Historic acquisition: Public access to Sugar Loaf Mountain secured

Chester. Orange County Land Trust announced its acquisition of the 309-acre property on January 11.

| 12 Jan 2024 | 10:02

Sugar Loaf Mountain juts out above the hamlet that carries its name, but access to the wild precipice has always been prohibited, as it lies on private land. But soon the landmark will be open to the public thanks to a land acquisition by the Orange County Land Trust (OCLT).

On Thursday, January 11, elected officials, land preservationists, and general fans of open space gathered at the Woodside Barn on Laroe Road in Chester to hear news of the historic acquisition. OCLT Executive Director Jim Delaune gave the opening remarks, announcing that the land trust had acquired the 309-acre property, ensuring that, for the first time, the public could legally have access to the mountain. Indeed, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, who also spoke at the announcement, joked that people wouldn’t have to trespass anymore.

In his opening remarks, Delaune thanked the many people involved in the acquisition, including members of the Palmer family, Chris and John Palmer, who owned the land. “You’ve been such good custodians of this land,” Delaune said to the Palmers. “Steve [Neuhaus] and I are going to continue that tradition.” Delaune explained that it has been a dream of his and Neuhaus’s for quite a long time to preserve the land.

In his remarks on the acquisition, Neuhaus said it was possibly one of the best days of his career as county executive. “We have been working on this for decades,” he said. Neuhaus recalled watching the inauguration of former President Barack Obama with Delaune at a deli in Sugar Loaf and stating as he gazed at the mountain, “We have to start moving on this.”

Neuhaus also expressed plans to continue to preserve “tens of thousands of acres in Orange County” with more trail connections across the county, including to the Heritage Trail. He noted that such outdoor recreation havens can also attract large companies to the region who may be looking to set up shop in areas where employees can enjoy such “quality of life” perks.

In addition to the negotiations between the Palmer family and OCLT, which kicked off in 2019, the acquisition was also made possible thanks to a loan by Walden Savings Bank, a loan from the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, as well as local fundraising efforts involving the greater Orange County community and OCLT’s “Save the Mountain” campaign. The campaign generated over $200,000. But the project’s support didn’t stop there. The NYSDEC and Land Trust Alliance gave support for the project with a NYS Conservation Partnership Program grant, and the organization Scenic Hudson provided financial support for the acquisition through its Climate and Environmental Justice grant initiative.

”Scenic Hudson was very pleased to contribute to the conservation of 309 acres on Sugar Loaf Mountain in Chester,” said Seth McKee, executive director of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust. “This was a long-standing priority for OCLT – securing public access to the mountain for outdoor recreation (for the first time)! This is exactly why we created our Climate and Environmental Justice grants: to accelerate and support vital projects that benefit the environment, the economy, and all members of the community. The 309 conserved acres will also help combat climate change by ‘moving the needle’ on the state’s 30x30 initiative – saving 30% of all open space in the state by 2030.”

At the acquisition announcement, Walden Savings Bank CEO Derrik Wynkoop also announced a donation of $5,000 from the bank.

The 309 acres will include access to the Sugar Loaf Mountain summit and eventually connect to the neighboring Goosepond Mountain State Park. The Orange County government and the town of Chester will also be project partners, helping to manage portions of the protected lands for recreation.

OCLT plans to transfer the land to Orange County Parks & Recreation, who will coordinate with other conservation partners to create a plan for public access and recreation. Public access won’t be available until a formal trail system and designated parking area are established.

“This was a long-standing priority for OCLT – securing public access to the mountain for outdoor recreation (for the first time)!” - Seth McKee, executive director of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust