What do I get with a BSPS membership... and what do I not get?
Steve Locke, BSPS Trustee President
BSPS newsletter to membership, spring 2017
I invite all persons to become a financially contributing BSPS member. I encourage you to become a partner in our efforts to preserve and protect upstate New York wetlands.
Many people approach me to ask "Why should I become a member? If I join the BSPS, then what do I get?" I paraphrase to these persons the BSPS 1936 charter, you get "...to preserve inviolate for all times..." the wetlands purchased and held in trust by the BSPS membership. If you are a member, then you get to be a part of that.
Speaking for myself, I am a financially contributing BSPS member to protect the living things that have no human voice. I live to give aid to all things less fortunate than myself. I find solidarity with this virtue in many of my friends and peers. Most people want to help other people. But I urge you to look beyond the human struggle and see the struggle of nature. Not the struggle of the African lion or the Arctic polar bear. These are far away. Try to see the struggle of the native plants and animals that should be under your feet. Most of the native flora and fauna that should be under your feet have been displaced by the "human progress" of mining, farming, road construction and housing development.
Over 80 years ago the BSPS began the purchase or receipt in donation of the Bergen Swamp, Zurich Bog and Taylor Marsh. Each of these three parcels are large enough to sustain fragile populations of now rare flora & fauna. Our conservation efforts are not on the other side of the ocean or in foreign countries with unstable governments. They are right here in New York State, home of the Big Apple, New York City. New York City is an icon of "human development" and the best example of a landscape that is not native to New York. The BSPS membership pays to provide a sanctuary for the NYS plants and animals that are no longer under your feet where you now live and work.
As our government tries to conserve wetlands with regulation, they are finding it may be too late. Most of the swamps & bogs have been hopelessly altered by lumbering, draining, tilling mining or housing development. In this millennial, it's probably too late to purchase and preserve large tracts of wet woods, quaking bogs or marshes in upstate NY. A BSPS membership does what the government environmental regulations aspires towards, preserve and protect upstate NY native flora and fauna.
A financially contributing BSPS membership should gift a person with an altruistic self- worth. You become a partner to a local conservation commitment, specific to upstate NY. You help to speak for the living things near you that do not have a voice.
What do you NOT get with a BSPS member? Many people inquire into a BSPS membership as if it is a pay-for-service or a tit-for-tat opportunity. A BSPS membership does not enable these gift-back expectation .
A BSPS membership does not give a person unconditional access to the BSPS properties. Our properties are open to members and visitors with the condition that ALL VISITORS STAY ON THE TRAIL. We hold these properties in trust for preservation. The BSPS is a museum, not a park. If you joined the Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC), then you would not expect unconditional access to the inside of the display cases. People join the RMSC as members to support the preservation of local history and artifacts. We are preserving primordial wetland habitat that the state and federal government neglected to preserve long ago. Access to off-trail locations can be obtained with written approval from the BSPS trustees.
A BSPS membership does not give you permission to collect artifacts on BSPS properties. Collection of fungus, plants (flowers, seed pods or roots) or any animal (insect, amphibian, reptile or mammal) is strictly forbidden. Just like the RMSC, we will arrest any person that attempts to remove our artifact exhibits of flora & fauna.
A BSPS membership does not give you permission to hunt on BSPS properties. Hunting is forbidden for all animals, except white tail deer management. The white tail deer, a species not native to upstate NY, is managed with a controlled hunt. The deer hunt is regulated and run by each property committee. There are some years when we do not allow deer hunting on some properties. Again, the BSPS is not a hunting club. We are a museum that preserves the wetland fauna as well as the flora.
If you are inspired to become a member, then you can download our membership form and snail mail it to our mailing address. We now offer a link on our website to join with a PayPal account. An active membership requires an annual financial renewal. We do not offer patches, bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, calendars or even membership wallet cards. There is no paid staff to manage such trinkets or gimmick offerings. This could be construed as a marketing deficiency. I present this as a purity of purpose. We put every donated dime into preservation and education. The BSPS operates as lean and efficiently as the neighboring farmers that border our properties. I hope that you consider joining "to preserve inviolate for all times" the wetlands purchased and held in trust by the BSPS.
What is a Living Museum?
Steve Locke, BSPS Trustee President
BSPS newsletter to membership, fall 2016
What is a "Living Museum?" A Museum is a collection of artifacts that are on display for the visiting patron. A Living Museum is where the artifacts are alive, rather than static displays. The Bronx Zoo in New York City and the Genesee Country Village and Museum (GCV&M) in Mumford NY are Living Museums. The Bronx Zoo has relocated live animals into display exhibits and the GCV&M has relocated historic structures to a common site with live persons enacting life in these older homes, factories & churches. Both of these Living Museums have petitioned the NYS Dept. of Education for a charter issued by the NYS Museum in Albany, NY.
What is not a Living Museum? Nature Clubs, such as the Sierra Club or the Rochester Garden Club are not museums. These nature clubs are excellent educators and develop a public awareness for nature. But they do not hold any artifacts for display. Several of the large environmental land trusts, such as The Nature Conservancy, could be a Museum, but are not. They are private land holdings that often restrict visitation and utilize bartered land swaps that resell parcels to private development.
Why all this talk about Living Museums? The Bergen Swamp Preservation Society (BSPS) is a Living Museum chartered by the NYS Board of Regents. A provisional charter was approved in 1936 and the absolute charter was approved in 1944.
Unlike all other "Living Museums" chartered in NYS, our exhibits are not acquired and moved to a single display location for the visitor. In contrast, the BSPS allows the "visitor" to access the single location where the plants and animals can be observed in their original ecosystem. We provide the visitor access into our Living Museum on the corded or wood plank trails we construct and maintain.
