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Tour offers chance to see Olana as neighbors see it

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GREENPORT–Thousands of visitor marvel at Frederic Church’s idiosyncratic Persian style home each year and remark on the majestic views of the Hudson River below the bluff and the front wall of the Catskills just to the west. Less evident, perhaps, is how similar the view remains today compared to what Church preserved on canvas in the second half of the 19th century.

It is no accident. The region has been spared any cataclysmic event that indelibly altered the terrain, but there has been development, yet its impact is muted by the presence of farms, forests and wetlands, and not least, by limited growth along the riverbanks, all of which are part of what is now referred to as the Olana viewshed. Apart from the 250-acre Olana State Historic site, over a thousand acres have been willingly preserved by landowners with the help of Scenic Hudson, the Columbia Land Conservancy and the Olana Partnership.

Most days of the week, anyone can enjoy the view from Olana, Church’s historically restored home, but only once a year is it possible for people to see Olana and its grounds from the yards of neighbors whose own viewshed includes the historic site. On Saturday, October 24, The Olana Partnership and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, join with those nearby landowners for the second annual self-guided tour of farms and privately owned landscapes within the Olana viewshed.

The Viewshed Tour is a benefit to support the restoration of Olana’s historic landscape.

Mark Prezorski, a member of the Olana Partnership board, calls the word viewshed “an unfortunate term.” It invites the assumption that it carries some sort of technical weight. But Mr. Prezorski defines it simply as “what you can see from where you are standing.” And from his home, which is on the viewshed tour, visitors can see plenty, including the great lawn that spreads out below Church’s house.

Even before he became involved with the partnership, Mr. Prezorski and his partner, Owen Davidson, decided to permanently protect his land from development. But it remains a working apple orchard. Having protected land remain in agricultural production is one of the goals of the preservation effort, he says. Other landowners on the tour take a similar view.

Scenic Hudson has identified about 3,500 acres within the viewshed that it believes should be protected, and the non-profit organization has already managed to find ways of working with landowners to preserve over 1,200 acres. Seth McKee, the land conservation director at Scenic Hudson, defines the viewshed area as encompassing sites within two and a half miles from Olana, though the 3,500 acres comprises only a part of the total land within that radius.

Mr. McKee says Scenic Hudson uses a flexible, “transparent” approach to preservation “tailored to a specific landowner’s needs,” which may help explain why those on the viewshed tour on October 24 are willing to open their land to visitors.

Mr. Prezorski says that one of the things that makes Olana a unique historic site is that Church, the most widely recognized artist of the Hudson River School, created a working farm tied to an art movement. “Frederic Church didn’t think of it as a castle,” he says. And one of the ways to appreciate that connection between the landscape and the art it inspired is to view it from the outside looking in, something the viewshed tour permits.

The 10 private properties featured in the Olana viewshed are located along the Hudson River and the foothills of the Catskill range, and include an 1870s home designed by Calvert Vaux, the former estate of the famous landscape painter Charles Herbert Moore, a biodynamic farm and a restored 1743 barn perched above 436 protected acres. Additionally, members can ascend to Olana’s seldom-visited Bell Tower, with its unparalleled river and mountain views.

Following the tour there will be a party at an 1850’s farm with 180-degree views of the Catskill range. The Viewshed Tour is a benefit to support the restoration of Olana’s historic landscape.

The tour is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; tickets are $50, $40 for members; the party, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., is $100 and $75 for members. Bell tower tours, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., are $50 and free for members.

Also represented during the introductory part of the tour are Scenic Hudson and the Columbia Land Conservancy.

Mr Prezorski admits he might be prejudiced, but his enthusiasm for Olana and its landscape–most of which awaits restoration–is evident from the passion in his voice when he talks about what he sees from his back yard. “I’m living in one of the most beautiful parts of the world,” he says.

Olana State Historic Site, one of seven historic sites and 13 parks administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), Taconic Region, is a designated National Historic Landmark and one of the most visited sites in the state. The Olana Partnership, a private not-for-profit education corporation, works cooperatively with New York State to support the restoration, development and improvement of Olana State Historic Site.

The Olana website is www.olana.org
 
 

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