Hidden Gems of Westchester County

Three Westchester County parks you should see this summer

July means that summer is fully underway, and you may be finding the season’s early euphoria fading as you try to figure out what to do and where to do it. To help FCWC has composed a list of the three hidden gems from Westchester County.

Cranberry Lake Preserve

1) Cranberry Lake Preserve – White Plains, NY 

Situated on a peninsula between the Kensico Reservoir and Rye Lake, Cranberry Lake Preserve offers 190-acres of land to explore and enjoy just outside bustling White Plains. One of Westchester County’s parks, this area it is unique to have such a large lake and 7-acres of bog and wetland so close to an urban area.

Cranberry Lake Preserve is also a place for viewing hard to come by plant species due to the quarry part of the park where minerals are leaching into the soil. Some of these species include pink lady slipper, sun dew, and of course the park’s namesake, cranberry. A huge rock excavation, the quarry provided the granite for the Kensico dam and is an important feature in the County. Today, visitors can explore the site which has a landscape that would be more common of areas Upstate.

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Blue Mountain Reservation

2) Blue Mountain Reservation – Peekskill, NY

Known more for the sportsman center and mountain biking, Blue Mountain Reservation actually has a number of unique landscape features, making it a must-visit destination this summer. This County Park has the largest number of functioning vernal pools (over 136) in the County, offering important amphibian habitat and breeding area. The park features miles of trails, including challenging hikes to the tops of two park peaks, Mt. Spitzenberg and Blue Mountain.

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3) Marshlands Conservancy – Rye, NY

The Salt Marsh at Marshlands Conservancy is one of the largest remaining salt marsh mud flats along Long Island Sound in Westchester County. Located along the Atlantic migratory bird flyway, this area is a great birdwatching location; over 230 species have been sighted there. Visitors to Marshlands Conservancy can participate in nature studies or just enjoy the forest, meadow, salt marsh, and shore.

Learn More!

Special thanks to John Baker, Director of Conservation and Ken Uhle, Landscape Architect for Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Conservation for assistance in putting this list together.

New! A Look Into Our Past – “Ward Pound Ridge Reservation gets Biodiversity Preserves”

This is the seventh installment of our “A Look into Our Past” Series, honoring the past five decades of environmental work in Westchester County. This series revisits some of our best accomplishments by featuring past articles from our original publication “Westchester Environment.” 

“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 97 No. 3 – March & April 1997

4059_001(1)Ward Pound Ridge Reservation gets Biodiversity Preserves

By Gudrun LeLash, FCWC Executive Director 1997

For several years FCWC studied how to protect biodiversity and habitat in Westchester. It received funds for computer hard and software for data gathering and public education through the good offices of State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky. Preexisting and new data were collected.

In 1994, under the leadership of Michael Klemens, herpetologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, a cooperative effort among the Westchester County Parks and Planning Departments, WCS and FCWC began in county parks – land already protected and accessible to us. Since it is public land, we felt we might be able to influence the management and protection of sensitive natural areas.

After three years of field study, two areas of Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, nearly 1,500 acres, were declared Biodiversity Preserves by the Parks Board. The land was deemed of significant value, and biodiversity protection will be a major consideration in future plans for the park. Although not as strongly worded as we would have liked, it is, however, a beginning in the effort to secure the species and habitat diversity.

Our efforts notwithstanding, safeguarding Westchester’s natural resources will still depend on interested public citizens 50 or 100 years hence. If the Reservation were developed outside the Biodiversity Preserves, these protected areas would be at risk. For that matter, if the rural neighborhood bordering the Reservation were paved up to its boundary, the preserves would be jeopardized.

As they say, in this democracy, educated citizens and eternal vigilance are vital. What we have achieved, however, is a heightened sense of awareness about the species and habitats that exist within Ward Pound Ridge Reservation and elsewhere in our region.

A Look Into Our Past – Westchester Environment, “Farmland in Westchester?”

