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Earth Day cleanup sparks season of volunteering


By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Volunteers removed downed trees and limbs, picked up litter and pruned overgrown vegetation at Hannacroix Creek Preserve and the Hudson River Interpretive Trail. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

NEW BALTIMORE — Downed trees, overgrown vegetation and litter are a thing of the past at the Hannacroix Creek Preserve after a small cadre of volunteers cleaned up the trail Saturday in honor of Earth Day.

“This is our spring cleanup for Earth Day,” said Jeffrey Distin, land manager for the New Baltimore Conservancy. “We do Adopt-A-Highway here and our own property for our first get-together for spring cleanup.”

The New Baltimore Conservancy owns the 140-acre Hannacroix Creek Preserve, which has two entrances — on Route 144 and on Madison Avenue — and manages the 30-acre Hudson River Interpretive Trail, which is owned by the town of New Baltimore, as well as the Hannacroix Creek Falls, the group’s past president, Peter Melewski, said.

The Conservancy took over the preserve about a year ago from the former owner, the Open Space Institute, Melewski said.

The preserve and Interpretive Trail tidal estuary areas — which begin at the falls and continue to the riverfront — are of statewide significance, he added.

“The Preserve and HRIT are vital to annual migratory birds [and] protection of the fish population,” Melewski said. “In addition, the miles of trails provide the public with an opportunity to relax, refresh and understand the importance of estuaries.”

The preserve has long been a valuable resource in the community, and its importance only grew during the COVID-19 shutdowns of 2020 and 2021, he said.

“This is about quality of life for the town of New Baltimore and for Coeymans, for Greene and Albany counties,” Melewski said. “Hannacroix Creek Preserve and Long View Park showed their value during COVID. We were very, very busy during COVID — the parking lot was packed all the time because people were limited in what they could do and this was a location where they could get outside and interact with other people at a safe distance.”

Volunteers move a fallen tree trunk from the trail as part of the annual Earth Day cleanup in New Baltimore. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

The volunteer group does a monthly cleanup in the warmer months, but the Earth Day cleanup is the first of the year.

“Today a lot of communities are doing a River Sweep, so we will be cleaning up along the Hudson River — cleaning up anything that floated into the river during recent storms,” Melewski said. “We will be doing trail maintenance to make sure ditches are open for drainage, moving any trees that have fallen down, clipping and so forth.”

Volunteers met in the Preserve’s parking lot at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and geared up with heavy gloves, rakes, pruners, hand saws and a chainsaw, and set out along the path, clearing the trail where needed.

“We will do everything from litter pickup, Adopt-A-Highway and trail maintenance, like cleaning up downed trees and brush and general pruning and clipping,” Distin said. “We don’t remove anything we don’t have to, but anything that is obstructing the trails and things that came down during the winter.”

Mark Peckham is property manager for Long View Park and is a member of the Conservancy’s board of trustees. Maintaining the natural resources of New Baltimore is an important mission, he said.

“We care deeply about the community,” Peckham said. “This is our legacy to the community, to try to keep this open space and these parks available for everyone to enjoy. You have to have accessible trails and make it worth people’s while to come and enjoy the properties.”

Volunteer Desiree Pacuk trims overgrown vegetation along the trail. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Michelle Wagner is a new member who joined the group a few months ago.

“I am getting ready to retire and I am going to need things to fill my day and I use the trails, so I figured I might as well help out now that I have time and don’t have to cram everything into a weekend,” Wagner said with a smile.

The Preserve was an important resource for Wagner’s children when they were young. More recently, she brought her young grandson to the trail and he enjoyed it.

“When my kids were growing up, they were here all the time,” Wagner said. “I had never been here until a couple of years ago and I’ve been using the trails ever since. It’s a hidden gem in the community. The trail and Long View Park are extraordinary.”

For new resident Michele Brown, the Conservancy and their programs and volunteer activities have created a welcoming atmosphere during a trying time.

“I just moved to New Baltimore on March 20, 2020, right as the [COVID] shutdown was starting, which is not conducive to meeting neighbors, so I was glad that the Conservancy was doing events to meet neighbors,” Brown said. “I like the outdoors and I wanted to get to know people.”

Members of the New Baltimore Conservancy gathered in the parking lot before heading out onto the trail for an Earth Day cleanup. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media
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