Our inventory of artifacts took several centuries to identify We did not catalog artifacts we brought to the site. Instead, Scientists have been coming to our site to study and continuously catalog new plants, fungi and animals for over one hundred and fifty years. Charles M Booth, a amateur botanist, was probably the first botanist to catalog exhibits in the Bergen Swamp in the 1850's. Botanists continued to visit, such as Paul A. Stewart (Uof R, 1937), Walter C. Muenscher (Cornell 1951), Babette I. Brown (UofR 1951), Arland T. Hotchkiss (UofR 1951) and many others. The work continues today. Andie Graham (College at Brockport) completed a survey of woody stem plants in 2015. Justine Weber (SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry) is completing her PhD thesis on the federally endangered Houghton's Goldenrod at Bergen.
Museum are chartered to assemble, preserve and interpret a collection of artifacts. The housing of the collection is of the utmost importance. The BSPS founding committee, led by Mary Slifer in 1936, petitioned NYS for a provisional charter to begin this collection. But to obtain the permanent charter, the BSPS had to demonstrate that it had an adequate facility or the resources to acquire the space necessary to assemble, catalog, preserve and exhibit its collections. The BSPS had not purchased any property at the time of this provisional charter. It was five years after the provisional charter, in 1941, that the BSPS trustees, led by Dr. Richard Goodwin, closed on the first BSPS land purchase – a five-acre parcel in the Bergen Swamp for $125. This initial purchase provided the first "room for exhibitions, and a environmental space to store that portion of the collections not on exhibit." Three years later, in 1944, NYS granted a permanent BSPS charter. At this time the BSPS had purchased several hundred acres of the present two thousand acres of the Bergen Swamp.
The exhibits we place on display are the plants, fungi and animals that you can see and hear along our marked trails. The exhibits not on display are off trail. Like any museum, if a visitor were to enter the back room of a brick-n-mortar museum without permission, then they would be confronted as a trespasser and potential thief. We take the same position for visitors that venture off trail without BSPS permission.
With written permission from the BSPS, persons can go off trail to perform research with our ecological collection. In the twelve years that I have served as a BSPS trustee, we have mentored nine high school research projects, two undergraduate, two masters projects, five doctoral projects, two post doctoral projects and three state or federal research projects in the Bergen Swamp. The BSPS has underwritten all of the cost for our high school student and undergraduate research. The BSPS trustees volunteer as mentor to all persons performing research. Most of our graduate student and contract researchers are personally compensated through their grants.
Three years ago I hosted a summer tour of the Bergen Swamp for six administrators from a local public school district. I told them that we were similar, because we, the BSPS and the public school, are both part of the University of the State of New York. We are both educational institutions chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. One administrator stated "Yes, but you do not pay taxes to the school district." I replied, "true, but we do not levy taxes either." All of our revenue is raised by voluntary donations. All of our property maintenance, financial treasury and administration is sustained by volunteers. Persons inspired by our environmental preservation is what sustains the BSPS.
I hope that every reader of this newsletter sustains or gains the inspiration to financially contribute to the BSPS's continuing environmental preservation efforts. It is the volunteer donations of our members that has financed this Living Museum for eighty years.
Think Global, Act Local
Steve Locke, BSPS Trustee President
BSPS newsletter to membership, spring 2016
"Think global, act local." This is a "bumper sticker" slogan that urges people to think about the big issues of our global planet, but to take action in their own small and local communities. It represents a movement to develop environmentally and economically sustainable practices globally through local grassroots movement.
An example is the "shop local" movement. It encourages consumers to support local farms, businesses, and the mom-n-pop brick-n-mortar retail stores. For example, consider the global Mega-mart Wal-Mart, a distribution retail outlet. Wal-Mart buys & sells very little produce or food products from upstate New York. Now consider an Upstate New York farm stand or a farmer's market. All of the produce at these local markets are grown in Upstate New York. If you want to influence how your food is grown, processed and distributed, then buy from the farmer that is looking at you when you purchase your produce at these local farmer markets. You will have a significant influence on next year's crop when you speak during this purchase. Contrast this conversation of agricultural best practices with your local farmer vs. the same conversation with a Wal-Mart associate. If you want to influence the global markets, then you need to lead by example with your purchasing influence on local markets.
The "Think global, act local" movement can be applied to environmental conservation. I urge all persons to embrace and act upon local conservation efforts. For example, the BSPS founders did not lobby the State or Federal Govt. to preserve upstate New York's wetlands. They did not trust the State & Federal government's land practices in 1936. We read this in the early BSPS minutes and the historical summaries by the late trustee Dr. Ron Dilcher, who personally knew the early trustees.
The Bergen Swamp & Zurich Bog would have been mined, drained and plowed long ago if the BSPS founders had waited for NYS or the US governments to save these wetlands. The founding BSPS trustees saw that NYS would have to first develop a Dept. of Environmental Conservation, second the NYS DEC would have to realize that the Bergen Swamp & Zurich Bog need to be preserved and third, NYS would have to actually purchase and preserve them. The BSPS conservation land purchase began in 1941 and the NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation was not established until 1970.
In a manner that "acts locally," eighty years ago a group of 26 persons met at Mary Slifer's house in Brighton, NY. At her kitchen table, these BSPS founding members made it their purpose to preserve the Bergen Swamp. In 1941 Dr. Richard Goodwin, a BSPS trustee, closed on the first BSPS purchase of a 5 acre plot in the Bergen Swamp. This purchase was this countries first private purchase of land by a non-profit for environmental conservation. For the BSPS, this 5 acres has grown to 2000 acres in Bergen, 600 acres in Zurich, 50 acres in Hotchkiss preserve, 50 acres in Slater preserve and 600 acres in Taylor Marsh.
The local BSPS environmental preservation efforts also inspired an environmental social/political movement. The BSPS trustee Dr. Richard Goodwin went on to co-found The Nature Conservancy in 1951, which is now among the largest environmental conservation non-profits on this globe. The US Dept. of Interior initiated the recognition of National Natural Landmarks (NNL) in 1962 to, among other reasons, recognize private preservation efforts. The Bergen Swamp was the first NNL recognized in 1962. If we act locally, then we can influence how others think globally.
There has been a lot of mega-media publicity regarding the "Cecil the Lion" African tragedy. The lion was lured off of a Zimbabwe National Park and culled by a United States citizen. Many of the mega-nonprofits have presented this tragedy as an inspiration for concerned citizens to gift toward the cause of global preservation efforts.
In contrast, I urge you to bring this international tragedy home. Consider preserving New York's Queen snake, Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, Bog Turtle, Spotted Turtle or Coal Skink. All of these state or federally endangered animals call the Bergen Swamp home. Actually, for the BSPS, this is a much longer list. I could fill this newsletter with plants, fungi and animals that harbor safe refuge on our BSPS properties. I urge you to act with the BSPS to save these New York native organisms with the same, or more, passion that you would want others to save "Cecil the Lion." I do not know how your financial contributions to mega-nonprofits will save future lions in Africa. But I can tell you how your donations to the local BSPS will save upstate New York's rare and endangered wetland organisms.
If you have paused to consider acting locally, then I hope it brings clarity of commitment towards your membership with the Bergen Swamp Preservation Society. The Bergen Swamp remains in its primordial state because it was bought with private funding long ago by local persons inspired to act locally. The BSPS charter forbids any mining, lumbering or trapping. Your financial contributions sustain the preservation and management of these truly "natural" unaltered wetlands. I urge everyone reading this to become a BSPS member and a financial contributor to these natural preserves where you can "act locally" to inspire others to "think globally."
What grows under your feet?
Steve Locke, BSPS Trustee President
BSPS newsletter to membership, fall 2015
You get out of bed every morning. I invite you to consider what is growing under your feet when you take that step out of bed. Let's stay away from the foot ailments of fungus and bacteria, because they are on your feet, not under your feet. Let's consider the substrate of what your foot is standing on. Your first step every morning probably lands on a fabric (carpet), wood or concrete. None of these lifeless substrates are "growing" or a "natural" flora or soil for your foot fall.
So you get into your vehicle; a tractor, car or bus. You are probably stepping off concrete, brick or asphalt and stepping onto metal or plastic suspended from rubber tires. This is an extreme deviation from what should be a natural substrate for your foot fall.
What if you step onto your lawn? Natural means from nature. Your lawn has the flora of grass and possibly a horticulture garden. But is this really natural? The grass and flowers are alive and growing, which is an upgrade from the unnatural abiotic concrete, brick, metal or plastic. But these lawn plantings are probably not native to New York with a low species richness and diversity. These lawn plants are probably in soil disturbed during the initial home construction and drained of surface waters by slope grading, municipal storm sewers or private ditches and drains. When we critically examine our lawns, even the flora, soil and hydrology of our lawns are usually not natural.
If you do the same things every day, then you tend to accept these daily things as if they are the natural way of things. Rarely, does one stop to critique what they accept in their daily routines. I implore you to pause your busy life and critique what's under your feet. If you consider the above examples as not natural under your feet, then what is natural? What should be under your feet?
I feel what "should" be under my feet is what was here before humanity disturbed it. The truly natural foot should fall onto the primordial flora and soils of upstate New York. Let's take a walk into the Bergen Swamp to experience this.
A walk into the Bergen Swamp begins with entering a broad leaf upland forest. Your feet would find the soft litter of broad leaf duff over dry, compacted silicate soil. The duff is moist from the morning dew and seems to retain this dampness into the day due to the shading by the canopy of beech, maple, black cherry and ash trees. Growing out of this duff are Spring Beauties, Trout Lilies, Trilliums, Jack-in-the-pulpits and May Apple plants. Among these plants would be white Anemone mushrooms, puff balls, Turkey fungus and Bracken fungus. You may have to step over a windfall tree trunk or branches. This broad wood uplands serves as a vestibule into the Bergen Swamp.
The true magic of "natural" occurs as you continue the walk through the transition of upland forest into the spring fed wetlands. A swamp is a wet woods. You would be shaded from above by wetland tolerant trees of White Cedar, White Pine, Hemlock and Tamarack. Under your feet would be a soft, black, water saturated muck covered with the "Canadian carpet" a community of arctic taiga plants such as Sphagnum Moss, Red Coat Lichen, Gold Thread, Canada Mayflower, Canadian Bunchberry, False Solomon Seal, Star Flower, Fringed Polygala (Gaywings), Sundews, Columbine and others. The wet muck also supports a community of ferns, such as Sensitive ferns, Christmas Stocking ferns, Bracken Ferns, Maidenhair ferns and Cinnamon ferns. Among these plants would be the bright red Anemone mushrooms and orange Earth's Tongue fungus. If you're lucky, you will walk by orchids (do not put these under your feet) such as the Large Yellow Lady Slipper, Small Northern Lady Slipper and/or Pink Moccasin Lady Slipper. The richness and diversity of the organisms under your feet increase with every step you venture further into the wet woods. Your footing would be unstable. The soft saturated muck soils would not support your weight. Thankfully, your foot would be supported by logs laid perpendicular to the trail (always stay on the trail). These corduroy logs would squish water out as you shift your weight forward onto the trail logs with each foot fall. Each foot fall draws you further into being part of what is truly natural.