This is the sixth installment of our “A Look into Our Past” Series, honoring the past five decades of environmental work in Westchester County. This series revisits some of our best accomplishments by featuring past articles from our original publication “Westchester Environment.” 

In this post we would like to highlight the importance of farmland in Westchester County, as per our theme for this month’s E-News. This article, written by Gudrun “Goodie” LeLash our then Executive Director, cites the need to preserve a local farm on the Cortlandt/Yorktown border called Hemlock Hill Farm and owned by the DeMaria family. The call to action was a success and today Hemlock Hill Farm is able to provide its community with farm-fresh products. Visit their website at http://www.hemlockhillfarm.com.

“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 96 No. 2 – March & April 1996

Farmland in Westchester?

By Gudrun LeLash, FCWC Executive Director 1996


It may be hard to believe, but vestiges of the county’s rural heritage still exist. However, one of Westchester’s few remaining farms is threatened with foreclosure, and New York City may be the only entity that can preserve it.

The DeMaria Farm, “Hemlock Hill,” situated on a scenic hilltop straddling the Cortlandt/Yorktown border, is in grave jeopardy. With the help of Westchester Land Trust a conservation plan has been proposed to the owners, the mortgage holders and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. It would involve DEP acquisition of the land through its watershed protection program. The DeMarias would use the proceeds for settling outstanding debts and as working capital for the farm.

About half the farm’s roughly 120 acres is in active agricultural use. The rest is wooded buildable land, although some areas are steep, rocky or wet. The land drains into Hunter Brook which runs directly into nearby Croton Reservoir. The farm is one of just a few large parcels comprising the Hunter Brook drainage area and has been a top property conservation site for over 20 years. Efforts to develop a greenway along Hunter Brook are being renewed by the Westchester Land Trust.

It is urgent that the DEP make a commitment soon since foreclosure would result in a Sheriff’s sale of the farm and eviction of the DeMarias within the next couple months. If the lenders gain title to the farm, it will undoubtedly be developed. Time is of the essence.

The DEP has visited the DeMaria Farm but has not committed to its protection. However, County Executive O’Rourke has urged the DEP to pursue acquisition of the land’s development rights. The Watershed Agricultural Council, set up as a watershed farm assistance bureau, funded by the DEP and Cornell, has shown interest in helping the DeMarias develop a watershed-sensitive farm plan that also makes financial sense.

This would be a wonderful opportunity to save a farm, create a greenbelt and demonstrate environmentally sound farming.

Groundwork Hudson and Hilltop Hanover Farm: 2 Groups Are Thinking Outside the Planting Bed

2 Groups Are Thinking Outside the Planting Bed

There is more to Westchester’s local agricultural community than the everyday farmers market-goer may think. While traditionally what comes to mind when thinking of farming are weekly roadside stands and idyllic pastureland, two of FCWC’s member organizations are handling more subtle applications and trends associated with local food production. Explore how Groundwork Hudson Valley and Hilltop Hanover Farm and Environmental Center are working outside of box this growing season.

Groundwork Hudson Valley – “pH Balances, Vegetables, and Fish”

thumb_DSC_0080_1024Located in Yonkers and along the waterfront, Groundwork Hudson Valley has been pioneering a project for the last seven years that combines all of the elements of sustainable agriculture: green techniques, economics, and community. Their Science Barge is a floating, off-the grid system that uses aquaponics to grow vegetables for Groundwork’s weekly summer famers market. As an educational facility the barge teaches the public about benefits of urban agriculture, green energy, and most notably aquaponic agriculture – a practice that combines aquaculture (raising fish and other water animals) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).

thumb_DSC_0084_1024The barge has two green houses on board, where volunteers tend to lettuce, tomatoes, and the koi fish swimming beneath the growing plants. All water used in their aquaponics system is derived from rainwater, and in cases where there are drought conditions the barge thumb_DSC_0101_1024uses a reverse-osmosis system to process water from the Hudson River, which is brackish.

