I recently received an email from Patty Mondore who writes articles for the Thousand Island Sun newspaper as well as other outdoor magazines. Patty had written an article about the Red Barn Preserve earlier this year and was wanting to obtain an update on what the Gateway Museum has done since the first hiking trail was opened on Memorial Day this year. Her request caused me to think about all the interesting and exciting things the Gateway Museum has done to the Bogardus Farm property since it was bequeathed to the Museum in 2017. I decided to share the story that I passed along to Patty with the readers of this Blog. It is truly an interesting story of how a small museum in upstate New York took an undiscovered piece of property and converted it into a public use facility. It is also a story about reaching out to the community and capturing their interest in this project. And finally it’s a story about wildlife and environmental conservation – and a Rookery of Blue Herons. Here is the information I gave Patty Mondore.
When the Gateway Museum officially took possession of the Bogardus 160 acre farm (it was bequeathed to the museum from a founding member of the museum in 2017) there were concerns by the museum's Board of Trustees about this asset. There were many questions to be answered. What would the museum do with a farm property? Would the cost of ownership drain the coffers of the museum? Should the property be sold? Do we have enough volunteers to do the maintenance work on the property? Is there any way the museum could get a revenue stream from the property?
The property came with significant deed restrictions that basically said the site must remain forever wild. There could be no commercial activities. No logging operations were allowed. The land could not be subdivided.
Armed with these restrictions- and a lack of understanding about what the carrying costs would be- the Board debated long and hard about our next steps. A number of Board members decided that selling the property would be attractive and eliminate the financial risk. Others voiced optimism about possibilities for creating a "public use" facility with work funded by donations and Grants. At the end of discussions - the President of the Board proposed that the property be held for 5 years while efforts be made to explore a long term plan for the site. The motion was approved.
Within a month of the Board decision to keep the property one of the Board Members -Susan Shelato called the Thousand Island land Trust organization (TILT)and asked that they come to the farm. Two representatives appeared and hiked the property with several board members. The visitors were astonished at what they saw. At the rear of the farm was a nesting site for Blue Herons - known as a Rookery. They advised that there are a very few blue heron rookeries in the North Country. They also pointed out that there was an abundance of wildlife everywhere- deer, beaver, rabbits, and fox to name a few. It was amazing to everyone how wild the 160 acres were- one would have thought that a farm would be flat land devoid of trees and ponds. In fact - the "farm" had not been farmed in over 50 years and the owner had used excavation equipment to create four large ponds that occupy over half the site. At the end of the visit the Thousand Island Land Trust made it clear that they would be interested having an easement granted to them to create hiking trails. They further suggested that the Museum try to develop the site and they would offer advise -as needed. Better yet the TILT representatives provided the museum with a suggested hiking trial layout using GPS coordinates from their exploration of the site.
Susan Shelato made several other calls to wildlife experts and invited them to visit the farm. Professor Glenn Johnson from SUNY Potsdam is a wetlands expert and arrived with a friend from the DEC. Both were pleased with what they saw and confirmed to the Museum that the property is truly unique. The next phone call went to Michael Parks. Michael owns his own consulting firm specializing in wetlands and is a recognized expert on Blue Herons and Blue Heron Rookies. While Michael's demeanor is soft spoken and quiet - his smile revealed his enthusiasm for what he saw. He announced to Susan and the other board members- you do indeed have a very special place. He counted over 60 Blue Heron nests. While this visit in the late summer of 2017 was not during the active nesting season- Michael said that the nests were in such great shape he had no doubt - they would be occupied in the Spring of 2018.
As the news spread of how special the Bogardus Farm property was- Museum Board members and volunteers decided to go ahead and brush hog a hiking trail along the route proposed by the Thousand Island Land Trust organization. It was October 2017 and a perfect time to do this work. 300 feet of the proposed trail would require the construction of a boardwalk across a marshy area along a large pond. This could be done in the Spring
In November of 2017 - the Museum went before the Town of Morristown and requested help from the Town Highway Department to build a boardwalk and to construct a parking lot along the access road to the property. Hearing the stories about the Blue Heron Nesting site - the Town Board readily agreed to help. The Town also agreed to allow the Museum to submit an application for a Grant to the St Lawrence County Redevelopment Authority to develop a hiking trail at the site. The Grant was submitted under the Town Of Morristown's name.
On February 10, 2018 a Museum Board member hiked to the back of the Red Barn property and confirmed for the first time that Blue Herons were occupying the nests in the Rookery! The board member counted 40 birds. This observation validated everything the experts had predicted.
In April/May 2018- the Town of Morristown Highway showed up as promised and built a parking lot off the frontage road to the property as well as a 300 foot boardwalk across the marsh land area. On May 26th- the first hiking trail was opened to the public. The trail was a bit rough that required hikers to climb over fallen logs and to negotiate soft spots in wet areas near the ponds. Local hikers from the area were polite when asked about the trail - offering lots of support for the museum volunteers and occasionally some advice on improvements.