A walk into the Bergen Swamp is a walk into what it was long ago. It is an experience before human alterations. Prehistoric wet woods, or swamps, evolved from the natural succession of proglacial lakes that stretched across New York State, from Syracuse to Buffalo. Most of the wooded wetlands in other NYS locations have been grossly altered by humans. The Tonawanda Swamp was dammed and flooded in 1952 by the Army Corps of Engineers to create ponds for the migrating Canadian Geese. Their tunnel vision for the single goose species left them blind to the native plants. The Alabama Swamp was drained and plowed for the Elba muck farms in 1914 by the Spokane Securities Co., a New York City enterprise. Their tunnel vision for onions left them blind to the native plants. The Montezuma swamp was partially drained in 1825 to connect the Erie canal to the Cayuga–Seneca Canal. In 1910 the widening and reconstruction of this canal with the Barge Canal drained and dredged this swamp to reduce the water level by 8 feet. In 1937 a series of dikes were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps to raise the water level up. As you drive down the NYS I-90 thruway you can now witness the recent and extensive dredging and dike construction to form pools for waterfowl. All except for a 100 acre patch of the massive 7000 acre Montezuma Swamp has been grossly altered beyond what it was. Their tunnel vision for commerce and waterfowl left them blind to the native plants. What was once the "Canadian Carpet" in these wetlands was altered and lost by human intervention long ago.
A walk into the Bergen Swamp is more than just an alternative to a walk across your civilized floor, street, or lawn. Your foot falls are accompanied by your other senses to experience what should be "natural." Your vision is altered by the natural green lighting filtered through the overhead canopy of green tree leaves. The faint "pine" smell of these trees contribute to the perfume scent of the flowers growing out of the wet soil. The natural scent of the trees and flowers is intoxicating. The sound of canopy tree boughs swaying to the wind is in contrast to the still air you feel in the shelter of the dense woods at ground level. I invite you to consider this Bergen Swamp walk as the bench mark for what should define the "natural" footing under your feet.
If you have paused to consider what is under your feet as you read this newsletter article, then I hope it brings a clarity of commitment towards your membership with the Bergen Swamp Preservation Society (BSPS). The Bergen Swamp remains in its primordial state because it was bought with private funding in the 1940's. The BSPS charter forbid any mining, lumbering, trapping, dredging or damming. If the BSPS stays solvent, then the Federal, State and local governments cannot intervene or alter this natural sanctuary. Your financial contributions sustain the preservation and management of this truly "natural" unaltered footing.
I feel that nobody really wants to surrender our civilized substrates of home, landscaped lawns and streets. But I ask you to consider the need to sustain the preservation of a small parcel of what should be our benchmark for "natural." I urge everyone reading this to become a BSPS member and a financial contributor to this natural preserve where you can still experience the "Canadian Carpet" in New York State.
Cain & Abel; the struggle between native & non-native species
Steve Locke, BSPS Trustee President
BSPS newsletter to membership, fall 2014
As a trustee of the BSPS, I struggle with interpreting the Old Testament Genesis story of Cain & Abel. They are the first born twin sons of the primordial Adam & Eve. I relate this story to the BSPS property management of the non-native invasive plants encroaching onto the native flora. This is not a sermon, but rather a plea to the membership for the patience in seeking the wisdom to preserve and protect our native flora.
The biblical Abel is a shepherd and portrayed as the "good son." A shepherd's flock cannot be larger than what the natural grazing environment can sustain. Abel lived without modifying the environment that his animals grazed upon. However, Abel's lifestyle would limit the number of his descendents to the carrying capacity of the natural environment. I believe that Abel was portrayed as "good" because he did not modify his environment as he lived his shepherd life. Abel's goodness was that he did not choose what native organisms in his environment should live or die, other than his sheep and goats. This "good" lifestyle of living within the means of the environment would also limit the propagation of his descendents.
The biblical Cain is a crop farmer and portrayed as the "bad son." A farmer's crop is maximized by minimizing the natural flora in the environment. "Plowing the field" is a destructive modification of the native environment. This "plowing" and "replanting" allows Cain's descendents to live above the carrying capacity of the natural environment. I believe Cain was portrayed as "bad" because he chose to kill all the native plants in his field to maximize his self-serving crop. I feel that Cain's badness was his arrogance in choosing what native organisms would die (all of them) and which would live (the single crop he planted). This "bad" lifestyle of living beyond the means of the environment would have no limits on the propagation of his descendents.
Please do not misconstrue my rendition of this story that describes a farmer as bad. I love to eat more than anyone I know. Our modern society is now dependent on our agricultural practices. I rejoice in the practice of farmers at every meal I enjoy. I develop the characters of this biblical story as a metaphor to the BSPS struggle with native and non-native plant species in the Bergen Swamp and Zurich Bog.
I am not attempting to preach. This biblical story begs two questions the BSPS is confronting. One question asks "Is it good to let all things live?", as Abel did? This would limit us to tolerance without intervention as we witness the struggle between resident native species losing to the non-native invading species. The other question asks "Should we be a little-bit-bad and intervene to kill a few?", as Cain did? Should we choose to kill the non-native invasive species for the self-interested preservation of the native species? This intervention would lead us to a path on a slippery slope.
The BSPS has witnessed the native flora on our Bergen Swamp property endure several previous invasions of non-native plant species. The non-native Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus), Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara L.), European Swallow-wort (Cynanchum rossicum), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) Helleborine orchid (Epipactus helleborine) and European Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) have all established themselves into the Bergen Swamp. However, none of these non-native flora appear to be invasive or displace the native plants. The first seventy years of this society has embraced the practice of "the good" Abel. Do not interfere with nature and do not choose which plant should live or die. Let the environment choose the carrying capacity of each species, both native and non-native. This hands-off practice has worked in the past for the BSPS.
However, the native flora on our Bergen Swamp property may not endure the present invasion of two non-native plant species. The non-native Eurasian Phragmites (Phragmites australis subspecies australis) and the Slender Falsebrome (Brachypodium sylvaticum). Both appear to be displacing our native flora at a rapid pace.
