Conservancy continues aim to protect farmlands with latest funds

The Genesee Valley Conservancy raised over $1.3 million over nine years in order to preserve the farmland in the Genesee Valley. Pictured left are psychology major junior Amanda Paratore and international relations and psychology double major sophomore Hannah Garty, who both collaborate with the conservancy as part of Friends of Recreation, Conservation and Environmental Stewardship. Pictured right is Pleasant Hill Farm, which is protected by the conservancy.

The Genesee Valley Conservancy marked the completion of a nine-year fundraising campaign in late 2016. With over $1.3 million raised, the conservancy hopes to continue to protect the farmland of the Genesee Valley, according to Executive Director of the Conservancy Benjamin Gajewski ‘07. 

“The campaign’s goal was to ensure proper resources to ensure permanent protection of what we have done to date, our mini-vision,” Gajewski said. 

The money will help finance the operations for a few ambassador nature preserves so that families can learn the value of the outdoors, according to Gajewski. 

The funds raised from the campaign also allow Geneseo and the public to continue using the conservancy’s three nature preserves: the John W. Chanler Island Preserve, the Railroad Bed Trail and the Indian Fort Nature Preserve. The Indian Fort Nature Preserve, which is south of Geneseo, contains a ravine that is frequently studied. Remnants of an Iroquois settlement are also located there. 

The conservancy was formed in 1990 by a group of equestrian landowners near Nations Road in Geneseo. The landowners sought to retain their lands’ rural and agrarian character for future family generations. This desire to preserve the land has grown more popular throughout the region as residents work to mitigate the effects of housing and commercial development, according to Gajewski. 

Close to 16,800 acres of land are protected across the region by the Genesee Valley Conservancy, according to Gajewski. The conservancy uses the land trust model, in which landowners abide by a legally binding document that prevents future development and they are given a tax deduction as a result to encourage the preservation of the land. 

“This protects the quality of life of the area and the pastoral views,” professor of biology and Genesee Valley Conservancy board member Gregg Hartvigsen said. If a landowner builds a house, they are legally liable to tear it down, according to federal regulations. 

Students and professors from Geneseo utilize the conservancy’s physical assets for research and study. Hartvigsen forged a memorandum of understanding between the college and the conservancy 15 years ago to allow Geneseo students to study a 404-acre plot of land two miles from campus. Since then the site has attracted people across the nation,  according to Hartvigsen. 

As both a donor and active board member, Hartvigsen believes that the conservancy has an overwhelmingly positive effect. 

“The conservancy is doing the right thing,” Hartvigsen said. “It allows visitors to enjoy the view sheds so they can see the distances across the valley and some of the pastoral views.”

Gajewski is pleased to have cultivated and to have retained such a strong relationship with the college and community. He opens programs such as the yearly Genesee Valley Hunt, the Blue Bell Flower walk and periodic nature information sessions to all. In addition, Gajewski also provides internships to students.

“Our interns and a lot of student groups—like Friends of Recreation, Conservation and Environmental Stewardship—have allowed us to get a lot more work done,” he said. 

Gajewski and Hartvigsen said that the conservancy will be working in the future to add staff positions, to bring the amount of protected land to above 20,000 acres and to continue building relationships with the community. 

“Having a few ambassador nature preserves where families can go and hike trails, get dirty, learn the value of the outdoors—I think that is a really important piece to our future, that we can provide those,” Gajewski said. “Being able to have a nature preserve in each town or school district or something like that would help get the word out but also show people the best practices and demonstrate great things."