Every year, we hold our own version of the Oscars: the Local Hero Awards, wherein readers vote for their favorite local chefs/restaurants, farm/farmers, non-profits, culinary artisans, beverage producers and food or wine retailers, and the winners are awarded with a feature in our March/April print issue. Every weekday till the polling booths close on January 19* we’ll be looking back at last year’s winners. First up is the 2014 Local Hero for Non-Profit Organization: Finger Lakes Land Trust! The below story originally appeared as part of our Local Heroes feature in the March/April 2014 issue.
*There’s still time to make sure your voice is heard! Vote here for your 2015 local hero chefs, farmers, non-profits and artisans.
The Finger Lakes Land Trust
By Lisa Barker • Photo by Robyn Wishna
If you’ve hiked the rocky, upstream river gorge to admire the cascading falls of Naples’ stunning Grimes Glen, or perhaps enjoyed a cross-country ski adventure along the trails of Dryden’s Ellis Hollow Nature Preserve, you have the Finger Lakes Land Trust to thank. Over 16,000 acres of our region’s landscape, from vineyards to waterfalls, have been protected since the Land Trust was created in 1989, and as Executive Director Andrew Zepp says, the work is always accelerating, with more ambitious projects always in the wings. In 2013, the FLLT completed 14 real estate transactions in addition to a variety of special projects, such as the installation of handicapped accessible boardwalks along public access trails. Their work includes land management and community education—the Land Trust is responsible for coordinating a wide array of activities and workshops geared around engaging the community with the region’s natural wonders, free of charge. The Land Trust also provides resources for community members and municipal authorities looking to become actively involved in the conservation effort, both online and through their office.
Zepp says for him as well as the Land Trust’s 10 other staff members, it’s the diversity of the work that makes it so fulfilling—the combination of working actively to protect the gorges and glens that sustain the character of such a unique region, as well as working with its notable people, such as fourth generation farmers, to secure the future of their land. When it comes to farmland, the Land Trust’s goal is not to own the land, but rather to ensure it is kept in the hands of farmers. One recent such initiative was the protection of the family-owned Argetsinger Vineyard, which, with its stunning views of Seneca Lake and renowned grape production, has been a valued agricultural asset in the town of Hector for more than 100 years. The conservation easement purchased by the Land Trust prevents any future development of the site, allowing it to remain in operation and privately owned, while also preserving the neighboring lands that border its gorge and stream.
Two current projects that have the FLLT staff excited involve increasing public access to the undeveloped shores of the Finger Lakes, which are surprisingly few and far between. One would create a hiking trail from the eastern shore of Canandaigua Lake to the summit of Bare Hill and another would protect a mile of hillside overlooking the east side of Skaneatles Lake.
The biggest challenge to the work of the Land Trust, Zepp says, is the race for real estate. “We want not just to protect a parcel of land here and there, but to preserve an intact landscape.” The ever-increasing competition for land, with low-density neighborhood development the number-one rival, is a very real threat to the legacy of this special region. However, the folks on the frontlines are excited by opportunity that the growing public interest in food and wine presents, in terms of a holistic understanding that land preservation truly protects the fabric of the community. “It’s all tied together,” Zepp says, “and we garner tremendous support when people realize that conservation is a win-win for landowners, in terms of their land and its future.”
Lisa Barker is a photographer, writer, youth leader and urban gardener from Rochester.