The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Mianus Gorge celebrates 60th with
Twin Lakes preservation


By ANTHONY R. MANCINI
CARL HEILMAN PHOTO

Fordham University doctoral student Rachel Bricklin with an intern banding migratory birds at the gorge.

 

On April 1, the Mianus River Gorge will celebrate its 60th anniversary as an organization dedicated to protecting over 1,000 acres of land in northern Westchester and southwest Connecticut, which has just been expanded to include the nearly 40-acre Twin Lakes area in Bedford.

“We got to this last point where we secured the last lots we thought were important in terms of protecting that watershed and protecting Pine Brook, which flows down into the Mianus River,” said Mianus Gorge’s executive director Rod Christie on March 21, about the completion of the new land purchases last year.

The Mianus River Gorge was founded in 1953 to protect the Mianus watershed, which contains one of the last bastions of old-growth forest left in the area, the 400-year-old hemlocks growing along the banks of the Mianus River. In 1964, the preserve was designated a national natural landmark by the National Park Service and since its inception the nonprofit has bought or secured over 700 acres of land.

“This forest used to stretch from the ocean to the Mississippi River. There’s three different pockets of it left, so this is one of the original pieces of that,” said Tim Evnin, chairman of Mianus River Gorge’s board of trustees last Thursday. “There’s 400-year old trees, and our sense is the gorge exists as it did 400 years ago, so that in and of itself is special.”

The organization managed to obtain its 764 acres by either negotiating with private owners to buy the land or receiving it through donations. Mianus River Gorge is now made up of 82 different parcels, all secured over a long period of time. For instance, the land around the Twin Lakes took around two decades to purchase.

“There are several different way to protect land,” Mr. Christie said. “One is to buy the land or protect it in some way. Another is like a conservation easement strategy, and the third is to work with the towns through the planning process.”

Conservation easements are a way for the preserve to protect land without actually buying it. In an easement, the landowner agrees to give up development rights on a property in exchange for a federal tax deduction.

“Unfortunately, the value of the land has gone up so dramatically that it’s difficult for us. There’s a number of different properties that we’d love to have, but they’re just too expensive,” Mr. Evnin said. “We don’t have infinite resources, so we just have to be very opportunistic and careful with the money we have.”

Mr. Christie said an alternate strategy of protecting the preserve is to work with local governments to help enact policies that prevent developments from encroaching on wetland territories. Mr. Evnin said this combination of protection strategies can help the preserve work towards its long-term goal of securing the entire Mianus River system, which runs into the Long Island Sound.

“We have an opportunity to protect it from the source, all the way to the sound in a sense. It’s an incredibly densely populated area. We’re talking about Banksville, Bedford, Greenwich, Stamford,” Mr. Evnin said. “You can protect pieces of it, but you’re only doing half of a job. Our long-term view is to stretch some of our impact all the way down into the Mianus greenway.”

Mr. Christie said buying or securing land is only part of the conservation process and that efforts need to be made to ensure that the forests stay stable.

“The idea is we’re going to protect land, but we also feel that in this day and age you can’t just protect land, you have to manage the land in some way because there’s so many problems with invasive species,” he said. “If you just take a hands-off approach to land, unfortunately it doesn’t work anymore because you end up having not what you had before.”

Mr. Christie said introduced species such as mile-a-minute vine, a fast-growing ivy that clings to trees, blocking out their sunlight in the process, need to be removed or managed. Other invasive plants include Japanese barberry, Tartarian honeysuckle and burning bush, are common landscaping plants that have established themselves in the local environment. Invasive insects, including the woolly adelgid, which feeds from hemlock trees, and the emerald ash borer, which has been decimating ash trees and steadily moving east, also need to be managed. Mr. Christie said deer, while not an invasive species, are overpopulating the area because of the elimination of top predators in New York such as wolves and mountain lions and the diminishment of coyotes.

The preserve recruits graduate students, undergraduates and high schoolers from local schools including John Jay and Fox Lane to conduct research to help better protect the area. Mr. Christie said over half of high schoolers who perform research for the preserve go into the field of science in college and many continue on in the environmental field. He said the students are conducting useful research that helps the preserve further understand better conservation efforts.

“We designed our program with the idea of giving children a chance to design real projects, do sophisticated research and statistical analysis and really get a taste of what it means to be an ecological researcher,” Mr. Evnin said. “It will help us further our knowledge about a problem or a question that we have about the gorge, so it’s not just science for science’s sake, it’s science to help a student how to understand how to do science and help us better understand what’s going on in our ecosystem.”

Mr. Christie said one student research project involves studying the migratory patterns of coyotes in the area and seeing if their population increase is related to the number of deer in the area.

The Mianus River Gorge is hosting a number of programs to celebrate its 60th anniversary, including a project that recruits residents to monitor their backyards for predatory animals, starting April 4. On April 20 and 25, the preserve will host tours of the property’s native wildflower species, and on May 4 the preserve will host an owl tour.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done, we’re delighted we made it 60 years. It’s a great milestone from our perspective. The year was a great one,” Mr. Evnin said. “We’ve added some terrific land that we’ve been working on for 20-plus years. As we look to the future we’re really trying to expand the programs that we have and then move further south to further protect the watershed.”

For more information on future programs and the preserve’s opening on April 1, visit www.mianus.org.



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