westchester and the distant Hudson Hills and Highlands.

On the southwest side of the county’s John Hand/Bald Mountain Park, the TKT intersects with the Briarcliff-Peekskill Trailway.  This can be followed south to Teatown or west to Croton Gorge Park and the New York State-owned Old Croton Aqueduct Trailway.

The trail can be accessed from multiple points including parking areas at Kitchawan, John Hand, Teatown and Croton Gorge.  The trail is open from dawn to dusk.  Parking after dark is prohibited at all locations.

The completion of this trail represents the realization of a long-held dream. It will now be possible to hike all the way from Yonkers to Yorktown on the North County Trailway, cross the TKT and take the Old Croton Aqueduct Trailway all the way back down-county, although you’d likely be pretty tired and sore the next morning!  But what is great about it is that it can be hiked in a variety of much shorter increments, so it really offers hiking opportunities for just about anyone.

This project is a great example of a public-private partnership effort involving multiple parties.  With everyone working together to reach a common goal, great things can happen and it has been proven with this trail!




Posted by: teatown | May 1, 2010

How Green is Your Lawn?

Should the Traditional American Lawn be an Endangered Species?

In recent years, it has become clear that solving environmental problems requires everyone’s participation. Saving the earth is not a spectator sport!  With spring in the air, there is no easier place to start than in your own yard.   

Transforming a monoculture grass lawn into a mosaic of plants and habitats will in the long run save you time and money, and will create a more biologically diverse yard. Breaking from the constraints of traditional thinking by experimenting with a more nature-friendly lawn is an opportunity to express your own creativity. Building your own backyard nature sanctuary is fun and makes a great family activity. Most significant, however, is the potential of combining our individual efforts into “neighborhood backyard cooperatives”  to restore significant amounts of local habitat for amphibians, birds, butterflies, reptiles and small mammals.  

The Lawn: An American Love Story 

Grass turf in the U.S. covers 45 million acres of athletic fields, cemeteries, corporate parks, golf courses, highway right-of-ways, lawns and other similar land uses. Residential lawns occupy about 75% of this total (52,734 sq miles), an area nearly the size of New York state. Land use experts estimate that lawns in the U.S. are expanding at up to one million acres per year. Considering the ever-growing amounts of lawn and shrinking natural habitats in the United States, is it time to re-think the American suburban lawn? 

About 50 million American households tend their own patch of lawn, typically 1/3 to 3/4 acre in size. Lawns contain trees, shrubs, flower gardens, and recreational elements like patios and pools, but fields of domesticated grasses are the primary feature. Most property owners strive for three defining lawn characteristics for their grass: green, weed free and closely mowed. 

In many American suburbs, lawns shape much of the local sense of place. Proper lawn care is considered a homeowner’s responsibility to the overall appearance of their neighborhood, and often is governed by rules aimed to create a desirable uniformity that protects home values. The reality is that maintaining the American lawn takes considerable time and money, and truth be told, matching the lawns of our neighbors is what motivates many of us to keep the mower running and fertilizer spreading on our precious days off.   

Where did the idea of encircling our houses with grass originate? In the broadest sense, the origin of our lawns arose at the dawn of civilization as a security measure to clear brush away from dwellings to avoid direct contact with snakes, rodents, and predators. The idea of planting grass to separate our dwellings and us from nature emerged in France and England in the 17th and 18th centuries. Using grass in England made perfect sense, because it is a country of mild winters, moderate temperatures and high humidity — conditions favorable to grass. When the British colonized the New World, they brought with them the idea of using grass for both animal pastures and for lawns. They also brought their English grass seed, which is not adapted for drier American conditions without supplemental irrigation. Colonial town commons and village squares consisted of varying combinations of shared pastures for sheep and cows and lawns serving as public meeting, working and recreational spaces. 

