Interview with Kevin Smith

CIC Opening Bike Ride w Joe Martens

Community ride with then-DEC Commissioner Joe Martens celebrating the Catskill Interpretive Center Grand Opening – Summer of 2015

No, this is not an interview with the creator of Silent Bob… Instead, this Kevin Smith is the chairman behind the Woodstock Land Conservancy, the non-profit organization committed to the protection and preservation of open lands, forests, wetlands and historic sites in and around the most famous town in our county… Woodstock, NY. Even with his full plate, Kevin made time to chat with us about all things he’s conserving in Woodstock!

How did you get involved initially with the Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC)?
One of my besties, Elizabeth Lesser, used to be on WLC’s board. She knew I was interested in protecting our environment, and around 2000 she told me about WLC. She said it was a community land conservation organization doing great work and invited me to a Board meeting as a guest. Noted Woodstock artist Jean Ludins had recently gifted WLC with a beautiful small meadow on Chestnut Hill, and the Board decided to hold the meeting there to celebrate the occasion. I showed up a bit late and everyone was sitting cross-legged in the hay field. I remember thinking, “It can’t get much more local or Woodstock than this . . . ”

What are your main duties as the WLC Board Chair?
In a small hard-working land trust like WLC (or KLT) it’s very much “all hands on deck” for all our Directors. No job is too big or too small for anyone – we all do whatever needs doing to help fulfill mission, complete projects, and support the organization. That said, as Board Chair I also work closely with my fellow Directors and especially Maxanne Resnick and Patty Goodwin (WLC Executive Director and Board President respectively) – to  provide direction and leadership. My other main formal responsibility is to be a spokesperson for WLC in the community and with partner organizations, agencies and stakeholders on conservation issues and strategic initiatives, things like the Comeau Conservation Easement granted by the Town of Woodstock to the Conservancy in 2009, WLC’s response to the Niagara Bottling Proposal in 2014, and our advocacy in support of the Ulster County Rail Trail Projects (Ashokan Rail Trail and Kingston Midtown Linear Park), the Kingston Greenline and County-Wide Rail Trail Network.

Muir Woods, Marin County CA

Muir Woods, Marin County CA

What would you like to accomplish during your tenure as the Board Chair?
I’d like to see the Ashokan Rail Trail, Kingston Linear Park, and other key Kingston Greenline and UC rail trail network connectors all move to construction. On the WLC front, I’m really excited about the public opening of our newest and largest public preserve in 2017, the 123-acre Israel Wittman Nature Sanctuary. It’s located at the “corner” of the Towns of Woodstock, Saugerties, and Ulster. I’d like to see the Town of Woodstock’s recently initiated comprehensive planning process create a blueprint that builds on the many assets Woodstock has, while addressing some real issues that have emerged in recent years as more and more people have rediscovered the Mid-Hudson Valley and the Catskills.

What is the difference between a Land Trust and a Land Conservancy?
OMG – trick questions! I use them interchangeably, And I think many organizations do these days.

How is it going with your national accreditation application with the Land Trust Alliance?
Thanks for asking! We’re not quite there but we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s now in the Accreditation Commission’s hands to review. When (WLC Executive Director) Maxanne announced at our last Board meeting that she’d just received confirmation from the Accreditation Commission that the voluminous application materials we submitted in late September are complete, I literally ran around our Board meeting and high-fived all our board and staff.

Accreditation is the culmination of nearly a decade of incremental work and planning – to adopt, integrate and begin to uphold best standards and practices (S&Ps) as defined by the Land Trust Alliance into all areas of WLC’s activities and work. Accreditation isn’t the sexiest part of our work but it’s a critically important ‘milestone’ for us as a professional land trust – especially for the part of our mission that involves accepting and holding conservation lands in the public trust and in compliance with all IRS regulations. So while we haven’t reached the finish line, I’m incredibly proud of the work our staff and board members have done over many years to get us to this point.

What do you think is the most pressing conservancy issue facing the Hudson Valley?
In my view, the biggest question facing citizens in the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and everywhere is how our local communities organize themselves to meet the challenges and opportunities posed by climate change. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint precisely, according to climate scientists we’re already starting to experience some early effects in the current droughts, mega-droughts, storms and floods, etc. Can we get our collective heads, hearts, and arms around this reality and pursue a more viable path and do so while there is still time to protect the futures of those who follow in our footsteps? And equally important – how do we pursue this in a way that is equitable and as inclusive as possible?

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SUNY New Paltz HV Futures Summit – 11/18/2017

On the positive side, there was the news this week that the December issue of National Geographic is featuring Ulster County as a model of conservation and sustainability leadership (including, among other things, landscape-scale habitat protection, “1st in class” renewable energy initiatives, as well as the county-wide trail network including Kingston Greenline and Ashokan Rail Trail). This is a powerful testament to many years of work by people working for Ulster County, the City of Kingston, Woodstock and other communities, governmental agencies, and a host of stellar non-profits and conservation organizations large and small.

