by Brandon Hollis, Stewardship Director
It’s a warm summer morning. You round the bend of the Lois Jean & John MacFarlane Nature Trail – part of the beautiful and historic Zenda Farms Preserve. As the sun reflects off the morning dew, you stop and sit on a hand-made stone bench, gazing through the leaves of several maple trees that you helped plant earlier that spring. You continue onward, crossing over a series of bridges that span the rolling hills of the open fields. You stop and read that these grasslands are home to a number of NYS threatened bird species, such as the Bobolink, Henslow’s Sparrow, and Upland Sandpiper. As you make your way back to your vehicle, you realize the positive impacts the natural world has on our everyday lives.
Over the past three decades, the Thousand Islands Land Trust has had the privilege of conserving some of the most pristine and ecologically sensitive landscapes along the St. Lawrence River. These protected lands serve as a time capsule, forever preserving the natural beauty that draws us all to this special place in northern New York.
With the River communities at the heart of our work, TILT prides itself on providing public access to these forever wild lands. With our built environment continuing to expand, TILT has recognized the increased importance of connecting people to the natural world. This concept of getting people out on the land continues to drive the organization, as TILT looks for new and creative ways to provide outdoor recreational opportunities and experiences throughout the Thousand Islands region.
Understanding this concept, TILT has been able to establish eight Signature Preserves across five townships. These Signature Preserves embody all aspects of the organization: providing public access and outdoor recreational opportunities, conserving natural beauty and diverse wildlife habitats, and protecting water quality through the preservation of wetlands and undisturbed uplands. These preserves are: Grindstone Island (including Potters Beach), Fort Haldimand on Carleton Island, Zenda Farms, Crooked Creek, Sissy Danforth Rivergate Trail and the S. Gerald Ingerson Preserve, Otter Creek, Foster-Blake Woods, and Chippewa Bay.
Through the Signature Preserves program, TILT has been able to provide public access to thousands of acres and nearly 20 miles of trails, hosting multiple locations for people to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities: hiking, biking, kayaking, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, and wildlife observation. These preserves also serve as sites for TILT to host its robust Treks & Talks Program, offering a series of educational fieldtrips and workshops.
In an effort to continue to provide new and updated experiences, TILT applied for a 2019 Stewardship Grant through the NYS Conservation Partnership Program. TILT was able to secure nearly $50,000 dollars for the enhancement of its Signature Preserves by incorporating new features that highlight the unique character of each preserve. Projects funded by this grant will include new kiosks, improved trail infrastructure, new preserve entrance signs, an observation deck, and multiple interpretive panels. These specific projects look to establish a recognizable brand for the organization while providing each trail user with an enriched experience.
As TILT incorporates these new additions into its Signature Preserves, we hope that our River communities continue to support our efforts. Through this work, the Thousand Islands Land Trust looks to strengthen the human-nature relationship, providing the opportunity to create a lifelong connection to these truly special lands.