Our early attempts to intervene with the non-native phragmites were clumsy and reactionary. In 1996 the BSPS approved herbicide treatment to kill the Phragmites invading the primary marl room. These non-native 8 foot tall reeds were encroaching into the sanctuary for the native Small White Lady's slippers (Cypripedium candidum Muhl. ex Willd.) and the Houghton's goldenrod (Solidago houghtonii) . There was no prior census or mapping of the non-native phragmites or native species. Chemical herbicides were applied to a plant without a true plan of vetting different treatment methods or measuring the effect of before or after treatments. This intervention did keep the phragmites out of the primary marl room but was expensive and was not assessed for any side effects.
Our present practices have become more astute, cautious and proactive than previous practice. We study prior to any intervention. We have begun mapping the invasive stands of phragmite reeds in the Bergen Swamp and Zurich Bog. Future intervention treatments will be monitored with a before and after survey. We study intervention methods. We have completed a split plot analysis for the remediation treatment of the invasive reed phragmites. We are currently performing a split plot analysis for the remediation of the invasive grass Slender Falsebrome. If there is any future treatment, then it will be directed by scientifically established best practice, rather than a kneejerk reaction to an awareness of a threatening invasive presence. But the study and development of these best practices takes time. I ask the Society membership to have patience as we assess these invasive species. There are several research endeavors, past and present, that are investigating these invasive species and intervention strategies.
The initial Biblical story has an interesting ending that relates to the BSPS charter and purpose. The bad farmer Cain kills the good shepherd Abel prior to Abel having descendents. All of Cain's descendents are later killed in the biblical great flood. There is no winner in that story. However, Adam & Eve have a third son, Seth, who is descended by Noah. It is Noah's descendents that survive the great flood and continue the Hebrew lineage. It was also Noah that had the wisdom to preserve and protect all the creatures of this earth with his ark. The BSPS strive to continue the wisdom of Noah, "to preserve and protect the upstate NY's native flora and fauna with the lands it holds incessant."
Mothers give birth to daughters: The Bergen Swamp Preservation Society inspiration to the founders of The Nature Conservancy
Steve Locke, BSPS Trustee President
BSPS newsletter to membership, spring 2014
The Bergen Swamp Preservation Society (BSPS) is the primordial Eve for private environmental land trusts in the United States. The BSPS was the first to purchase land for the conservation and preservation of flora. Today, 76 years later, the BSPS remains a small environmental land trust with an all volunteer staff and a membership of 400. The BSPS has a modest portfolio of upstate NY land holdings (3400 acres) with an amazingly small annual operating budget ($14,000). Although small, the BSPS charter has been a significant inspiration to others pursuing a similar mission. The BSPS charter is the first private purchase of land to hold in preservation without the meddling of government or corporations.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC), this nation's largest environmental land trust headquartered in Arlington, VA, was inspired by the BSPS. The connection between the BSPS and TNC was a former BSPS trustee, Dr. Richard Goodwin. Dr. Goodwin brought the concept of private land purchase to the infant TNC. He inspired and implemented TNC's first purchase of land with the skills he developed as a BSPS trustee. Today, TNC has a paid staff ($204,459,000 administration costs) and over 1,000,000 members. TNC has a international portfolio of land holdings (119,000,000 acres) and a huge operating budget ($764,660,000). Today, the Bergen Swamp Preservation Society and The Nature Conservancy could not be more different.
The conception of the BSPS occurred in 1935 from Mary Slifer, a housewife that was active in the Seventh District Federated Garden Clubs of Rochester, New York. She was inspired by a news article in the Courier-Express authored by William P. Alexander. The article, "Swamp Drainage Is Seen As A Scientific Calamity," described the loss of native wetland plants when the neighboring Elba muck lands were drained and plowed for rich humus farmland. Mary was inspired to save the Bergen Swamp as a conservation project for her Federated Garden Club. She called her garden club friends to her residence at 56 Southern Parkway, Brighton NY. Twenty-three people met at Mary Slifer's home to talk about her project to "Save Bergen Swamp. " An outcome of this meeting at Mary Slifer's residence was the founding of the BSPS in 1936 as a "Living Museum." The BSPS began with a provisional charter granted by the NYS Dept of Education as s "Living Museum."
Dr. Richard H. Goodwin is the connection between BSPS and TNC. He joined the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY) as a Assistant Professor of Biology in 1938. Dr. Goodwin had just defended his Doctoral thesis the year before at Harvard University (Boston MA). His thesis was the hybridization of goldenrods; the common Solidago rugosa (Wrinkle Leaf Goldenrod) and the S. sempervirens (Seaside goldenrod) to produce the hybrid goldenrod S. asperula
Shortly after his arrival to Rochester, Dr. Goodwin joined the BSPS in its infancy and volunteered as a trustee. The BSPS was two years old when he joined. I surmise that he was drawn to the BSPS because of his interest in Goldenrods and the presence of the rare Solidago ohioensis (Ohio goldenrod) and S. houghtonii (Houghton's goldenrod) found in the Bergen Swamp. Dr. Goodwin located maps of the Bergen swamp and initiated talks with the landowner farmers. In 1941 Dr. Goodwin, with other BSPS trustees, closed on the first BSPS land purchase – a five-acre parcel in the Bergen Swamp for $125. This was the first known private land trust that purchased land for environmental preservation of flora in the United States. This first land purchase by Dr. Goodwin has grown to 2000 acres of Bergen Swamp land held in stewardship by the BSPS.
In 1944 Dr. Goodwin left the University of Rochester and joined the faculty of Connecticut College (New London CT). He was offered a full professor of Botany and directorship of the Connecticut College Arboretum. Dr. Goodwin brought to Connecticut the BSPS concept of purchasing private land to be held in trust for environmental preservation. Goodwin foresaw the need to buffer the vulnerably small 90-acre Connecticut College Arboretum from New London's suburban expansion. So, he initiated a Arboretum land protection program. As he had done with the BSPS, Dr. Goodwin negotiated with Arboretum neighbors, landowners, college administrators and supporters. Dr. Goodwin eventually added 456 acres to the Arboretums land preserve.
