Local families conserve Tug Hill’s farms, while there’s still time

field in front of out buildings

Farms in process. Acres to be conserved.

Jonathan Northrop grew up on a dairy farm and dreamt of his own. But as surrounding farms were developed, and land prices increased, he worried his dream would be lost. Enter conservation.

Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust worked with Jonathan and his family, and the county farmland protection board, to submit a successful NYS farmland protection grant. Now, 940 acres of farmland will be protected, in the towns of Brownville, Clayton and Orleans.

“Jonathan’s dad, Michael, conserved his family’s home-farm in the towns of Adams and Rodman,” explained John Souva, Land Protection/Education & Outreach Manager. “Like many farmers, Jonathan is now continuing his family legacy by protecting his own farm. We’re so happy to be able to help.” The Northrop Farm is one of 14 ongoing farmland protection projects.


cows in the field

Kids are the Future

nature backpack journaling

More resources for outdoor exploration are in kids’ hands this year, with families spending more quality time together in the outdoors. So far, seven libraries throughout the region each have two Tug Hill Explorer Backpacks. The backpacks are available for anyone to borrow and return.

One backpack focuses on birds, and the other focuses on animal signs and tracking. Tug Hill Explorer Backpacks contain books, tools, activities, and equipment that will enrich any outdoor experience, with a list of suggested locations open to the public for adventures beyond the backyard.

As Tug Hill Explorer Backpacks are not eligible for interlibrary loan the plan is to work with donors and foundations to secure additional funding to supply the explorer backpacks to more local libraries and expand the offerings to include insects and pond/stream life.

Initial funding has been provided by the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, Stewart’s Holiday Match Fund, and community supporters like you.

Conservation is vital for birds and people

adult feeding two baby swallows

We’ve seen the miraculous return of our feathered friends from their winter in the warm south and can now enjoy watching as they nest and raise new families. Birds inspire and uplift us with their energy, colorful plumage, interesting behaviors, various calls and songs, and the important ways they do their part to keep our world healthy.

Birds pollinate and spread seeds of many of the plants that provide us with food, with medicine, with wood and with clean, fresh air. They keep insect and rodent numbers in check, and they are valuable as prey for bigger birds and other animals. All services that humans also depend on.

But did you know we’re seeing fewer and fewer birds —  both migrants and year-round residents — every year? In fact, since 1970, according to a comprehensive 2019 study by Science magazine, North American bird populations have dropped by nearly 30 percent — a decline of approximately 3 billion birds — including common as well as less common birds, with the risk that our children will never be able to experience some of the birds we now do.

Without habitat protection, birds don’t have a chance. And having fewer birds around us negatively impacts all of us — our surroundings, our livelihoods, our health. This is why your support for land conservation is so very crucial.

Your commitment keeps large areas of wetland, field and forest available as refuge for these vital creatures, along with the plants and animals they depend on, and that depend on them. Places full of soothing birdsong as we hike on forest trails or have a picnic near on a riverbank.

You make a difference by helping to secure all of the benefits that birds bring to our lives, our world. Thank you!

New York’s forest at a crossroads

Sunlight showing through the trees

Critical for wildlife, water, recreation and economy

Some of New York’s most important wildlife habitat resides in large expanses of forest land. Tug Hill’s forests are no exception.

The “Core Forest, the Heart of Tug Hill,” that encompasses over 45,000 acres provides critical migration corridors for black bear, moose, and bobcat, and is the headwater supply for drinking water in the cities of Rome and Oneida.

These lands are part of a larger regional conservation effort spanning from Pennsylvania up to Canada. With extreme weather on the rise, wildlife now face challenges related to drought, heavy rains and flooding, and habitat fragmentation. The conservation of New York’s woodlands is central to the survival of resident and migratory birds, like the Scarlet Tanager, as well providing safe migration route for the shy lynx.

Data has shown that lynx require as much as 30 square miles for food, shelter and raising their young. Yet development unchecked in many forested regions put’s the land—and the wildlife—at risk.

When factoring in how important forests and woodlands are for improving water quality and reducing flooding, as well as the multi-billion dollar recreation and forest economy, it’s clear that conserving these lands couldn’t be more timely.


raccoon resting in a treeNew funding program advances forest conservation

The Forest Conservation Easements for Land Trusts Program is a new opportunity for private landowners looking to conserve their forested properties. The program is funded by the NYS Environmental Protection Fund and was expanded this year to $1.35 million statewide.

New York State has a long history of land protection yet this program is unique in how it supports local forest owners to conserve their land.  Accredited land trusts raise money and apply for matching funds to support projects that address water conservation, wildlife habitat, support local forest-based economies, and slow down the pace and impact of climate change.

Your support is critical as our match for completing the overall project assessment and related documentation.If awarded this year, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust will assist two families whose properties encompass 500 acres of forestland in the “Core Forest.”

Youth matter. So does nature. The combination is a “win.”

group photo with kids

In the southern region of the Tug Hill, there’s a growing sense of purpose and excitement.

