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The Short Version: In 1963, a group of concerned nature lovers began Scenic Hudson to protect Storm King Mountain — the gateway to the Hudson Highlands — from the ecological impacts of the proposed construction of a hydroelectric plant. The organization was ultimately successful, and its victory has gone down in history as the beginnings of the grass-roots environmental movement we know today. Since its inception, Scenic Hudson has aimed to ensure the land in the Hudson Valley is preserved so future generations can come together and enjoy its majesty. Thanks to the nonprofit’s work, Scenic Hudson’s parklands offer countless opportunities for people to experience the great outdoors and bond over an affinity for wide open spaces, historic farms, and vibrant towns. Whether you come to hike the trails, discover a piece of cultural heritage, or give back through volunteering, Scenic Hudson delivers fulfilling, nature-filled activities to share with someone special.
There was a storm brewing in the Hudson Valley in the 1960s. A local utility company wanted to blast away part of Storm King Mountain to build a hydroelectric power plant. Not only was the mountain a prominent geologic feature on the shores of the Hudson River, but it was also a historic site from the Revolutionary War.
In 1963, the nonprofit organization Scenic Hudson was founded by six people to stop the development, and it started an environmental movement unlike one the country had ever seen.
“It all began with just a group of people who felt it was really important to save the mountain,” said Rita Shaheen, Director of Parks and Community Engagement with Scenic Hudson. “That led to a 17-year environmental legal battle, but it resulted in the Scenic Hudson Decision, which is a landmark environmental law where people have the right to talk about environmental issues and launch the grass-roots movements.”
Rita told us the victory is a reminder that a group of people banding together can make a difference, whether it’s on a small or large scale.
Scenic Hudson continues to work as a land trust to acquire and preserve the environment throughout the Hudson Valley. Today, due in large part to the nonprofit’s work, the Hudson Valley’s beautiful parks and trails create ideal settings for nature-loving people to strengthen bonds with each other and the great outdoors.
Following the victory to preserve Storm King Mountain, Scenic Hudson began to help other communities preserve land and cultural monuments around the Hudson Valley. Since the 1960s, the nonprofit has been responsible for the creation and preservation of numerous parks and wild spaces where people flock to experience the outdoors.
Scenic Hudson now oversees more than 40 free parks throughout the valley and has played a role in creating or enhancing dozens of preserves and historical sites. The organization also partners with other nonprofits to help further its cause.
Rita told us part of Scenic Hudson’s success is due to its passionate staff of around 55 people. She said there are long-timers, like her (with 21 years of tenure, she’s one of the nonprofit’s longest-serving employees). But Scenic Hudson also has employees who have only been on the job a few months, and everything in between.
“That mix is really exciting — to people who have long-standing history of what’s gone on here, and new people who bring all kinds of energy, enthusiasm, and new ideas,” she said.
The staff’s skills and backgrounds vary widely. Rita herself is a landscape architect, and her colleagues’ diverse experience runs the gamut of professions, including urban designers, regional planners, attorneys, graphic artists, policy experts, recreation management workers, development workers, and those in land acquisition. Scenic Hudson also employs conservation scientists, who are essential to the organization’s mission.
“They really know the flora and fauna on our properties, but they also do very important work in habitat management and enhancing and protecting natural resources,” she said.
Though team member backgrounds vary, everyone at Scenic Hudson is very community-oriented. Rita told us a dedication to teamwork and collaboration is baked into Scenic Hudson’s philosophy, whether the nonprofit is working internally or with outside groups.
“Scenic Hudson is highly regarded as a group that can convene people together and get stuff done,” she said. “There’re a lot of passionate, committed people who care about the environment, who care about getting people out into the environment, care about what our urban areas are shaping up to be, and how they can become better places for people to connect with nature.”
One way Scenic Hudson maintains its parklands is through volunteers. Whether you go alone and make new friends, or participate as a couple, this volunteer work can bring people together, and it usually leaves participants with a sense of accomplishment that comes from helping the environment.
The Park Patrol program, for example, allows volunteers to be the eyes and ears of a Scenic Hudson park. You will provide information to those visiting the parks, assist on projects, such as building trails, and alert the staff about hazards and trail conditions.
The Day in the Field program allows volunteers to join Scenic Hudson’s field staff on a regular day of work to keep the park running in top shape. Through the Learn and Serve program, you can learn how to identify and remove invasive plants and replace them with native species that are better for the habitat and for wildlife. Or volunteers can get involved with the Citizen Science program, where you can help firsthand with research projects. Ongoing opportunities to help with park cleanup, plus several one-off volunteer events, such as Earth Day, exist so you can jump in and help if you’re visiting the area.
Rita told us the organization never just makes up volunteer opportunities without purpose. Volunteers are only used where they are truly needed.
“You can make a difference — we hear all about that today in the news, about the importance of standing up for something you believe in and taking action, not just talking about it,” she said. “Our civic engagement is really important to us, and that’s what we want to keep building on with people of all ages — to learn about how they can become involved and make a difference.”
In addition to the volunteer opportunities available at Scenic Hudson parks, the organization also holds several annual events that offer fun and adventure for outdoorsy people.
Scenic Hudson has preserved many farmlands and rural areas, but the nonprofit is currently trying to focus more efforts on urban spaces.
One such area is Newburgh, New York, which will be home to Scenic Hudson’s President’s Day Winter Fest on February 19, 2018. This event, which is perfect for those who enjoy cold weather, takes place at Crystal Lake and includes ice skating, test riding fat bikes, a guided snowshoe trek, and a wilderness survival program.
In the fall, Scenic Hudson hosts a free bicycling ride that takes participants on a scenic loop through the beautiful Northern Dutchess County countryside.
“You see the farmlands we’ve protected in terms of working farms, but they have conservation easements on them,” Rita said. “People come back together at the one park nearest to where it happens, and we have food and music; it’s really casual, and everyone comes with their bicycles and hangs out.”
Scenic Hudson continues to devote major resources to its trails and parks, but plans are in the works to invest more resources in urban areas. In addition to Newburgh, the organization is also drawing up projects in Poughkeepsie.
“We want to see how we can build community and help catalyze community projects within these cities that will connect people to the river,” Rita said.
For example, Scenic Hudson is partnering with other nonprofits to create community gardens.
The nonprofit is also working with numerous partners to create the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, a seven-mile, multi-use trail along the Hudson River that will connect the City of Beacon with the Village of Cold Spring. The project proposes to connect the Beacon and Cold Spring train stations, which are on the same metro train line that connects to New York City.
“This makes it easy for people to come from NYC to have fun here on the weekend in the Hudson Valley.”
She said the project will also help keep people off a dangerous, congested side road and get them onto a safe, designated hike and bike trail.
Rita told us Scenic Hudson is also working to promote renewable energy and green practices. One way the nonprofit is accomplishing this is by pushing transit-oriented development to get more cars off the road and get more people taking the train.
When it comes down to it, however, all of Scenic Hudson’s initiatives have the same goal — to help protect the majestic wild spaces where people have been connecting for centuries.