In 1951 Dr. Goodwin joined The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the year of its incorporation. TNC was created from the Ecologist Union, a group of New England Scientist that wished to catalog and save threatened natural ecosystems. It was a grand mission, but the scientists did not know how to purchase lands to be held in ecological trusts. TNC was created and directed by scientists with good intentions but without the skills for governance, law, finance, and land purchases. Dr. Goodwin had all these skills that he developed as a BSPS trustee and refined at the Connecticut College Arboretum. In 1955 Dr. Goodwin lead the TNC to its first land purchase, a 60-acre parcel along the Mianus River Gorge on the New York/Connecticut border.
Dr. Goodwin held a long tenure at TNC. He served as TNC's volunteer President twice. He helped reorganize the national corporate structure and secured major individual gifts. A large gift to TNC was a grant from the Ford Foundation in 1965. This Ford Foundation grant came with the mandate that TNC could not remain all volunteers. TNC had to hire a full time staff. Dr. Goodwin served as the last TNC volunteer president and he hired the first TNC salary compensated executive director in 1966. Dr. Goodwin passed away in 2007 at the age of 96 in East Lyme, Connecticut.
As the BSPS trustee president, I encourage you to be proud of our little BSPS and its history that inspired others to become bigger than us. We continue to inspire others with the mentoring of research on our properties by high school students, undergraduate students, graduate students and University professors. We freely host tours for garden clubs, public schools and universities to share our ecological preserves. I encourage our membership to take pride in what we have consistently remained for 76 years, an all volunteer staff that is prudent with the expenditures of your donations to preserve Upstate New York's most pristine wetlands.
What could have happened at Zurich Bog?
Steve Locke, BSPS Trustee President
BSPS newsletter to membership, fall 2013
This early spring, my wife and I took a once in a lifetime "bucket list" anniversary vacation. We love Niagara Falls. We have visited the falls with our children when they were pre-teens, teens and adults. We took my father-in-law to the falls when he was succumbing to Alzheimer's. We were blessed with his recollection of where he was and what we were visiting. Who can forget Niagara Falls? It is an international natural icon. Putting others before ourselves, we always visited the falls escorting "others" such as our children, relatives or friends. We never attended alone as a couple.
In early spring 2013 we booked an off-season room at one of the high rise hotels on Mount Carmel, which overlooks the falls from the Canadian side. Our room was on the 27th floor, facing south with a view of the falls and the New York State horizon. We were so high up, if the building fell forward then we would have landed into the pool at the base of the falls gorge. The view of the falls was stunning. We watched the ice in the pool break up and float down river to the whirlpool.
This fine inspiring moment faltered when I looked up beyond the falls to the horizon on the US side. I saw the prominent landmark of elevation in the background; the landfill dump in Niagara Falls, New York. It was huge; taller than the natural elevation of Mount Carmel on which our hotel was located. I was struck by the question of contrast; "Why did we pile our garbage in view of the world's most famous, beautiful and iconic landmark? Are we mad?" Well, there it is for eternity; a landscape of trash for all international guest to see from the Canadian side. When they look at us in New York, they see the horizon landscape of a mountainous dump. This disturbing epiphany did not alter our romantic weekend, but it altered my thoughts on preservation. I felt a bit ashamed. I have been a life-long resident of New York. This mountain of trash was built during my life time. How could I have let this happen?
Which brings my writing to Zurich Bog, a National Natural Landmark held in trust by the BSPS. It is a quiet place with the beauty of a rare wetland flora. It is an easy site to drive by and not notice from the road. Unlike Niagara Falls, it has no five star hotels and restaurants. But it is a state and federal ecological treasure. So, "Who would build a dump there?", seems an absurd question. But that is exactly what the BSPS and Zurich committee faced in 2012 to 2013.
Late last 2013, the Town of Arcadia proposed to sell a closed, leaking landfill to Arcadia Hills developer Joe Alloco. This condemned town dump would be expanded into a new, much larger dump, built on top of the closed town dump. I was in disbelief because it would be right next to our Zurich Bog. This proposal would have constructed a dump taller than the glacial drumlins that frame Zurich Bog. The top of this proposed dump would be visible from the floating peat mat of the quaking bog, the sanctuary of the Zurich wetland. I initially thought that any proposal to build a dump in view of a National Natural Landmark is a foolish idea and a non-start. Then I returned home from my Niagara Falls anniversary vacation with a different perspective. I had to embrace the proposed spoilage of Zurich Bog with a neighboring dump as a real threat.
As a new trustee President of the BSPS, I have to confess how little I did. I really did not know how to approach this with civility. This conflict of interest in land development was borne by the BSPS Zurich committee and BSPS trustees. They sang the song of BSPS preservation and conservation to oppose this commercial landfill development. They utilized social networks (Twitter & FacebookTM), town meetings, private meetings and a technical addition to the NYS DEC SEQR (New York State environmental impact study). Their early intervention to inform others of this proposed landfill inspired other partners that voiced opposition to this landfill proposal. Soon, the local fruit farmers, the neighboring town of Sodus, the Brantling Ski Slope and a lot of local neighboring households were voicing opposition to this proposal.
By early summer of 2013, Joe Alloco, representing the Arcadia Hills Developer, withdrew the landfill proposal. For now, this proposal has been defeated. In contrast to Niagara Falls, Zurich Bog will not have a landfill as the apex landscape of the horizon. But this proposed change in the landscape of Zurich Bog came too close to a reality.
I urge all persons, especially our membership and friends, to find inspiration from our Zurich Committee and trustees. I personally admire their faith in preservation, professionalism and perseverance. They made a difference. They are living today's testament to the spirit of preservation that inspired Mary Slifer, our BSPS founder, 76 years ago. I lament that persons with their spirit were not active in Niagara Falls 80 years ago.