When visiting the barge, the whizzing sound of small wind turbines fill the air with each passing breeze and the two solar voltaic panels move shadows along the deck as they tilt slightly to catch rays. It is a great place for children and adults alike to get hands on experience with this alternative form of agriculture and energy. You can peer in at all the pH labels on tanks and even get to hold some of the “rock wool” that the plants are grown in.

thumb_DSC_0085_1024Part of what makes the Science Barge an important feature of Westchester’s local agricultural system is its focus on bringing locally sourced food to urban locations. Groundwork Hudson Valley has focused on the more urban locations in the county in an effort spur green growth in these communities, like Yonkers. The group has not stopped at the Science Barge, but also has many community gardens dispersed through the city.

Groundwork Hudson Valley’s work is truly impressive and not to mention really fun. To see when their next farmers market will be visit groundworkhv.org.

Hilltop Hanover Farm – “The Revival of the Farmer”

(Photo Credit: Hilltop Hanover Farm’s instagram account @hilltophanoverfarm, Helen Brady)

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Off Hanover Street by Route 100, Hilltop Hanover Farm and Educational Center is situated just outside Yorktown’s center. A county-owned vegetable farm, Hilltop Hanover has been teaching the public about sustainable crop production since 2011. With a history dating back to the 1600s, it is fitting that here there is an effort to develop the next generation of farmers.

Farming as a livelihood has decreased drastically since the 1900s due to increased industrialization, but we are finding that we need our farmers once again. A growing trend all throughout the country, and strongly here in Westchester County, has been an increased demand for locally grown food.

When speaking with Hilltop Hanover’s head farmer Max Zanke about this trend, he attributes it to the public being alerted to sustainability and localism issues, and generally caring more about their diets. The result has been a renewed interest in farms and organically grown food.FullSizeRender

Hilltop Hanover has been a good model for developing the next generation of farmers. While its focus is on public education of sound farming techniques, it is also a working farm. Hilltop Hanover feeds close to 150 families through its CSA program, and even more at their weekly farm stand and in donations to local food pantries. This need for skilled farm workers has allowed for individuals to fill this niche.

FullSizeRender (4)In conversations with Max again, this revival of the farmer begins to feel circular. Many of the residential land in Westchester used to be farmland; but in recent history’s unprofitably of small-scale farming, family farms were abandoned and the land was developed. Today there are efforts to bring back these farms and new generations are filling the void of their stewards.

It’s true the way we see farmers we see now has changed. Our parents and grandparents grew up trying to move away from family farms, because of the poverty and drudgery often associated with the work. This new generation was simply filling the void left by that migration. I hate to use such obvious language but it seemed more “grassroots” and “organic”.

There is a lot at play behind the increasing trend for local food; there could be touches of sentimentality for a simpler way, but there is also the recognition that industrialization of farming may have gone a step too far. Agriculture is deeply embedded in our country’s roots and the loss of small farming threatens generations of knowledge to be forgotten.

FullSizeRender (3)Hilltop Hanover and its farmers have been a part of this effort to reignite the relationship the community as with its food. Their work is hard, but is surely a labor of love.

Come and meet the Hilltop crew every weekend at their farmer stand, and even get a chance to take your turn in the field on their U-Pick Saturdays. Learn more by visiting hilltophanoverfarm.org.

“Greening Our Parks” – Conservation Café

autumn_hyde_parkOn Friday May 29, FCWC and our partners in the “Conservation Café” presented the latest Conversations on Conservation program entitled “Greening our Parks.”

Many parks and open spaces are increasingly looking at how they can advance their missions through sustainable operations on their lands. These can include but are not limited to alternative energy projects, waste reduction initiatives, and pollution prevention projects. By many accounts, our parks and open spaces are leaders in sustainability, yet many of these projects remain secondary attractions to the natural resources that we seek out when visiting these locations. The Conservation Café sought to highlight some regional sustainability initiatives taken by parks in our own backyards.

