In looking back at her years with the conservancy, Bolitzer says she’s most proud of the collaborative efforts. “A group of us were able to come together to create the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve,” she says. She credits the leadership of Chris Florsch and Steve Chorvas in developing the preserve, and says that the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development was “amazingly helpful,” because when the ECC was finally able to purchase the land after long courtroom negotiations, they were not yet a 501c3 nonprofit; the Catskill Center stepped in and actually bought the land, holding it for the ECC until they could assume ownership. The collaboration with Scenic Hudson and the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill at Falling Waters Preserve will continue, with the sisters “very happy” with what’s happened at the site, says Bolitzer.
Now that she’s stepped down as president of the conservancy, Bolitzer plans to do some traveling with husband Bernard. “I’ve been so focused on this project,” she says, “that it’s hard to even find time to plan something. My husband has been so supportive, and I’m just really lucky to have a family that’s been so understanding of my preoccupation with this.”
Virginia Luppino was the Democratic candidate for Ulster County Legislature, District 2 in Saugerties in 2011. Although she didn’t win the election, she says that she found the campaign process beneficial because it helped her define how to go forward with the next phase of her life. During that campaign, she says, “it became clear to me where my heart really was: it was in all the issues around land conservation and planning.”
Luppino is a horticulturalist who, for over 30 years, has owned and operated a landscape design installation business, Virginia Luppino Landscapes. Her son will continue to run the family business, she says, as she moves more into issues of land conservation. She will continue to do some consulting, but is more interested now in doing projects like turning her small lot in the village into a model of sustainability and edible landscape, and taking on the challenges of being president of the Esopus Creek Conservancy.
After joining the board of the ECC last year, Luppino served as outreach chair and also as treasurer and secretary for a time. She initiated the fundraiser “Art Esopus,” now planned as an annual event. “We did well the first year, and we’re hoping it will grow,” she says. Luppino, an artist herself, was inspired to start the fundraiser in order to involve the arts community and to bring positive attention to the Esopus Creek after it had been in the news over the last two years because of the turbid water releases. “It was an opportunity to do something to give exposure to the creek that would involve people not just from Saugerties but from the whole county and beyond,” she says.
Going forward, Luppino says the plan is to make 2013 an organizational year, to carry on the projects already in place, and take on new things in 2014.
“We’re looking to partner with farmers, to see how we can be of service to them and how we can make people more aware of our local farm community that we have here,” Luppino says. “Saugerties has such an agricultural history, and we see Saugerties as a regional asset for food security and sustainability. We’re hoping to partner with other land trusts, like the Kingston Land Trust and the Woodstock Land Conservancy, to work on issues of Hudson Valley food security.”
The conservancy could possibly work with the Saugerties Farmers Market on this issue, too, she says. Luppino is also interested in seeing the ECC partner with organizations in the community to put together some educational programs for kids outside of the school-organized activities. “We’ve been talking with Arm-of-the-Sea Theater about a really wonderful event we could do in 2014,” she says, “and then there’s Art Lab and the Saugerties Artists Studio Tour folks.”
The elementary school currently has field trips for third and fifth grade students to come to Esopus Bend Preserve, but Luppino says that teachers are finding it increasingly hard to find time to make the trips because of all the requirements they have now for testing and constraints on them in finding funding for the buses. The board at the ECC would like to expand on the school programs and create opportunities for kids to get into nature after school and on weekends. “We need to reach these kids and get them excited about nature before they hit their teens,” says Luppino. “I would love to see at some point in the future where it became a peer-to-peer thing where we got kids excited about nature and they were able to share it with other kids. There’s been a lot written recently about how just being in nature helps you with your attention span, and makes you calmer.”
She cites the author of Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv, who coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” in his book, inspiring a movement to reconnect kids with nature. [Louv wrote, “The future will belong to the nature-smart - those individuals, families, businesses and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”]
Luppino is enthusiastic about the future prospects for the Esopus Creek Conservancy. “Susan has done a stellar job of really creating this all-volunteer, nonprofit organization, and for all these years she’s been the guiding light,” says Luppino. “And we have a wonderful, dedicated stewardship committee in place who really take care of our two preserves, Esopus Bend and Falling Waters. We’re in good hands.”
They’d like to expand the board, adding more members, she says, and more volunteers are always needed. “It can be whatever people want it to be,” says Luppino. “They can get involved on any level, and we can fit into whatever someone’s time constraints are.” They’re looking for help with outreach events and for people to help with specific projects like the Art Esopus fundraiser and the water chestnut plant removals. Of particular value, she says, would be someone who can write grant proposals. “There’s so much we could access, so if someone in the community has that expertise and would like to help us, that would be wonderful.”
Also planned for the future is the hiring of the ECC’s first paid executive director. “We’ve applied for grants to help put us in a place where we can hire someone in the next year or so,” Luppino says. “We’ve been working with the Land Trust Alliance to help get our board and our committees organized, and also our fundraising so that we’ll be able to support the hiring of somebody.”
Finally, the Esopus Creek Conservancy plans to hold an “envisioning” day soon, perhaps in March, when the community will be invited to come and talk to the board about what they would like to see happen at the preserves. Susan Bolitzer says that they did that early on in the process of putting together the ECC, and Luppino feels it would be valuable to get that community feedback again. “There’s so many different directions we can be going in,” she says. “We could do more with land conservation and easements, and do more with advocacy with the creek or environmental issues like fracking. We really want to find out from the community where they would like to see us go.”