Passing the Baton, Changing BSPS Trustee Presidents
Steve Locke, BSPS Trustee President
BSPS newsletter to membership, spring 2013
I wish to introduce myself to the BSPS membership as the new president of the BSPS. At the January 2013 BSPS trustee meeting, our past President, Lee "Chip" Blair Jr., stepped down from his position and assumed the role of a non-officer trustee. Lee has been president of this Society for seven years. I assumed the transition from Vice President to President at the same trustee meeting.
I aspire to write an article with my comments for every newsletter. My first expository article is highlighting our past President, Lee "Chip" Blair Jr.
The BSPS achievements during Lee's tenure could be listed as a two page appendix to this article. If I listed them up front, the reader would be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of accomplishments. The BSPS has grown tremendously in old ways and in new ways during Lee's tenure. I do not want to disinterest you with a long list of BSPS achievements during Lee's tenure.
I will emphasize just one of Lee's accomplishments, and that is the number of tours he has hosted. He has lead over seventy tours into the Bergen Property during his tenure. He has lead grade school students, high school students, graduate students, Scouts, gardeners, DEC officials, owl tours, and our biannual pilgrimages. Lee has increased the access of people to our Bergen property and inspired many people to consider the BSPS mission of ecological preservation.
Beside the tours, I do not need to explain that Lee did not complete that long list of other BSPS achievements by himself. The BSPS trustees deserve as much credit as Lee. What I need to share is that Lee supported all these achievements with a leadership role. He did not manage with obstruction to new ideas. He maintained the conservative BSPS mission of ecological preservation with minimum ecological intervention. All of the trustees are volunteers. Nobody here at the BSPS is paid or compensated. To motivate and retain our overachieving volunteer trustees is true leadership. He inspired the trustees to agree to disagree. Yet, the trustees have always come to consensus without residual conflict. That is true leadership.
BSPS members do not know the personal commitment Lee has made to oversee our society. Like all the trustees, Lee has a day job as an Engineering Mechanic at SPX® Industries. He manufactures Lightnin® Industrial mixers. His employment responsibilities never diminished his service to the BSPS. Through his tenure he has overseen two of his daughters married, a grandchild born and buried his father. His obligations to family never diminished his service to the BSPS. He has had crippling health issues during his tenure. He had three abdominal surgeries, one of them a life threatening emergency. His health never diminished his service to the BSPS. I remember visiting him during his three week hospital stay several years ago. After a cordial and brief "Are you ok?", we went right into discussion of BSPS business. Through all these trials of personal life, Lee was never distracted from his commitment to the Society. The BSPS came first, not last in his priorities of life. I admire Lee and his compass on life. His service to ecological preservation is unsurpassed.
Lee likes to joke about his role as the black sheep in his family. Lee's mother and brother are ordained Presbyterian ministers, his sister and wife are ordained Presbyterian elders. Lee considers himself the family outcast because he is not an ordained minister or elder. Obviously, all of the Blair's are gentle kind people that have a compass for life that others will follow. Similar to his family of ministers and church elders, Lee has lead this Society of 400 members, which is a flock of people with a belief in environmental conservation. Better than a minister, Lee has a larger and more diverse flock. Besides the society members, he has overseen the protection of 1,024 species of vascular plants and bryophytes, 634 species of fungi, 73 species of myxomycetes, 586 species of algae, and 75 species of lichens. I think that this is a broader flock of God's creatures than an ordained minister would oversee.
I encourage the reader of this BSPS newsletter to consider following Lee Blair's commitment to the BSPS mission of environmental conservation. If environmental conservation is important to you, then increase your commitment to this cause. Commit to volunteering at a work party for one of our five properties. If you are not a financially committed member of the BSPS, consider becoming one. If you are a member, consider become a trustee. I promise that if you embrace environmental stewardship through the BSPS, then you will meet inspirational people such as Lee Blair.
The Bergen Swamp Trails
Steve Locke, trustee
BSPS newsletter to membership, spring 2013
After seventy years, the Bergen Committee has finally connected all of the Bergen Swamp separate trails into one interconnected trail system with one entrance. The traditional trails in Bergen were awkwardly located far apart with separate entrances and they all led to dead ends with no connections. These trails followed the path of eighty year old cedar logging trails. One trail, the old Torpy hill trail, was abandoned. The previous disconnected trails conveniently followed the pre-society cedar logging trails. They were not planned for the desired arrangement of a living museum. Our Bergen committee has worked on these trails to improve visitor access while minimizing the disruption to the flora sanctuary being visited. The Bergen committee is also struggling with the need for increasing the security of our herpes and reptiles.
Our efforts have been directed to creating ONLY ONE ENTRANCE (Hessenthaler trail entrance), connecting all the trails to this single entrance and KEEPING VISITORS ON THE TRAILS. We have recently completed many trail improvements that now connect all the trails. The result of this will be the closure of the Swamp Rd. access to Pocock trail in the fall of this year. The Evans Rd. entrance on Torpy Hill has always been closed. I would like to share with the membership some of our trail improvement efforts. Please keep in perspective that all of the trail work is performed by all volunteers. There is no paid staff that does this work.
The Hessenthaler trail is our most popular hiking trail. It is named after the Hessenthaler family that used to reside in what is now the BSPS caretaker house. Prior to the BSPS, the matriarch Olive Elizabeth McBratnie Hessenthaler would give tours of the orchids to visitors for compensation. She would deliberately lead them in circles to disorient them prior to reaching the orchids. This ensured her future employment as a guide.
It is easy to find the Hessenthaler trail head. It is opposite the caretakers house at the end of Hessenthaler Rd. This trail starts out easy, but it becomes more difficult. It is our longest trail. We have been diligent in maintaining the corded trail for the first half of this trail, but the last half has overwhelmed our volunteers. This trail comes to a dead end in a dense invasive phragmites stand, which is not passable. Most of the recent people that have gotten lost and required a search and rescue have deliberately wandered off this trail. These lost hikers would be the first to urge you to stay on all trail.
