The Orange County Land Trust (OCLT) has announced the protection of 73 acres of forest near Greenwood Lake, NY in the Town of Warwick; a property that also boasts a unique history where an icon of the Harlem Renaissance and a Hudson River School artist drew inspiration.
This project by the Land Trust is part of an ongoing effort to protect habitat buffering the Doris Duke Wildlife Sanctuary section of Sterling Forest State Park. Since 2017, the Land Trust has protected 3 individual properties comprising 247 acres bordering the State Park.
According to Executive Director Jim Delaune, the 73-acre property initially caught the attention of the Land Trust as a potential buffer to Sterling Forest State Park, but as the organization began taking a closer look at the property’s history as part of their due diligence, their interest grew exponentially. “The property has tremendous conservation value: water quality, biodiversity, recreation, and climate resilience, so protecting it was a natural priority for us. Then, we came across the Jasper Cropsey connection, and not long after that, we learned that the land was once part of Greenwood Forest Farms, the first African-American resort community in New York State.” Delaune added, “Helping to preserve some local history was just icing on the cake.”
Site of a Hudson River School Painting
During the initial site visit to the property, Land Trust staff members made their way to a rocky overlook facing Greenwood Lake to the south. Conservation Project Manager Shanna Abeles, who has a background in fine art, noted the view’s similarity to a painting by Hudson River School Artist, Jasper Cropsey. “After comparing the views from a few possible locations, we were convinced that this was the site from which Cropsey painted his 1845 work, ‘View of Greenwood Lake, New Jersey,’” stated Abeles.
Greenwood Forest Farms
Nearly 75 years after the completion of Cropsey’s Greenwood Lake piece, the property continued playing a role in the fabric of local culture. The parcel was once part of a larger tract known as Greenwood Forest Farms, which was formed in 1919 by prominent black families from Harlem and Brooklyn. The vacation community was a haven for cultural and civil rights leaders.
Among some of the notable figures to have lived or vacationed at the Colony was Poet and Harlem Renaissance icon, Langston Hughes, and the first black New York Police Department officer, Samuel Battle. Last year marked the 100th anniversary of Greenwood Forest Farms, where descendants of the original families continue to have homes to this day. Gordon Duncan, a Greenwood Forest Farms Association member and third-generation homeowner, said “This effort of the Orange County Land Trust will forever perpetuate the legacy of Greenwood Forest Farms.”
The 73-acre property is situated within the Greenwood Lake watershed and is comprised of habitats identified as “significant” by the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Natural Heritage Program, including “hemlock-northern hardwood” and “Appalachian oak-hickory” forests. The property also contains a stream and potential habitat for the Dragon’s Mouth Orchid, a threatened vascular plant.
The protection of this property also achieves the goals of public conservation planning documents. The Town of Warwick’s Community Preservation Project Plan identified this property as a priority for the protection of the water quality of Greenwood Lake. The Orange County Open Space Plan identified the property and surrounding area as a biological hotspot, with high value for biological diversity.
The Orange County Department of Planning assisted in protecting this property by funding some of the Land Trust’s costs to complete the project, including an updated survey. “We are proud of our longstanding partnership with the Land Trust,” said David Church, Commissioner of Planning. “Over the years we have worked together on the preservation of thousands of acres of open space and farmland, and we look forward to continuing this work for the benefit of county residents long into the future.”
According to Director of Conservation and Stewardship Matt Decker, the newly-protected land is now accessible to the public. “Hikers from neighboring State Park lands can visit this property and take in the same spectacular views of Greenwood Lake that inspired Jasper Cropsey.”
The Land Trust hopes to schedule a guided hike to the scenic overlook this spring. That information will be posted on the organization’s website and Facebook page.
The project was made possible because of the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, the Janet Ross Fund, the Orange County Department of Planning, and supporters of the Orange County Land Trust.