Alyssa Cobb, the Assistant Commissioner for Parklands and Planning for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation discussed the New York City Community Parks Initiative (CPI). The CPI is an investment in the smaller public parks that are located in New York City’s densely populated and growing neighborhoods where there are higher-than-average concentrations of poverty. The Initiative will engage New Yorkers in rebuilding local parks and reconnect communities to the green spaces right outside their doorsteps. ‘Greening’ is a targeted improvement that the NYC Parks and Recreation Department is looking to incorporate into the CPI. Cobb also noted that stormwater management was a big concern when updating some of the City parks that include significant amounts of impervious surfaces.

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Summary of FCWC’s Federation Meeting

Helping Our Member Organizations Plan for the Future

By Kate Munz, Member Relations Coordinator 

On April 29th, 2015, we hosted our annual Federation Meeting. Each year FCWC hosts this meeting as an opportunity for our Member Organizations to congregate and discuss the current state of Westchester’s Environment. FCWC facilitates networking among the organizations and general attendees, so to help our organizations expand their base and

Dr. Mike Rubbo from Teatown presenting on Teatown's current climate change studies.
Dr. Mike Rubbo from Teatown presenting on Teatown’s current climate change studies.

relationships. We also bring experts on a variety of subjects to the meeting to teach our organizations something we think would be useful. This meeting is about strengthening our “federation” and spreading knowledge.

This year we had representatives from 10 organizations, all of whom had the opportunity to share projects they were working on, and what they would like to see out of their membership of FCWC.

Much of 2015, FCWC’s 50th anniversary year, has been spent pursuing two goals: addressing the topic of climate change and sea level rise, and trying to sustain the nonprofit grassroots fundamentals that FCWC was founded on. Therefore it was on these two topics that we chose our experts. The first speaker of the program was Mike Rubbo, Director of Conservation at Teatown Lake Reservation. He spoke about Teatown’s current environmental projects and the efforts they are making to create a more resilient ecosystem. The second speaker was Lori Ensinger, Executive Director at Westchester Land Trust, who discussed the many intricacies of communicating with a Board of Directors.

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A Look Into Our Past – Westchester Environment, “New York State Breeding Bird Atlas”

This is the fifth installment of our “A Look into Our Past” Series, honoring the past five decades of work done by Federated Conservationists of Westchester County. This series revisits some of our best accomplishments by featuring past articles from our original publication “Westchester Environment.” 

In this post we would like to welcome spring and the start of the birding season with a piece on the first New York State Breeding Bird Atlas. This article, written by Berna Weissman our then Treasurer, delves into the planning and work behind the Breeding Bird Atlas Project 1980, which culminated in a published Atlas. In December 2008 a “Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State” was released with updated information and public Google Earth datasets. Details on this “Second Atlas in Breeding Birds in New York State” can be found here: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7312.html

“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 4 No. 3 – April & May 1982

A Look Into the PastNew York State Breeding Bird Atlas: a work a scientific significance

By Berna Weissman, FCWC Treasurer (Excerpt from)

Even in New York, endowed with a long history of ornithology and the current activity of a large number of professional and amateur observers, the precise distribution of the more than 200 species of birds which breed here is imperfectly known. Previous publications have had to rely on scattered studies of single species and random observations. The Federation of New York State Bird Clubs, seeking to fill this gap, launched the Breeding Bird Atlas Project in 1980, in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, National Audubon Society, Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology and New York State Museum.

To accomplish the enormous task of mapping the distribution of all breeding birds, the entire state has been divided into approximately 5000 blocks of 25 square kilometers, each to be surveyed for the species breeding within it. The field work, which will last for five years, is being done by volunteers who, by visiting all the habitats within a block at various times throughout the breeding season, locate and identify birds, make observations of their behavior and code them as possible, probably, or confirmed breeders according to a list of established criteria. Publication of the Atlas is expected in the latter half of this decade.

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