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Bethlehem town supervisor celebrates $195,000 grant to buy forestland in Selkirk

Future Community Forest in Selkirk
Lauren Chiyoko Axford
Town of Bethlehem
Future Community Forest in Selkirk

The Albany County town of Bethlehem has landed a Community Forest Grant to protect 68 acres in Selkirk.  

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation awarded more than $1 million in Community Forest Conservation grants to four Capital Region, Hudson Valley and Long Island towns. Democratic Town Supervisor David VanLuven says Bethlehem's $195,000 share will designate 68 acres, described as "about 80% woodlands and 20% fields," as a "community forest," safeguarded against future development.

"You can do a lot with a modest amount of money," said VanLuven. "Personally, for the town of Bethlehem $195,000 is a lot of money. And we're, we're thrilled that Governor Hochul and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation chose Bethlehem, one of just four communities in eastern New York to receive a community forest grant. The town match on that will be about $52,000. And with those funds, we will be purchasing 68 acres of forests and fields from two wonderful landowners, two folks who own one parcel in our hamlet of Selkirk."

VanLuven says the matching funds will be drawn from the town's Farms & Forests Fund. He says the "conservation partnership" was born early this year when two landowners approached the town’s Farms & Forests Conservation Program expressing interest in selling property near the intersection of Maple Ave and Beaver Dam Road for conservation purposes. Their goal was to ensure that the fields and woodlands would remain undeveloped in perpetuity. It was a natural fit for VanLuven: under his watch Bethlehem has protected 559 acres of open spaces and farmlands in the past six years, and VanLuven says the new acquisition boosts the total to 627 acres.

“And to me, it shows that our community is committed to save suburban neighborhoods, to vibrant commercial areas," VanLuven said. "But we're also committed to having farms and forests as part of our town landscape. And it's not just something that we talk about. It's easy to talk, talk talk about the importance of green spaces in a community. But if you actually want to have them in perpetuity, you have to step up, you have to pay for them. And that is something that the town of Bethlehem has committed to doing. Our residents have supported it overwhelmingly. And I think it shows that we're a community that just doesn't talk about things that we'd like, but we're actually willing to put in the work and put in the resources to make it happen.”

VanLuven envisions the parcel will offer public access, and like Albany's Pine Bush, will eventually include walking trails. He doesn't expect a lengthy process: “My guess is that, that we'll get the legal paperwork for the grant probably in the next few months. And then we'll work with the landowners as quickly as possible to move to a closing. So my guess is that we'll probably be doing a ribbon cutting on the property sometime later this spring,” said VanLuven 

VanLuven says the project underscores Bethlehem's commitment to having farms and forest preserves as part of the permanent town landscape.

In November 2022 voters gave the town the green light to spend nearly $3 million dollars to acquire the 300-acre Heath's Dairy Farm on the northeast corner of Route 9W and Wemple Road. The once-bustling farm dated back to the 1920s and the land itself had been farmed for nearly 250 years. VanLuven says there’s an update on that project too:

"So we have put together an amazing committee Advisory Committee, nine residents who bring in a wide range of perspectives and experience. And over the course of the next year, they're going to be working through the great input we got from the community last spring and over the summer through our storyboard process, and there'll be interpreting this, this huge spectrum of opportunity into a more focused vision and path for achieving it both in the short term and long term. So it's, it's a process that everyone is welcome to participate in, watch come to the meetings, which will be monthly, roughly. But that's just getting kicked off now," VanLuven said.


Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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