When someone drove up Susan Bolitzer’s driveway back in 1999 to hand her a flyer about a piece of land coming up for auction, she probably could not have imagined the changes it would make in her life in the years to come. By 2003, she’d helped to form the Esopus Creek Conservancy (ECC) and was instrumental in saving the land from development and preserving it as a natural ecosystem for all to enjoy.
Now known as the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve, its 161 acres offer hiking trails, guided nature walks, birding field trips, butterfly walks, animal tracking events and kayak and canoe tours of the preserve’s shoreline. In 2011, the ECC collaborated with Scenic Hudson and the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill to add the nearby 192-acre Falling Waters Preserve under its umbrella of protection, effectively doubling the amount of land they now conserve.
On Jan. 1, Bolitzer stepped down as president of the board of the ECC after 10 years of service. Board member Virginia Luppino has replaced her as president; mentored and guided, she says, by Bolitzer, who is not leaving the ECC completely, but will remain as its vice-president.
The Esopus Creek Conservancy consists of eight board members in total who run the organization with the help of volunteers from the community. The ECC also saw a changing of the guard on Jan. 1 with the induction of new board members Jason Novak, Sue Rosenberg and Roland Carito, who joined existing board members Kate Shuter, Spider Barbour and Leeanne Thornton, the only other original member of the ECC board besides Bolitzer.
The decision to step down as president was made, Bolitzer says, in order to spend more time with her husband, daughter and grandchildren. In addition to that, she says, it’s good for an organization to have someone else take the reins after ten years; someone who has a different set of interests and talents, and can broaden the scope of the organization.
“Virginia is a multi-talented person,” says Bolitzer. “She’s very easy to work with and sees solutions quickly to some issues I was stuck on. I’m very happy to support her in whatever she wants to do.” Luppino came up with the idea for last year’s popular and successful fundraiser “Art Esopus,” says Bolitzer, in which 100 works of art based on the Esopus Creek were donated by artists to be sold at $100 each, the proceeds benefitting the works of the conservancy. Bolitzer adds that Luppino also had note cards printed up featuring the top 12 works (as voted on at the event) to further raise funds for the ECC.
“Virginia has also developed a strong rapport with the Land Trust Alliance, whom we have worked with from the very beginning of our organization,” says Bolitzer, “and that means a real continuation and indication of how we’re going to grow.” The Land Trust Alliance is a national organization that promotes land conservation and assists land trusts all over the country in various ways, giving grants and helping land trusts develop their organizations.
Bolitzer says that she doesn’t anticipate carrying a heavy work load with the ECC as vice-president, but intends to continue working on the ongoing project to eradicate the water chestnut plants that have been choking the waters in the region. They’ve learned more about the science involved in it, and she believes they are better equipped this year to make some headway on getting rid of the plants – eventually – once and for all. “It’s going to take a number of years, but if we don’t start, the whole cove will fill in.”
The plants are “extremely talented,” she says, reproducing themselves with amazing rapidity, but they’ve learned that the plant is an annual; if they get in early before the plant becomes too developed, and can just cut off its top, it won’t come back again. “There will be seeds that come up again for a while from the bottom [of the water], but that plant is finished,” says Bolitzer. Last year the mild winter contributed to early and rapid growth of the water chestnuts, making them too developed for the lake mower [a device that basically chews up the plants] to be as effective as it could have been.
The plants are a problem all along the Hudson River, where traditionally people have tried pulling them out by hand, Bolitzer says, eventually giving up after finding out how tough and time consuming the process is and how much debris has to be carted away. “But with what we’ve learned, we hope we’ve started something that other people will do, too,” she says.