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January 11, 2024
OCLT Announces Completion of Sugar Loaf Mountain Acquisition
The Orange County Land Trust has acquired the iconic Sugar Loaf Mountain property in the Town of Chester; 309 acres of forest, successional habitat, and farmland, as well as direct access to the summit of Sugar Loaf Mountain. According to OCLT, their primary goal was to bring about the first-ever public access to the Mountain’s summit while expanding outdoor recreation by connecting the property to the adjacent Goosepond Mountain State Park.
The prospect of preserving the Sugar Loaf Mountain property for public access was for many years a pipe dream and merely conceptual up until 2019 when OCLT met with the landowners, the Palmer family, to discuss their plans and goals for their beloved property. In June 2022, the two parties signed an agreement giving OCLT an exclusive option to purchase the property.
It was then that OCLT sought potential funding partners to help advance the project. The Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, a longtime supporter of OCLT, agreed to support the acquisition with a generous loan. OCLT’s search for funding sources would eventually lead them to an enthusiastic and committed funding partner in Walden Savings Bank (WSB), whom pledged a loan making it possible for OCLT to begin due diligence on the project.
As the project began to take shape, OCLT announced its ambitious conservation plans to the public and launched their “Save the Mountain” campaign. The campaign’s message was clear: the project would be a win for conservation, outdoor recreation, tourism, and local businesses. In order to spread this message and engage the community at large about its plans, OCLT assembled a “boots on the ground” team comprising staff, board members, and volunteers to participate in local fairs and events, plan fundraisers, and distribute yard signs, among other activities. The message was received far and wide, as “Save the Mountain” generated over $200,000 in community donations and gaining the attention of an Emmy-award winning filmmaker who would donate his services to create a mini-documentary about the project.
The NYS DEC and Land Trust Alliance demonstrated their support for the project with a NYS Conservation Partnership Program grant, as did Scenic Hudson, which also provided financial support for the acquisition through its Climate and Environmental Justice grant initiative. As due diligence progressed, both Orange County Government and the Town of Chester emerged as project partners who could help manage portions of the protected lands for recreation upon OCLT’s acquisition. These project partners and funding sources combined provided OCLT with a clear path and timeline to fully fund the acquisition.
Both OCLT and the Palmer Family worked diligently to ensure the project would close by year end and within days of New Year’s 2024, the project was officially completed. It was cause for celebration for both parties, though the official announcement was put on hold until the end of the holiday season to ensure the news received the attention it deserved.
Jim Delaune, Executive Director of the Orange County Land Trust, said: “Purchasing and protecting the Sugar Loaf Mountain property was a team effort through and through. There were so many moving pieces and variables that I wasn’t sure we could get this done by year-end, but fortunately for us we did. Thank you to our incredible supporters, the Palmer family, the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, Walden Savings Bank, County Executive Steve Neuhaus and Orange County Government, Scenic Hudson, the Town and Planning Boards of Chester, Land Trust Alliance, NYS DEC, Palisades Interstate Park Commission, Dick and Jo Hull, Dave Getz, Mediacom, and those generous donors who wish to remain anonymous− you saved the mountain.”
County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus stated: “Sugar Loaf Mountain has breathtaking views and is one of the most beautiful landmarks in picturesque Orange County. I am proud to have worked with OCLT and the Palmer Family on this and could not be more excited about the future of Sugar Loaf Mountain, which will include public access, a trail system, and other outdoor activities for residents to enjoy for generations to come.”
Walden Savings Bank President and C.E.O. Derrik Wynkoop said: “From our initial call with Executive Director Delaune - Walden Savings Bank knew this was a project our 152 year old community bank could readily stand behind. We were honored to provide financial assistance and counsel to the great folks at the OCLT - to get this deal over the finish line.”
"Scenic Hudson was very pleased to contribute to the conservation of 309 acres on Sugar Loaf Mountain in Chester,” said Seth McKee, Executive Director of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust. “This was a long-standing priority for OCLT – securing public access to the mountain for outdoor recreation (for the first time)! This is exactly why we created our Climate and Environmental Justice grants: to accelerate and support vital projects that benefit the environment, the economy, and all members of the community. The 309 conserved acres will also help combat climate change by ‘moving the needle’ on the state’s 30x30 initiative – saving 30% of all open space in the state by 2030."
OCLT intends on transferring the land to Orange County Parks & Recreation, whom will lead efforts in coordination with other conservation partners to create a plan for public access and recreation. Public access is not advised at this time until a formal trail system and designated parking area are established.
Orange County Land Trust is dedicated to conserving Orange County's watersheds, agricultural lands, and natural habitats through conservation agreements with willing landowners. For more information call (845) 534-3690 or visit www.oclt.org