The Babette-Coleman loop is a popular bird walk, because it traverses between a wet woods and an open meadow, which is prime bird habitat. It is named after Dr. Babette Coleman-Brown, a University of Rochester Botony professor and BSPS trustee. It is an easy trail to traverse. It is accessed from a branch off the Hessenthaler trail and loops back to Hessenthaler road.
We have replaced the 30 yards of rotted board walk in the south west wet sedge-mint meadow. The new boardwalk is constructed with epoxy painted steel trusses decked with an acrylic plastic lumber. This portion of the trail has gone from the worst to the best after this boardwalk project was completed by our caretaker, Mike Merritt.
The Pocock trail is our most popular floral trail. It is named after the Pocock family, which still runs a dairy farm on Pocock Road neighboring the Bergen Swamp. This is a difficult trail for the first 30 yards in from the old kiosk, but becomes easy for the remainder of its passage. The visitor traverses through the biome transitions of elevation or latitude. This path greets the visitor with the greatest diversity of plants. It brings the visitor through Hemlock knoll and ends in an active primary marl room.
Pocock trail improvements include the upkeep of the five elevated foot bridges. They have been re-decked with new 2 inch cedar planks and the bridge piers have been rebuilt with new cedar logs. In despair, we have rebuilt and re-rebuilt the unstable corded trail at the entrance by the Pocock sign-in kiosk. Despite our efforts, we have not been able to maintain good footing through this initial 30 yards of wet passage, which is the visitors starting point on Pocock trail. This will be our next site for trail renovation.
The Connecting trail is our newest trail. This trail connects all the other trails. It connects the Babette-Coleman loop with the Pocock trail, which connects to the Torpy Hill trail. This new "connecting" trail keeps the visitor on elevated dry soil but gives the visitors a view of the springs and seeps along the southern border of our swamp. It runs by an abandoned "moon shine" distillery relic site. The springs along this trail give source to the clean water that flows north through our swamp and fens. The visitor on this trail is treated to the deciduous forested upland flowers of spring beauties, trout lily, trillium and may-apple.
The Bergen Committee has wanted a new trail to connect the separate Hessenthaler and Pocock trails since my membership with the Society. For over seven years, Lee Blair and I have been surveying the swamp area between Hessenthaler and Pocock trails. We were hoping to find a northern route to connect these separate trail dead ends into a loop. Well, we call it a swamp for a reason. This northern area is all low, saturated wet unstable soils. To connect the two trails through the northern interior cedar woods or secondary marl would have been logistically difficult to construct and beyond our resources to maintain. It also would have been catastrophic to the rare wetland flora that we would have destroyed during trail construction. This "northern connecting loop idea" was abandoned for our new connecting trail that runs along the south edge of the Bergen Swamp through an upland deciduous forest.
The New Torpy Hill Trail is a replacement for the original 1950's Torpy Hill trail, which has been abandoned for decades. This trail is named after the Torpy family that ran a dairy farm on the west end of the drumlin. The farm failed and was purchased by the BSPS in the 1950's. The farm house, silo and barns were razed by the society.
The original, now abandoned , Torpy Hill trail followed an old logging road that began at the west end of Evans Rd. It went due west down the center of the hill and into the wet cedar woods to Hemlock Knoll. This abandoned trail still has wagon wheel ruts, logging cables and cabin remnants from the pre-BSPS logging era. It was difficult to travel this trail without sinking to your shin in the unstable soils. This trail was soon abandoned by the society because of the difficulty to maintain a corded trail for this length through the unstable soils of this wet cedar woods.
Six years ago, we began construction of a new Torpy Hill trail. This new trail can be entered from a branch off the Pocock trail. This is a easy trail to traverse except for two separate and difficult (30 yard and 100yard) corded passages through wet cedar woods. The Torpy hill trail begins at the second small bridge of the Pocock Trail. Last fall the Byron-Bergen students completed this trail with the construction of a 20 ft iron truss foot bridge over a stream. We are now encouraging visitors to traverse this trail IF they access it from the Pocock Trail. DO NOT ENTER THIS TRAIL FROM EVANS RD. The only approved entrance into Bergen Swamp is the Hessenthaler trail entrance. The new Torpy hill trail runs parallel, but south of the old abandoned Torpy Hill trail. The majority of this new trail is through upland deciduous forest that borders the wet cedar woods. You get to see the wet cedar woods with your feet on dry ground. This is a vast improvement over the old Torpy Hill trail. This new trail is much easier to maintain and easier to traverse for the visitor. A portion of this trail goes through a five acre old growth black cherry stand. Several of the black cherry trees have an 80 foot bole to the first branch. The canopy is so dense that the forest floor is clear and open with no shrubs or shade intolerant saplings. It is like being inside a cathedral.
All visitors are welcome to our Bergen Swamp sanctuary if they sign in at the trail entrance kiosk on Hessenthaler Rd and STAY ON THE TRAILS. We have put a large effort into trail maintenance to provide safe, marked access for our visitors. The trails ensure our flora treasures do not become trampled by visitors. If unguided visitors leave the trails, then they become trespassers that are trampling our rare flora with their destructive bushwhacking.
All of the BSPS trails are along the southern border of the Bergen Swamp. There is no access or trails along Black Creek and the northern border of the Bergen Swamp.
About President Steve Locke
Steve Locke, President and Trustee since 2013
Mr. Steve Locke has served as a BSPS trustee for fourteen years and as trustee president for four years. He also serves on the Bergen Committee, Zurich Committee, Executive Committee and Audit Committee. He recently retired from Byron-Bergen CSD as a secondary science teacher. The following is a collection of articles he has written for the BSPS biannual newsletter sent to all BSPS members.