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OPEN | The Open Space Institute Helps Keep America Beautiful

OPEN | The Open Space Institute Helps Keep America Beautiful

Otsego Lake. Photo: @nina_visco2170

The United States of America, from its beginning, was founded by people who set out to capitalize on the great swath of land they managed to wrest from Great Britain, and many did just that in the most literal sense: agriculture was the primary way 90% of the population made its daily bread, with the vast majority being small family farms. But these days, the picture has changed to become decidedly more urban. And the threat of losing the open spaces that used to seem endless in this huge country of ours has become real with metropolitan sprawl, housing developments, and strip malls springing up where fields used to produce crops and forests protect wildlife and help cleanse our air.


The U.S. economy is the largest in the world, and the unemployment rate is near the lowest it’s been in half a century. And, chances are, farmers don’t dominate your circle of acquaintances.

80% of Americans live and work in cities, making the population of these spaces much higher than elsewhere, not to mention more economically productive (e.g., the top 10 highest-earning metro areas contributed about 40% of the country’s GDP in 2016). On average, the U.S. is urbanizing 1 million acres per year.


While the benefits of urbanization are obvious — economic prosperity, cultural diversity — so are the drawbacks. Thankfully, organizations like the Open Space Institute (OSI) are on it, making rural land not just safe from condo developers and Big Box store builders, but attractive to people who love to bike, hike, ski, run, and jump in the Great Outdoors.

The OSI was established in 1964, decades before conservation easements started trending on Instagram. The Institute set out to “protect land that supports the things we can’t live without — like clean water, climate protection and healthy communities — and safeguard the places that make life worth living, like parks for recreation and plant and animal habitat.” You know, the babies that get thrown out with the big business boom-time dishwater.

OSI was founded in New York State, and much of their work has been accomplished there, though the OSI has also collaborated on massive land saves in South Carolina, Florida, and New Jersey.

OSI partnered with West Point cadets and NY State Parks to replace bridge at Fahnestock State Park for improved hiking and equestrian trails. Photo: Open Space Institute

The Institute frequently works on Master Plans with a network of regional partners and town boards, all of which offer a mix of conservation and recreational opportunities, to maximize both the environmental and the economic impact of all new easements.

Just this month, OSI acquired 890 pristine acres along the southern edge of the six million acre Adirondack Park, adding more forested land that will be permanently protected to one of America’s greatest and oldest national treasures. Once the transfer is complete, Moreau Lake State Park will have tripled in size.

“Moreau Lake State Park is a breathtaking, natural landscape where individuals and families can enjoy nature’s bounty — dense forests, rocky ridges, and sparkling lakes. OSI has been vested in protecting this landscape for more than 20 years,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of OSI. “With the conservation of the Smith Farm property, OSI continues to cultivate a partnership with the community of Saratoga County that will serve the wildlife, residents, and visitors of the community for years to come.”

Palmertown Range cuts through Moreau Lake State Park in the Adirondack foothills. Photo: Greg Miller

As a complement to the expanded park acreage, the town of Moreau can now move forward with its planned development of the Hudson River Trail, a scenic pathway that runs along the Hudson River  the type of amenity outdoors-activity-seeking urbanites seek out in what remains of America’s gorgeous rural landscape. Curated ruggedness.

“OSI’s protection of the Smith Farm property lays the groundwork to expand Moreau Lake State Park and further connect families and visitors with the countless recreational opportunities offered at the park,” said the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation commissioner, Rose Harvey. “I am grateful for the conservation role OSI continues to play, here at Moreau and across the state.”

This particular 890-acre parcel, for example, will help preserve a continuous swath of land between the Green and Adirondack Mountains, and thus an essential corridor for wildlife and plantlife. According to the OSI, the climate data it tapped showed that preserving this property will also help the county withstand floods and other weather events associated with climate change.

Lake Colden / ADK. Photo: @stephentlarkin

America, the beautiful. Still. And hopefully, with the help of outdoors enthusiasts and organizations like OSI, forever. We have to be “open” to preserving and protecting our natural habitat.

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