On Sunday afternoon, March 12, 1989, twenty-one residents of the Hudson Highlands met at Castle Rock, the Garrison home of Douglas and Sarah Banker. They came together because they were alarmed by mounting development pressure in the Highlands and were determined to preserve the community’s rural character and scenic beauty. When the meeting ended, the Hudson Highlands Land Trust was a reality: a board, an executive committee, and a slate of officers had been elected; and a two-year plan of action had been adopted. A modest start-up budget of $45,000 was approved; staff was limited to one person, working half time. On April 24, 1989, the Hudson Highlands Land Trust was issued a Certificate of Incorporation by the State of New York.
Two decades later, the Hudson Highlands Land Trust has a three-person, professional staff – an Executive Director, a Director of Outreach and Development, and a Director of Land Preservation. It owns 39 acres outright, holds conservation easements on 59 properties and has permanently preserved 1,300 acres from development. Initially, HHLT’s mission area was limited to Philipstown. In 2004, recognizing that conservation is a regional issue, and that unplanned development in one community can seriously affect the scenery, ecology and land values in many others, the board doubled the mission area to include Putnam Valley, Highlands and Cornwall, and the Villages of Highland Falls and Cornwall-on-Hudson. In 2008, HHLT was permitted by the Land Trust Alliance to be a first-round applicant for accreditation; the staff mounted an intensive effort to meet the numerous and exacting criteria for accreditation, and, in September 2008, HHLT became one of the first 39 land trusts nationwide to receive LTA accreditation, certifying a land trust’s adherence to LTA Standards and Practices, and creating increased public trust in our organization, confidence in our work and acceptance of our advocacy efforts.
Land conservation is the heart of our mission, but HHLT has also made great strides in public policy, outreach and education. We have worked closely with the towns of Philipstown and Putnam Valley as they have revised comprehensive plans and zoning codes. We are working to expand our presence and involvement in the communities on the Hudson’s West Bank. HHLT has also expanded our outreach efforts to include events and programming to inform and involve the greater community in our mission.
Twenty years ago, a HHLT founder wrote, "As we approach the last decade of the twentieth century, the Hudson Highlands remain remarkably unspoiled by careless development, offering views of spectacular beauty from the river and from public vantage points on land." That this statement in large measure holds true today, is a source of pride to HHLT and its supporters. We are committed to ensuring that the same may be said, with equal truthfulness, as we mark the arrival and passage of each decade of the twenty-first century.