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December 06, 2016
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Delaware Highlands Conservancy highlights two projects

The 31 acres of Mongaup River Forest, donated by the Hand Family Trust, help sustain scenic views in Sullivan County, filter groundwater and protect the health of the Mongaup River.
Contributed photos

BUSHVILLE, NY — Delaware Highlands Conservancy marked a milestone recently, having protected more than 14,000 acres of land since it was established. Here are the stories of two recent projects.

Mongaup River Forest

One of the things Susanne Hand will remember most about her father, Nathan Hand, is the family cabin and bungalow colony he built by hand on their property in Bushville. It was one of two prime Sullivan County properties inherited from her father and donated outright to the Delaware Highlands Conservancy in 2012 by Susanne and her sons, Rafe and Alex.

“I still marvel at how handy he was,” says Susanne in reflecting on her father, who died in late 2012 at the age of 103. “He loved the country and was a great outdoorsman.” A respected lawyer, Nathan moved to the Catskills in the late 1940s, married Frances Rosen in 1949 and built a small cabin and nine bungalows, opening “Hands’ Bungalows: For Happy Summers and Lifelong Friendships” in Bushville.

The couple ran the bungalow colony from 1950 to ‘57. Born in 1950, Susanne remembers summer days at the colony as pleasant, simple times with lots of children around. After careful consideration of options for the future of the family land, Susanne contacted a local land trust advisor in New Jersey to discuss donating the properties. She was directed to Delaware Highlands Conservancy and the rest is history.

“We were glad to hear about Delaware Highlands Conservancy, and pleased to know that good conservation work is happening in that part of the world,” said Susanne.

After completing a conservation easement, the conservancy will resell both properties and use the funds to support the organization’s conservation work. Located on the Mongaup River in the Town of Thompson, next to Catskill Regional Medical Center, the properties provide scenic views from the highway and substantial wildlife habitat.

Mitchell Pond Brook

When conservancy founder Barbara Yeaman began talking about establishing a land trust in the Upper Delaware region 18 years ago, one of the first people to come knocking was Tom Raleigh. Nearly two decades later, Tom’s beloved land i n Cochecton, NY, Mitchell Pond Brook, has been protected wit h a conservation easement and purchased by Helen Beichel, who likewise has fallen for the beautiful waterway that meanders along the 23-acre property near the Delaware River.

Tom had acquired the land in 1965 and lived there in a small cottage, enjoying the forest and the splashing music of the small creek that crosses in front of the cottage. He passed away in 2009 and never got to see his land protected, but laid the groundwork in his will. “Tom left the conservancy a generous bequest and left the land to his niece, Mimi Raleigh,” explains Barbara. “Although the easement didn’t come together during his lifetime, Tom talked with us for years and shared that desire with Mimi,” who visited Tom and his woods often.

Mimi’s love for the place grew over the years. “Ever since I was a child, I hoped one day the property would come to me,” she says. When that happened, Mimi thought long and hard about the future of the land.

After careful consideration, she decided to fulfill more than his wishes by donating the property outright to the conservancy, which protected it first with a conservation easement before seeking a conservation-minded buyer.

Motivated to begin searching for an escape from the noise pollution of her New York City residence, Helen Beichel came across the property online and made plans to visit. She connected with Yeaman and camped at her property along the Delaware River before walking the Sullivan County land that would become hers in December 2012.

Right away, she began to connect with the place. “I really liked the way the cottage was tucked in; the creek was beautiful and there were small red salamanders everywhere,” she says. “Later, I learned that the red-spotted newt is common, but is also a good indicator of healthy habitat.”

Because the cottage has become structurally unsound, Helen is planning to replace it with “as passive a house as possible,” with features such as passive solar and possibly straw bale construction.