After the recent election, the NatGeo feature, “Ulster County – Dreaming Green” couldn’t come at a more opportune moment. It says to me that Ulster County is moving forward to embrace our future – we’re not going to turn back now. On the other hand, I’m writing this in Bearsville just over the hill from Cooper Lake Reservoir (water supply for the City of Kingston and partly for the Towns of Ulster and Kingston as well) and  looking out my window at yet another cloudless 60 degree in mid-November. 2016 is on track to be the warmest year on record (again) and October one of the warmest months on record (again). Local creek and stream levels drop farther by the week in the Catskills in and around Woodstock – streams that supply drinking water for many millions of people in New York City as well as locally – and local water tables, municipal and private wells are dropping along with them.

As Cooper Lake Reservoir recently dropped to 65 percent or below, and the Kingston Water Department (KWD) issued a drought warning (including requesting businesses reduce their water usage by 15 percent). This is the last step before a drought emergency and more stringent water restrictions. (KWD) is also drawing up emergency plans to tap into the NYC DEP’s aqueduct from the Ashokan Reservoir, should sufficient seasonal rains and snows not arrive, and water levels in Mink Hollow Stream and Cooper Lake drop further.

So the challenges are real. And they are going to keep coming – whether in the form of pipelines, oil trains, watershed/water supply protection, droughts or floods or invasive species – but the opportunities to identify and forward visionary, effective responses are real as well. It’s going to be incredibly important that we keep working together, collaborating and innovating.

In that regard, supporting local land trusts, like WLC & KLT, that continue to “punch above our weight” is one of the best, most immediate ways to help us maintain forward momentum on important projects.

Any quick updates you can share about the Ashokan Trail?
If this newsletter “goes to press” by then, we’re inviting people to come to an important Public Informational Meeting about the Ashokan Rail Trail on Thursday, December 1, at the Onteora Central Middle School/High School Auditorium, from 7 PM to 9 PM. We are asking folks to come out and learn about the preliminary plans and designs for the 11.5 mile bicycle and pedestrian trail through the north shore lands of the Ashokan Reservoir – lands that have been closed to the general public for nearly 100 years.

The meeting will update the public on findings of initial site investigations, engineering, and environmental reviews. There will be proposed design concepts with presentations by the County’s Planning Department, the Project engineering consultants and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP). Following the presentations, the County will welcome public comment and feedback on the proposed plans and designs.

The Ashokan is going to be a really beautiful trail designed and built to very high standards and running through an area rich with local history. It will be a great asset for folks in the local communities.

What are your feelings about the Pilgrim Pipeline or the Oil Trains?
I’m deeply concerned by the threats pipelines pose to our lands and waters. The oil trains pose many of the same threats and additionally run right through many of Ulster County’s most densely populated urban environments right through residential, commercial, and school districts. I’m still haunted by the accounts of the terrible accident up in Quebec several years back. We should all be infuriated that just as many key renewable energy technologies have finally matured and are economically competitive, the incoming administration has communicated its intention to double down on shale and coal production.

How can people get informed or involved with the WLC?
We welcome everyone’s interest and participation. Folks can learn more about WLC, our Saturdays on the Trails events, and our public preserves on our site. One can sign up for our email blasts on our website and follow us on Facebook and, for our rail trail work, visit catskillmountainrailtrail.org and Friends of the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail. Through the year there are volunteer opportunities which range from trail work, event production, and orchestration of great environmental projects, including BioBlitz2017.

Cooper Lake - Blessing of the Waters in Solidarity w/ Standing Rock, 11/19/2017

Cooper Lake – Blessing of the Waters in Solidarity with Standing Rock – 11/19/2017

Can you share a tidbit of Woodstock history that the average resident might not know?
A few years ago, I noticed the municipal boundaries of Woodstock crossed over Route 28 just west of Basin Rd for a couple hundred yards. I figured it was so that a portion of the U&D corridor would be in the Town of Woodstock. I repeated this hypothesis to Supervisor Jeremy Wilber at some point and he immediately corrected me. Jeremy said the actual reason is that back in the day, the owner of the service station on the corner of Route 28 and Basin Rd was also the Justice of the Peace. Somehow he was able to get the Town boundary moved so he could hold court without having to leave work. Glad I wasn’t driving Route 28 in those days…

What’s your fave outdoor space in Ulster County?
It’s almost winter so . . . I love to ski along the banks of the Little Beaverkill at Wilson State Park as far as the snow depth allows. The snow and ice formations are sublime and endlessly changing. And the farther downstream you ski, the quieter it gets till all you can hear are the moving waters and surrounding nature.

SPEED ROUND:

Fave Color: Blue and green – because none of this works without them.
Fave Movies: Erin Brockovich for her fierce and continuing commitment to environmental justice and the protection of the Water Commons. Grand Budapest Hotel, which is a masterpiece. It’s so incredibly inventive and brilliant. I see something new with every viewing.
Fave Songs: “History Has Its Eyes on You” from the musical Hamilton and “If a Tree Falls in the Forest (Does Anybody Hear)” by Bruce Cockburn.
Fave Food: Fermented foods are high on the list right now, especially kimchi and my friend Lynne Gilson’s mellow sauerkraut.
Fave Book: I find it challenging to read a book these days with all that’s going on in the world. There’s an epic dystopian novel unfolding in real time before our very eyes. We’re all characters in it and the ending is not yet written…

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