Teatown has coined the phrase Hudson Hills and Highlands to describe the portion of New York’s Hudson Valley that results by combining the Lower Hudson River watershed with the spectacularly scenic Hudson Highlands. The Hudson River between Yonkers and Beacon serves as a connecting spine. This 936 square mile bioregion (599,232 acres), twice the size of New York’s more widely known Catskill Park and nearly six times larger than the nearby Palisades Interstate Park System, is a landscape mosaic of natural areas and human built environments.
Our hope is for the Hudson Hills and Highlands to survive in tact as a functioning ecosystem — a “living landscape” or “bioscape” — meeting both the needs of people and all the species of life that share the region with us. This web of life and the physical foundations of rock, soil, climate, and air provide us the opportunity to build sustainable and healthy communities.
The Hudson Hills and Highlands encompasses most of Westchester and Putnam Counties, and parts of Dutchess, Rockland, and Orange Counties, New York. Eighty percent of the area is located in Westchester and Putnam Counties. The bioregion is home to 785,000 people living in 37 towns and cities, that on average are located within 35 miles of New York City. The region provides about 10% of the drinking water for New York City through the City’s “East of the Hudson Reservoir System.” Those familiar with our regional transportation system will note that the bioregion is bounded roughly on the west by the New York State Thruway in Rockland/Orange Counties; on the north by Interstate 84 in Dutchess/Putnam Counties; on the east by Route 684 in Westchester County; and to the south by both Route 287/Cross Westchester Expressway and several lower Westchester County Hudson River communities (e.g. Dobbs Ferry, Irvington and Yonkers). Teatown is located just south of the geographic center of the Hudson Hills and Highlands.
Unknown to many local residents, the Hudson Hills and Highlands contains significant natural areas and provides habitat for both nationally and globally rare plants and animals. A unique mixture of New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Mid-West flora and fauna live here. The region contains the widest and deepest part of the Hudson River Estuary, and is home to a rich variety of aquatic life found only in estuaries (brackish waters where rivers meet the sea). Species diversity estimates in the Hudson Hills and Highlands, include: 1,100 plants; 250 birds; 150 fish; 45 mammals; 20 reptiles; 20 amphibians; 100 dragonflies and damselflies; many hundreds of other insects and invertebrates; and thousands of kinds of algae, bacteria, and fungi. Many residents, even those that have been living here a long time, are surprised to learn that the region is home to black bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, fishers, timber rattlesnakes, turkeys, bald eagles, and other species usually associated with American wilderness. This is especially surprising considering our proximity to New York City and its 12 million inhabitants. Also, relatively little appreciated are the ecological services that nature (biodiversity and ecosystems) provides to us. Our air, water, food, and the natural materials that fuel our economies ultimately come from nature. We owe nature everything. Protecting nature, protects ourselves.
While nature in the Hudson Hills and Highlands remains relatively healthy, it is facing increasing levels of threat from: (1) habitat loss and fragmentation from land development; (2) non-native, invasive species and emerging diseases; (3) pollution; (4) climate change; and (5) human population pressures. Unsustainable land development is especially important, as is the relatively little public will to protect nature and local ecosystems. By 2015, the Hudson Hills and Highlands is expected to have 65,000 new residents living in 20,000 additional households. That equates to an additional 70 persons per square mile in addition to the current 839 already living here. Imagine 25,000 more cars traveling our roadways each morning. By 2015, we may need 1,000 additional classrooms in our schools.
In order to prevent a possible future of fewer habitats for nature, a glut of developed land, and added pressure on the plants, animals and ecological systems that we rely on, there will be a greater need for citizen involvement, both children and adults, in protecting our dwindling biodiversity and other natural resources. Teatown is poised to be a new kind of bioregional learning center for the Hudson Hills and Highlands. We aim to help guide our regional community toward a fuller understanding of the role that nature plays in sustainable living — by facilitating dialogue, delivering education, promoting open space protection, and providing biodiversity conservation services.