In June- a Boy Scout from the largest Boy Scout Troop in the area came forward and requested permission to use the trail and the opportunity to improve the trail as an Eagle Scout project. Eagle Scout projects require a minimum of 100 hours labor and serves to provide the Eagle Scout a chance to show organization and leadership skills. On June 16th -15 scouts, parents and volunteers converged on the Farm site to spend a day bringing the trail up to Boy Scout standards including widening the walking area to six foot wide. The work also included constructing a small bridge made out of logs across a narrow stream and adding mulch to all the soft areas. At the end of the day - the hiking trail was as nice as any trail in the area including the ones in nearby Jacques Cartier State Park.
Late in June the Museum was notified that the Grant was approved. $12,250 was to be provided to improve the property. These funds represented a gold mine to the museum and insured that significant improvements such as signage, kiosks, and improvements to the Red Barn would be paid for. The Grant also funded a second hiking trail that would be built in early 2019.
Word of mouth spread the news about the hiking trail and hikers began to appear daily. The Board approved a resolution to rename the Bogardus Farm- the Morristown Red Barn Preserve. In early August professional designed signage was installed along River Road East in two locations- at the Red Barn entrance and at the parking area adjacent to the trail entrance off River Road East.
Traffic at the Red Barn Museum continued to grow over the summer months. Newspaper articles about the site and friends telling friends brought in daily hikers who were curious about what was going on at this beautiful site. An annual Artist event in Morristown in early August brought 30 artists to the property to paint landscape scenes. The only complaint registered was - where is the port-o- potty ? By the end of August volunteer worker bees proudly install a new outhouse near the boardwalk- complete with half moon door design.
Volunteers continued to make improvements. Using the Grant money- a kiosk was installed near the Red Barn, a new water pump installed to provide water to the farm house, red barn and garden and weathered siding on the south side of the barn was replaced and painted.
By now the buzz about the Red Barn Preserve was getting louder and louder. Donations to the Museum began to appear with specific notes directing monies to be spent at the Preserve. A common request was to buy and install Park Benches. In early September - eight concrete park benches were purchased. Five were installed immediately along the trail and three were put in storage to be used on the second hiking trail. The community was truly inspired by work going on at the Red Barn Preserve. The museum also noticed little things like some of the neighbors across the street from the farm mowed not only their own lawns but they also would cross River Road East and mow the shoulder of the road along the Red Barn property. Can it get any better than this?
The answer is yes it can. In early September a resident of Morristown approached the Museum and asked if they could fund the renovation work on the farm house. This stunning development caught the museum by surprise. The farm house renovation work had been planned in the later years of the museums 5 year plan. The Board of Trustees met shortly after the offer was made and approved this request. Work started in the Fall and was shut down for the winter in late November. It is expected that the renovation will be substantially completed by the Fall of 2019.
More good news was received when Dr Jessica Rogers From SUNY Potsdam attended one of our museum board meetings to ask permission from the museum to conduct a two year study of invasive plants at the Red Barn Preserve. While we were not thrilled to learn that we had purple loosestrife plants invading our wetlands and strangling our cattails- we were inspired by Jessica's presentation on how there may be ways to slow this activity down and even stop it. Dr Rogers further volunteered to have her interns help our volunteers to identify and label plant species along our trails. The Board is committed to environmental conservation and quickly approved the request to study purple loosestrife.
Looking ahead to 2019- the museum is planning to build a second hiking trail by Memorial Day. The trail will be level and cross through a second pond on the property. A second 300 foot boardwalk will be built to cross the marsh land area. The trail will also be constructed closer to the Blue Heron Rookery. An observation deck will be constructed to provide better views of our majestic birds as well as views of the beaver dams on the property. The last leg of the trail will pass through a wooded area. It is expected that this new trail will be 3/4 of a mile long.
Another activity planned at the Preserve is the planting of a garden near the beginning of Hiking Trail #1- not just any garden. The Museum has obtained and will plant Atlantic Giant Pumpkin seeds and attempt to grow a 500 pound pumpkin ! One of the museum volunteers has grown 300 pound pumpkins in the past- so we are hoping it is not too big a stretch to grow a 500 pound monster.
Should the museum be successful securing another Grant- the Red Barn will be improved by painting the roof with aluminum paint and a new stone wall will be built to replace the stone wall that is falling apart along River Road East.
Its been a little more and 18 months since the Red Barn Preserve was acquired by the Gateway Museum. No one could have predicted how well the development of this site and its hiking trails occurred. The discovery of the Blue Heron Rookery was the driver for this project. It drove the energy and enthusiasm for the Board and volunteers. This in turn created excitement in the community. The excitement of the community funded Grants and caused citizens to step up to support the plan.
The museum began with asking questions about what to do with a 160 acre farm. 18 months later we answered that question and look forward to continuing this journey
December 10, 2018