Land Protection with Downtown Renewal Twist in Willsboro
Conservation deal protects forest; creates opportunity to breathe new life into vacant store
Willsboro, NY | February 14, 2018
The Nature Conservancy purchased an additional 10 acres in Willsboro, structuring the transaction to protect forestland, enhance outdoor recreation, and make it possible for Makers Guild Inc., a new nonprofit, to acquire a former grocery store building. In advance of the purchase, the Conservancy worked with the landowner-a commercial real estate broker-and the town zoning board to subdivide an 11-acre tract into two parcels, allowing for concurrent acquisitions that will both revitalize the town's main travel corridor.
The Conservancy's purchase expands the size of its popular Boquet River Nature Preserve to 120 acres and secures a high visibility area off State Route 22. The preserve now extends from the shore of the Boquet River to the main road and features a variety of habitats and trails that provide access for fishing, hiking, trail running, and skiing. The acquisition will enable the Conservancy to establish a new trailhead/parking area and connect a path to the interior trail network, including Tim's Trail, which is the second longest accessibility trail of its kind in the Adirondack Park.
The Nature Conservancy has granted the building parcel to the Makers Guild. Acquisition of the property is critical to the group's plan to repurpose the vacant grocery store as a community-based "makerspace." Often described as "a community center with tools," a makerspace is a place where people can gather to share ideas and resources to create, invent and learn. The makerspace in Willsboro will be rooted in arts and innovation with an emphasis on environmental stewardship. To survey the community's interests and raise awareness for the project, Makers Guild hosted two community workshops last summer and several "Fix-it Day" events at the neighboring hardware store.
"Healthy communities are directly tied to healthy environments and a strong sense of place. The value of this project vastly exceeds its size in acres. It symbolizes the growing energy around the Adirondacks to capitalize on the beauty of our natural world while also tapping the creative spirit of its people. We are proud to count the Makers Guild among our downtown neighbors and look forward to seeing them grow and flourish," said Peg Olsen, director of The Nature Conservancy's Adirondack Chapter.
"Transforming the old IGA into a makerspace is an amazing opportunity to cultivate collaboration and creativity in our rural community through arts, technology and innovation. The facility will feature artisan workshops outfitted with cutting-edge tools, educational opportunities, exhibits, events and a "Makers-In-Residence" program. We are excited by the depth of community interest, impressed with the Town's leadership, and grateful for The Nature Conservancy's generosity in support of this project," said Beverly Eichenlaub, President of Makers Guild Inc.
"The Town of Willsboro is extraordinarily pleased and proud to have been a part of this tremendous transformation of our village center. The downtown access to The Nature Conservancy's Boquet Nature Preserve alongside a new and vibrant Willsboro Makerspace in what was a blighted commercial building and parking lot is a positive and optimistic step forward for our town. Great things happen when we all pull together for common good," said Shaun Gillilland, Willsboro town supervisor.
"We applaud The Nature Conservancy for taking a leadership role in this project. Makerspaces are important community assets and we are excited to see this develop with the protection of the adjacent forest. This is a forward-thinking, sustainable solution to utilizing vacant structures that will benefit the Town of Willsboro well into the future," said Jake Vennie-Vollrath, Regional Advocacy Coordinator, Adirondack North Country Association.
The Nature Conservancy's 120-acre preserve protects more than a half-mile of shoreline on the Boquet River, which is the most intact major tributary emptying into Lake Champlain. The Conservancy, over many years and in partnership with the town and private landowners, has protected nearly the entire two miles of intact shoreline above the mouth of the river. The river provides vital spawning habitat for salmon and its floodplain forests protect water quality and allow high waters to ebb and flow naturally during spring melt and heavy rain.
There are currently two points of access to the preserve; the Conservancy anticipates the new parking area and trail segment to be completed by 2020, adding to recent investments in major trail upgrades completed by professional trail builders in the past three years.
The River Trail starts from the parking area at the town boat launch at the end of Gilliland Lane. This footpath follows the river's shoreline, offers scenic views, and provides fishing access. It goes through an interesting floodplain forest with sycamore trees that are more than 200 years old.
Tim's Trail starts from a parking area behind the library and the former school building transformed into an assisted living facility. It offers a rewarding trail experience for everyone who follows its smooth path through a beautiful forest. Named in honor of Tim Barnett, a celebrated conservation hero and former director of The Nature Conservancy's Adirondack Chapter, its compacted stone surface, width, and minimal gradient meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act and is suitable for wheelchairs, mobility walkers, and children's strollers.
Two interior connector trails-natural dirt paths with uneven terrain-link the River Trail and Tim's Trail.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.