Until the mid-19th century, well-kept residential lawns and village squares were uncommon because of the difficulty of controlling weeds and mowing; grass cutting was left to domestic animals, wild deer, and human-swung scythes. So, when Edwin Budding invented the lawn mower in 1830 the stage was set for much easier lawn care. Within a few decades, the mechanical mowers coupled with the creation of zoning laws (e.g. with street setbacks, minimum lot size, residential only areas) and an exodus of relatively wealthy individuals seeking escape from the Industrial Revolution’s increasingly polluted cities sparked an explosive growth of American lawns. Prominent landscape and community designers like Frederick Law Olmsted championed the lawn as the symbol of suburbia and the modern, healthy community. 

Once started, there seemed to be no stopping the invasion of the lawn across our country. As Americans settled all parts of the U.S. in the 20th century, they took their lawns with them, and a lawn care industry grew to ensure their success. New grass seeds were domesticated and sod farms launched to meet uniquely American environmental conditions, and fertilizers and pesticides were made readily available at reasonable prices. Improved mowers, some now self-propelled and riding, were produced in dozens of configurations. Marketing advertisements for lawn care products always focused on green, weed free and closely mowed. Post World War II suburban Americans loved their lawns at any cost. In many communities, the “natural habitat” of people became the lawn, freshly cut, of course. 

Questioning Traditional Lawns 

It is hard to know who first questioned our love affair with the grass lawn. It seems to have been about the time of the first Earth Day in 1970. In the past, there had been little assessment of the environmental impacts of our lawns. No one seemed to think about it: we were in love! Because of the many pesticides used to control grass diseases and grubs, maybe the first questioning of lawns was a response to Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, which warned of the many dangers of chemicals. Or maybe it was the growing concern over water pollution from too many fertilizers entering our waterways. I suspect the questioning started, however, not because of any one thing, but a realization of the dangerous cumulative impacts from our obsession to make our yards green, weed free and closely mowed.    

Maintaining the ideal traditional lawn requires using large amounts of water, fertilizers, pesticides and gasoline. According to the Lawn Institute , “the 45 million acres of U.S. turf (900,000 acres of lawn in New York) could be considered the single largest irrigated crop in America in terms of surface area, occupying three times more land than is devoted to irrigated corn. About 200 gallons of fresh water per person per day would be required to provide adequate water for the nation’s lawn surface area. Depending on the city, 30 to 60 percent of fresh water in urban areas is used to water lawns. Each year in the U.S., $5.2 billion is spent on fossil fuel-based lawn fertilizers; 67 million pounds of synthetic lawn pesticides are applied; and 580 million gallons of gasoline are used in lawnmowers.”  For all of these reasons and more, a growing number of home owners are seeking alternatives to the traditional lawn. 

New Lawns for Sustainable Living  

Backyard habitats promote nature-friendly living.

Over the last decade or two,  a new cadre of property owners have begun experimenting with new approaches to lawn design and care. The idea is to minimize the use of water, fertilizers, pesticides and gasoline in order to minimize overall environmental impacts of lawns – and at the same time increase biological diversity by providing more natural habitat on private property. The first step in this conversion is to reduce the amount of lawn in our yards and to increase yard complexity by adding native shrubs, trees, and other locally adapted plants. Also, important is to take the easy first steps of simply allowing the grass to grow higher and redefining the concept of “weed free.” Allowing lawns to include some level of dandelion, violet, bluet, chickweed, clover, plantain, etc., goes a long way in reducing the need for chemicals.   

By joining the growing number of pioneers who are transforming their traditional lawns into ecolawns, you will help protect your regional environment, save money, and most importantly, you will symbolize to your children and neighbors that you believe in sustainable living. In many ways, the traditional lawn is a cultural mind-set that has outlived its usefulness. Our definition of what a beautiful yard is, and what our responsibility to our neighbors is, needs to be rethought as our understanding and appreciation for ecological health and the essential role of nature matures.  Join the revolution – don’t cut your grass this weekend!    



 Note: A modified version of this article first appeared in Teatown Trails, Spring 2010 Newsletter. 

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