Saving a corner of the Earth in its natural state is increasingly hard work. It takes many hands and, often, many organizations. So it was that, the other day, an eclectic crowd of people gathered beside a forest-fringed lake about 38 miles northwest of New York City, to celebrate the latest conservation success story.
For reasons related to recent and legendary events in American history, survivors of the New York City Fire Department’s staggering losses at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, stood besides Native Americans who brought a 20-foot-tall healing totem pole that was carved in Washington State. Leaders of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference in nearby Mahwah, NJ, stood with current and former New York state conservation officials, local municipal officials and private landowners in this remote corner of the Hudson Highlands in Monroe, NY.
To the beat of a Native American drum, the gathering of about 100 people celebrated the conservation buyout of nearly 260 acres purchased from the privately-owned Arrow Park, to be added to adjacent Sterling Forest State Park, which is part of the Palisades Interstate Park system. The conservation deal was brokered by the Orange County Land Trust with $5.3 million from the State of New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
“These projects would never happen without so many people,” said Paul Dolan, executive director of ABC News International and a conservation advocate for the NY-NJ Trail Conference, as a big swath of the audience was called forward to be lauded for their assistance. Dolan and his wife JoAnn, a former executive director of the hiking trails group, previously helped lead a bi-state campaign that preserved some 20,000 acres of open space that became Sterling Forest State Park. Developers had targeted the area with plans to build a sprawling city of housing and industry in the mountain forests that form the headwaters of northern New Jersey’s water supply.
Arrow Park was created in 1948 as a country retreat for a group of Russian, Ukrainian and Polish families living in New York City. Such large tracts of land in the region have increasingly been sold off or subdivided for housing developments.
The gathering at Arrow Park also celebrated the visit of a troupe of American Indians who’d previously traveled across the country in 2002 to erect a healing totem pole besides the lake in the heart of the park to commemorate the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Now they were passing through with a new healing totem headed for the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland.
“I was thinking back to nine years ago when we came to this very spot,” said Fred Lane, a filmmaker with the Lummi Indian Nation, which provided both healing totems. “We have to remember our ancestors, our elders. I remember something my father said, ‘What are you going to do to be remembered by?’”
Master carver Jewell James played a song on a wooden flute. “No matter who we are racially or religiously, we are all human beings,” he said. In 2002, James was profiled in a USA Today article on the making of the healing totem for 9/11 victims. He recalled how his tribe had helped him deal with grief when two of his children were killed in traffic accidents. So he decided to help others by carving healing totems. "You never know how much it might help," he said. "This is my gift."
The Orange County Land Trust’s website provides a poignant perspective on what happened in the wake of that gift that the Pacific Coast tribe brought east to Arrow Park. “Recently, the Fire Department of New York’s Counseling Service Unit presented the Orange County Land Trust with an award for leading this successful 10-year campaign to protect Arrow’s land which includes an 80 acre FDNY memorial planting tract. Since 2002, the families of firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty on 9/11 gather at Arrow Park for a tree planting ceremony and day of remembrance.”
In his remarks at last week’s ceremony, Paul Dolan said “Our goal is that this be a place for all different groups to heal.”
The Orange County Land Trust website explains the genesis of that goal: “A remaining parcel of 75 plus acres [which includes a rustic complex of buildings] is under active study as a center for programs for children and families by a consortium of non profit sponsors. Currently Calvary Hospital runs a summer camp on this land for children who have experienced the death of a family member. This bereavement program has served over 400 children since it was started 11 years ago.
“Arrow has been the site of recent professional training programs for Orange County organizations working with veterans and their families. Prior programs and events have focused on children of war from Sierra Leone and recreational programs for children with special needs.”
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