You might assume that the woodlands, meadows, and streams that comprise so much of the area are accessible
to people from all walks of life, but that’s not often the case. Public conservation lands with welcoming trails, in many areas, are few and far between.

Research has documented that youth are facing greater stress due to social isolation, falling behind in their studies due to the Pandemic, and lack of time in nature.

Being in nature can improve focus, build self-esteem, improve empathy, and foster greater success at school.

Partnerships between our land trust and State Parks in Verona Beach, and in the Town of Western, as well as community organizations like Midtown Urban Community Center (MUCC) and Young Scholars LLP in Utica, are so important.

It’s a step in providing outdoor experiences within the southern part of our region for those who, so far, have had little chance to experience the wonders of nature on a regular basis.

Sally Smith, Verona Beach State Park Supervisor, explains, “People need nature. We know that. But what we often forget is that nature needs people who care. By creating positive memorable experiences, these young people can grow up sharing their love of the outdoors with their family. The importance of saving these lands for future generations doesn’t come from being ‘educated.’ It comes from the heart.”

“People need nature. We know that. But what we often forget is that nature needs people who care…”
— Sally Smith, Verona Beach State Park Supervisor

Forests provide more than timber

fall foliage

It wasn’t that long ago when Tug Hill’s woodlands seemed to go on forever, a haven for people and wildlife alike.

Over the years, as has been the case in other rural areas, families have sold their land and family camps, increasing the risk of a slow but steady conversion to residential lots.

When land is sold and developed into smaller parcels Tug Hill’s wildlife becomes more vulnerable to the impacts of roads, traffic, and potential user conflicts. For some, like the shy and elusive bobcat that depends on solitude for survival, it can drive them out.

But there’s another way

Across the state, local families, hunting clubs, and conservation organizations like Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy are pursuing funding necessary to conserve critical lands.

One such example is a partnership between the Ton-Ka-Wa Rod & Gun Club, our land trust, and The Nature Conservancy. Over the past several years, we have worked with the Ton-Ka-Wa Rod & Gun Club to clarify if they were interested in conserving their 773-acre property in the Town of Ohio in Herkimer County.

The Club’s property is part of a major wildlife migration corridor in upstate New York and provides a natural buffer from future run-off, pollution, and extreme weather events for many of the streams within the Mohawk River Watershed.

bobcat in the snowClub member Chris Welch explained that their members recognized that “protection of this property not only provides habitat for wildlife moving between Tug Hill and the Adirondacks but also helps conserve the West Canada Creek, a tributary that flows through the property and into the Mohawk River.

“The river is a major recreational destination for the Mohawk Valley region, as well as a drinking water source for an estimated 100,000 Albany County residents. We wanted to do something that benefited the Club and the community.”

Because of the importance of the land and its location, The Nature Conservancy obtained a grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Water Quality Incentive Program to conserve the property.

The grant will compensate the Club, based upon a professional conservation appraisal that reflects restricting incompatible development and future division of their property. The land management goals include establishing stream buffers and restoring groundwater recharge areas to protect surface or groundwater drinking water sources.

The land continues to be owned and managed by the Club, remains on the tax rolls, and is not for public use other than what the Club permits.

As with all of the voluntary conservation agreements, technically referred to as a conservation easements, the conservation of the land will last for generations.

“There’s no way we could undertake the habitat projects we want to do, like improving the dams for ponds and enhancing wildlife habitat along streams, without this grant. We appreciate the opportunity to both conserve the land and restore some of the habitat,” explained Club member Heidi Jones.

As our region faces more extreme weather amplified by climate change, we will see increased periods of prolonged summer droughts interrupted by heavy rainfall that can lead to flooding.

Mark Pacilio, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust’s Executive Director notes that “this type of partnership can play a pivotal role in enhancing water quality and improving stormwater resilience, using nature as a tool for change as well as conserving recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat. This is a win-win.”

Is conservation right for you, or someone you know?

Would you like to protect your land? Do you know someone who might be interested in protecting their farm, woodlands, or wetlands? 

protecting wildlife habitat
Jeannine Eckel

People protect their land for a variety of reasons. For many, it’s a way to ensure their love of the land will remain intact after they leave. For others, it’s a way to honor their parents and grandparents. Sometimes it helps with estate planning or financial management plans.

If you would like to explore if conservation is right for you and your family, contact JJ Schell, Associate Director/Land Protection Director at 315-779-8240 or email him at jschell@tughilltomorrowlandtrust.org.

All conversations are confidential to provide your family the privacy it needs to make a decision that is right for you.


protecting our water
Heidi Jones


Nature is a necessity.

fall foliage
Lewis County in November
Lee Ellsworth

Between family obligations, school, our jobs, and community responsibilities, it’s a challenge for many of us to break away from our busy lives to experience the wonders of Tug Hill.

