EDITORIAL: Park will improve region

IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN Iowa. Across the Hudson River the approaching storm Tuesday afternoon obscured what’s otherwise a stunning view of the Catskills. Seen from the northwest corner of the City of Hudson, the world was flat except for the slopes leading down to North Bay. The river below is deceptively narrow here–half its true width lies hidden beyond Middle Ground Flats island. The tide rushed upstream toward Albany.

North Bay is part of the City of Hudson, but what you see is tall grass and prongs of advancing forest, hardwoods and evergreens. You hear wind and the cries of birds circling the marsh that was a bay before the railroad sliced it from the main channel a century and a half ago.

Glance south and you’re eye-level with the top floors of the Bliss Towers housing complex. It’s the only high-rise structure in the city besides the hospital. Or focus closer and you see upright PVC pipes topped by elbows. They vent methane from two hillocks of decomposing garbage at the edge of North Bay. The trash is invisible under two feet of soil. People familiar with the site say the there’s not enough of this potent greenhouse gas to make collecting it worthwhile, not even enough to consider burning it off to make it less of a threat. So it seeps into the atmosphere. A teachable moment?

Three years ago the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC) produced a Concept Master Plan for something CLC called the Hudson North Bay Recreation and Natural Area. The plan imagined how the North Bay tidal marsh combined with these hills of trash and the surrounding woods and wildlife, all within easy walking distance of the city, could become a signature resource for the region instead of a municipal afterthought.

When the study was released the biggest obstacle was putting together the political support to assemble the whole 117 acres identified as the natural North Bay area. The county owns the hills of trash, all 27 acres of them, along with much of the-marsh-that-was-a-bay. The city owns most of the other land. And then there’s an empty factory that has seen a parade of false starts in the last decade, as manufacturers with dubious credentials offered proposals that sounded too good to be true… and were.

CLC and city and county officials have made great progress over the last three years and now have agreed to support a modest initiative aimed at planning the specific steps needed to create the North Bay Recreation and Natural Area. And recently, another piece fell into place with the announcement that the Harney & Sons Fine Teas company, headquartered in Millerton, has purchased the North Bay factory and will package its teas there. The company has reportedly indicated a willingness to work with the other parties on the recreation and natural area plan.

Now for the money part. The request for a matching grant of $130,000 has been made through the state Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) Awards program. The Capital District REDC has sent the proposal to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for review, and that agency will make a recommendation on whether to fund this project. North Bay deserves state support.

The grant would cover only 75% of the total cost of planning the project. The land conservancy and its partners will have to come up with the remainder. This is similar to the REDC grants awarded last year to the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association and the Olana Partnership, which suggests it fits the state’s guidelines.

All the conventional arguments–that a North Bay Recreational and Natural Area would attract tourists and that tourism is good for the economy–apply to this grant request. It’s also true that this public recreational space would be readily accessible to an entire city as well as its visitors.

That’s a hallmark of any great public space.

But the small steps it would take to improve and extend a new point of public access to the Hudson River and its shoreline also remind us what makes this county a special place. No matter how we measure the financial rewards from this new natural resource its existence will enrich our lives.
Address letters of support for the CLC North Bay grant to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Albany 12238 or go to http://nysparks.com and click on the “Contact us” link at the bottom right of the screen.

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