Partnership for stewardship is happening between upper Hudson River communities in Saratoga and Washington counties. Under a new state law, it will include the Hoosic River communities in Rensselaer County.
A few years ago, I stopped to talk with Long Island Assemblyman Steven Englebright in the Assembly chamber. He told me he was doing something exciting in Saratoga County with then-Assemblyman Roy McDonald and that I had to talk with him.
I had participated in the Rockefeller Institute initiative on regionalism in the 1990s when McDonald, now about to depart as a state senator, was supervisor of the town of Wilton. McDonald and others from Saratoga County had little interest in regional efforts, especially those that included tax-sharing with distressed communities.
I later wrote about this parochialism. I told Englebright that I didn’t think McDonald would want to talk with me. Nonetheless, Englebright led me to McDonald, who smiled when he saw me.
McDonald told me he wanted me to draft a bill for him like the intermunicipal Albany Pine Bush Commission and the Long Island Pine Barrens Commission laws that I had drafted. That was music to my ears.
First, McDonald established his environmental bona fides with me. He told me that when he was Wilton supervisor, a delegation from The Nature Conservancy came to see him to ask his support for the preservation of 40 acres in Wilton. It has blue lupine habitat for the endangered Karner blue butterfly. McDonald said he needed to think about what The Nature Conservancy wanted and they could come back in a week to meet with him.
When they met again, McDonald said he would establish a 3,000-acre preserve that included the blue lupine so long as The Nature Conservancy would manage it. McDonald told me Saratoga County had secured its economy and it was time to protect its natural and historic assets.
Gen. John Burgoyne’s sword surrender site near the Saratoga Battlefield brought Englebright and McDonald together. Englebright was driving in that area when he saw a property with an old house, a for sale sign and an Education Department historic sign saying this property was where Burgoyne surrendered his sword to American Major Gen. Horatio Gates, marking the end of the Battles of Saratoga. It was the turning point of the American Revolution.
Englebright reached out to McDonald to help preserve the sword surrender site. With the support of former Sen. Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, funds were obtained for the acquisition of the surrender site by the Open Space Institute. Englebright and McDonald successfully sponsored legislation to establish the Saratoga-Washington on the Hudson River Partnership, made up of nine towns and villages represented by their supervisors and mayors. This year, 15 towns and villages in Rensselaer and Washington Counties were added to the partnership.
Its mission “is to preserve, enhance and develop the historic, agricultural, scenic, natural and recreational resources and significant waterways within the partnership region.”
Partnerships have become epidemic as the superintendent of the Saratoga National Historical Park, nonprofit organizations like the Saratoga P.L.A.N., Agricultural Stewardship Association, Lakes to Locks and Friends of the Battlefield, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and too many others to mention have contributed to a common stewardship effort.
A site development and cultural landscape plan for the sword surrender site, an overall stewardship plan and steps to develop a gateway visitor center in Schuylerville are among the Hudson River Partnership’s key achievements. Englebright’s chief of staff and historian Devin Lander coordinates the work of the partnership.
Regionalist David Rusk calls small cities, towns and villages like those that make up the partnership “little boxes” unable to solve the large social, economic and environmental challenges we have today. I agree with Rusk, but I am delighted that the Hudson River Partnership shows that little boxes can at times collaboratively find ways and means from the bottom up to achieve large goals.
This article was originally published in the Albany Times Union on December 13, 2012.