Get to know the North Salem Open Land Foundation
If you’ve ever walked on Baxter Preserve, admired the views from the top of Hayfield on Keeler or hiked the trails of Durand Preserve behind the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library, you’ve benefited from the work of the North Salem Open Land Foundation. The 500 member-strong nonprofit has been a key fixture in North Salem since 1974, working to preserve the rural quality and open space of this unique corner of Westchester County.
Since its founding, NSOLF has acquired 25 parcels of land totaling 858 acres and another 500 acres of conservation easements. NSOLF leadership, while proud of the organization’s significant strides to date, stresses that now is no time to rest. Nina Eisenman, NSOLF chair, says that the mission has never been more important. Eisenman, along with NSOLF board members, trustees, staff and foundation members collaborate on a variety of initiatives to connect and engage with town residents.
The Race for Open Space
Last September, the North Salem Open Land Foundation hosted its inaugural Race for Open Space. Held at Baxter Preserve, the event invited community members (including pets) to participate in a family-friendly fun run/walk to raise awareness for the work that NSOLF does in maintaining outdoor spaces that are free and open to all members of the public.
“It was a really fun day last year,” Eisenman said. “It was a great way to connect the dots for people about what we do.”
The Race for Open Space is scheduled to return this year on September 18.
Summer Youth Corps
Each summer, the NSOLF invites high school students to participate in its Summer Youth Corps. Run by Andrew Middlebrook, NSOLF director of stewardship, the program is designed to get young people thinking about what’s in their backyard and how invasive species affect their lives. Participants identify and remove invasive plants, conduct surveys and maintain and preserve trails throughout North Salem.
“My hope is that this program leads to kids getting involved in a bigger way later on in life,” said Middlebrook.
One of the NSOLF’s best bridges for information sharing is Pollinator Pathway, a Connecticut-based project that works to establish pollinator-friendly habitats along a series of continuous corridors. Middlebrook and NSOLF executive director Jocko McKean manage North Salem’s Pollinator Pathway, encouraging landowners to do away with herbicides, pesticides and gas-powered blowers, all of which are harmful to the environment.
“We will visit anyone’s property for free,” McKean said. “ It could be to establish a space on your deck for pollinator-friendly native plants, to advise on a small garden, a field, or even a meadow. We will not turn anyone away.”
Warding off threats
NSOLF programming has, by design, a feel of hopefulness and optimism. However, the group is clear eyed on the very real threats to their mission, threats that are likely to only increase in the coming years. Among them: invasive species and the threat of development.
Threat 1: invasive species
Invasive species are the most vexing issue facing the NSOLF.
“They’re a huge problem for our preserves, for homeowners and for the town,” said McKean. “Keeping open space means managing invasive species, which is more and more difficult every year.”
The United States Department of Agriculture defines invasive species as any species which is non-native to the ecosystem and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. Left unchecked, invasive species can lead to the extinction of native plants and animals, destroy biodiversity, and permanently alter habitats, according to the USDA.
“Part of our mission is to educate town residents about these types of things,” McKean said, noting that the main driver of invasive species is our geographic location. As North Salem is part of the larger New York City metro area, invasive species travel to us via the port system of New York City, and then make their way here along cars, trucks and trains.
“They come in through shipping pallets and once they’re here, they are hard to get rid of,” explained Middlebrook, adding that the NSOLF works with the Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management to conduct research and disseminate information to the public.
Threat 2: development
One of the biggest issues that keeps Eisenman up at night is the threat of future development. It is estimated that close to $70 trillion dollars will transfer from Baby Boomers to their heirs over the next 25 years.
“Large pieces of land may be transferring hands and become open to development as well,” Eisenman explained. “Our mission at NSOLF has never been more important; to talk to land owners who love their land and want to keep it this way. We’re the organization to help people think about preserving their land, putting an easement on it, getting a tax benefit, or donating it so that it can be preserved in perpetuity.”
Eisenman and McKean added that easements are a great option for landowners. “You can determine what can or can’t be done,” Eisenman said. “An easement is quite flexible and can be set up to satisfy the needs of a landowner.”
When the stress of preserving North Salem’s character gets to be too much, NSOLF members can find solace at any of the preserves they work so hard to maintain. Here are a few of NSOLF leadership’s favorite spots:
Baxter Preserve - McKean calls Baxter “the jewel in our crown.” It is one of NSOLF’s biggest and most-used preserves, with wide open, gently rolling hills open for "passive recreation" - horseback riding, cross-country skiing, walking and birding. NSOLF has plans to add new dog waste facilities to serve the many dog owners who frequent Baxter with their pups.
Hayfield on Keeler - occupying about 60 acres of working hayfield, this NSOLF preserve on Keeler Lane offers one of the most beautiful views in North Salem.
Durand Preserve - donated to NSOLF in the 1990’s, Durand is located directly behind the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library. It was used as a training ground for the U.S. cavalry in WWI.
To learn more about North Salem Open Land Foundation, visit https://nsolf.org/