The Orange County Land Trust (OCLT) is celebrating its twenty-fifth year anniversary as an organization this year. OCLT was founded by the late Louis Mills, Orange County’s first County Executive, who had a vision for protecting Orange County’s farms, natural habitats, and iconic landscapes in the light of growing development pressure.
Mills was joined by several of the County’s leading business, farming, and conservation leaders to form a Board of Directors, which included: Marty Borko, Elmire Conklin, F. Edward Devitt, and the late, Robert “Bob” Augello, Esq., Ann Botshon, Seymour Gordon, Milton Arthur Lain III, and Jacques Levine. The Land Trust’s constitution and bylaws were drawn up by Bob Augello, a Middletown-based attorney and conservationist who tirelessly provided years of invaluable pro bono legal service to establish the organization.
Some of the group’s earliest activities focused on the protection of Sterling Forest from a massive development project that would have otherwise fragmented the ecologically-rich forest and threatened drinking water sources. After Sterling Forest State Park was established, the Land Trust began setting their sights on other lands of natural and agricultural importance. Thus in 1995, the Land Trust accepted the donation of a sixty-acre property in Slate Hill, now known as Hunter Farm Preserve.
As the potential for new land conservation projects began growing, the all-volunteer Land Trust came to the realization that they could no longer handle the volume of land transactions, bookkeeping, and communications by themselves. As a result, the board of directors made the decision to hire their first paid staff member, John Gebhards, who accepted the offer to work part-time as Executive Director. Shortly thereafter, the Land Trust moved into an office in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church in Middletown and hired their second employee.
Nearly twenty years later, the Land Trust, now based out of Mountainville at the base of Schunnemunk Mountain, employs a professional staff of six led by Executive Director James Delaune. Their successes and accomplishments are highlighted across farmland, wetlands, streams, and forests spanning the Hudson River to the Delaware River. To date, the Land Trust has helped protect six-thousand acres of land by partnering with willing landowners on conservation easements, which are permanent conservation agreements that help protect the natural and/or agricultural resources of a particular property. The Land Trust also owns and manages thirteen nature preserves and helps monitor over eleven-thousand acres of protected land annually, including lands that were protected through partnerships with the Town of Warwick, Open Space Institute, and County Government, among others.
The Land Trust will celebrate its 25th anniversary at their Annual Benefit Reception on Fri., Jun. 8 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Cedar Lakes Estate, located at 1 Team Usa Way in Port Jervis, NY. To purchase a ticket or for more information, call 534-3690 or visit www.oclt.org.