When we make the benefits of outdoor experiences accessible to everyone, everywhere, we build stronger connections and communities. We need accessible public places to connect with friends and family, and to ground ourselves in the healing power of nature.

And that’s exactly what’s happening…

Tug Hill Traverse Trail Progress

Our extraordinary volunteers along with the Adirondack Mountain Club Black River Chapter volunteers completed clearing, marking, and maintaining the approximately 9-mile northern section of the future 20-mile Tug Hill Traverse Trail this past summer.

Passing through protected forest lands over moderately difficult remote terrain, past wetlands and forest resiliency plantings, with occasional views of the East Branch of Fish Creek, there’s no better place to get away from it all. The work continues south next year. Everyone is welcome to help out and there’s no
experience needed.

French Settlement Road Conservation Area Update

This beautiful 121-acre public conservation area is located in the Town of Lorraine in Jefferson County. Progress is underway, and a parking area and related trails are ready for implementation. We are working with the town as well as looking for possible funders, including individual donors, to complete a kiosk, signage, parking area, and accessible trails.

The land was donated by Dr. Marvin Reimer and is home to a variety of wildlife, including migrating cedar waxwings and year-round residents like the beaver, fox, and great horned owl. If all goes well, by next summer we’ll be ready to invite you for a walk.

winter berries
Pamela Underhill Karaz


Volunteers are the heart and soul of Tug Hill

volunteer hike

Are you looking to make a difference and have fun with friends and family? Volunteering is a great way to do that and there are a lot of ways you can jump right in. 

father and daugher
Zachary Wakeman continues to provide inspiring photos. He’s often accompanied by his daughter Maddie as they explore Tug Hill.

Photographs. We are always looking for photographs for social media, our publications, and sharing with others. Let us know if you’d like to share photos of people on trails, wildlife, farms, water, and urban conservation efforts.

Trails. You can volunteer to help create new trails, or maintain existing ones, for as little as a few hours a year or on a monthly basis. No experience is needed. For example, you can help us continue building our Traverse Trail in the heart of the Tug Hill Core Forest.

If you’d like to volunteer, there’s a place for you. You can spend a couple of hours, or all day, depending on your interest and availability. From helping out in our office, providing support at events, or assisting with trails and outreach, there are many ways to get involved. Often, there is an opportunity to include friends and family as well.

Contact Lin Gibbs via email at lgibbs@tughilltomorrowlandtrust.org or call our office at 315-779-8240 to explore what feels right for you. You can watch our Facebook and Instagram pages for announcements too.

Withstanding the test of time. Farmland conservation and a new generation.

couple on Spoon Dairy farm

Shortly after Rob Spoon and Alix Kreuger were married in August of 2000, they began thinking about ways to preserve the farmland they owned.

The property, an ecologically diverse and beautiful farm, has been in Rob’s family since they first settled in what is now Amboy, NY in the 1700s.

“My connection to this place runs deep,” explains Rob. “My great, great, great grandfather Peter Spoon first established the farm. Over the years it grew as family members acquired additional acreage adjacent to the original property into the 450-acre property it is today.”

Rob remembers his grandfather using horses to farm, something Rob would often comment on. “I think about that. He was farming with horses and there were times when I struggled to run our dairy farm with a tractor.”

Now in their 60s, after a life of farming, Rob and Alix began to seek a suitable buyer; a farmer who would continue to farm and one who shared their commitment to the land.

Farmland protection and the next generation

Rob’s niece Brandy had once lived on the family farm and recently bought a small farm up the road. She started raising beef and was looking to expand her operation to a more sustainable scale. The Spoon farm was ideal for pasturing cows and increasing hay production.

“Selling the land, conserved, to a local farmer is a great feeling,” explains Alix. “With Brandy owning our family farm, we will still be able to be involved in farming. Our conservation easement is flexible, so Brandy and our family can continue to develop a sustainable farming operation and possible agritourism endeavors.”

The decision to conserve their land seems like a no-brainer now, but that wasn’t always the case.

“Like other farmers, I was concerned that an easement would mean that someone else would be telling our family how to farm the land. In conversations with land trust staff, I realized that an easement would be a great way to protect our ancestral land and ensure it could be well cared for,” reflected Rob. “We appreciate that the next generation will now be able to continue our family’s farming legacy.”

Join others as a part of the Heart of Tug Hill Legacy Society

stunning image of deer

Have you considered how you might leave a lasting impact for generations to come? 

Leaving a gift of any amount to the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust is a terrific way to make a legacy gift. It’s easy to do and signifies that you care about this beloved region.

Your generosity and compassion will ensure that kids and families can develop a love of Tug Hill like you do. Because of you, cherished lands and waters will be conserved and cared for. Let us know if you’ve included us in your will so we can extend our appreciation to you.

A special thank you to:
Carol Beck
Harold Boyce
Leiter & Ricky Doolittle
John & Marcia Gosier
Gordon Hayes, Jr.
Steve & Madeline Hunter
Bob & Carol Keller
Russ & Rebecca Myer