Words like “green” and “sustainable” have been ubiquitous in our society for years, and most people are fairly comfortable using these words in daily conversation. Throw in a newer phrase like “open space,” and the exact meaning is not as easy to conjure up. To those who live in an urban environment, open space could mean a man-made park, rooftop deck, or a vacant lot; any quiet place where the mind and body have a moment to rest and regroup from the hectic pace of everyday life. But to those of us in the Thousand Islands region, surrounded by vast areas of natural beauty on a daily basis, open space can be harder to define.
I’m a recent transplant to the North Country. I grew up in rural Maine with “back-to-the-land” parents, so naturally I couldn’t wait to move to the big city the first chance I got! After a number of years living in Brooklyn, working as a graphic designer in a tiny cubicle, I began to long for the great wide open spaces of my childhood.
I took courses in horticulture and permaculture and started planning my escape to greener pastures. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) had been vacationing in the Thousand Islands since he was young, and thought I would like the region, so in 2008 I made my first trip.
Needless to say, I immediately fell in love with the area and all that it had to offer. Besides the breathtaking scenery, the fact that we could go hiking, fishing, boating and exploring in untouched nature any time we wanted was a major draw. We moved up in March of 2010 and soon after bought a house on Hyde Lake in Theresa.
In March of this year I began working for the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT), as the Coordinator of Education and Outreach. Among other things, this role puts me in charge of the wonderful TILTreks & Talks and KidsTreks programs that TILT offers free-of-charge. Actually, it was volunteering for a TILTrek that got me involved in the organization in the first place; last year I helped to install the nesting grid for the Common Tern on Eagle Wing Shoals. That installation happens every year, along with hiking, biking, birding, kayaking and kid-centric treks that invite people to experience what is really “open space” – the beautiful areas of the Thousand Islands, including land conserved by TILT.
The simplest definition of open space is undeveloped land available for community use.
Although your backyard may offer you ample room to spread out for a family dinner on the patio, the option to drive, bike or walk to a nearby hiking trail, sandy beach or nature preserve is an important part of life along the River. And why is it so important? Besides preserving wildlife habitats, open space also results in positive benefits to people. One benefit is good health, from both the physical recreation and mental relaxation provided by access to the land. Another benefit is the boost to the local economy; a variety of outdoor options entices visitors to stay longer, therefore bringing more business to the area. These options may even convince someone to relocate to the Thousand Islands permanently!
TILT conserves over 8000 acres that was either donated to TILT by people who wished to preserve the special characteristics of that land for the benefit of future generations, or acres acquired through grants or generous monetary donations for the same purpose. Being introduced to the conserved land that TILT owns is what initially sparked my interest in the idea of open space in a rural setting. Here is an organization that offers miles of hiking trails, scenic waterways and wildlife habitats that are open to the public, and still there is a large part of the local community who don’t know that this is being offered to them!
I read a book recently by Richard Louv called Last Child in the Woods, in which the author argues that kids are growing up more and more detached from the natural world around them, a condition the author unscientifically coined “nature deficit disorder.” While there is no getting rid of modern technology (and there are many arguments in favor of this technology, especially in terms of helping kids stay competitive in a changing world), the problem occurs when there is too strong of an imbalance between time spent in front of the computer and time spent out in nature. A lot of kids in the North Country are involved in sports, which do result in outside exercise. But unstructured play in the great outdoors is equally important, since it gives kids the space to explore and experience the natural world at their own pace.
Better yet, get the whole family out of the house! Visit the only naturally-occurring sandy beach in the Thousand Islands: TILT-owned Potter’s Beach, located on Grindstone Island, which has been a favorite summertime spot for generations. . . Or take a hike on one of TILT’s trails: The Macsherry Trail in Hammond offers gorgeous vistas of the Crooked Creek Preserve and up-close looks at enormous boulders left by long-ago glacial movement; the Grindstone Island Nature Trail winds its way from state-owned Canoe Point to Picnic Point on the 4th largest island in the Thousand Islands; the multi-use Sissy Danforth Rivergate Trail was created from the old New York Central/Penn Central Railroad bed in Clayton, Orleans, Theresa, Redwood and Philadelphia; and the newly opened LoisJean and John MacFarlane Trail is an easy 1-½ mile walk around the fields of Zenda Farm Preserve, right outside of Clayton. The best part about experiencing nature as a family is that it costs you little or nothing. Just park the car, pack a lunch and explore the open space that is all around you.
These are only a few examples of the sort of open space that drew me to the region. I know that each person who lives in this area, whether summer resident or year-round local, has their favorite outdoor location(s) that they visit every chance they get. That’s an important part of living in the Thousand Islands; never letting the everyday beauty of the area go unnoticed, and remembering that it’s up to all of us to preserve the open spaces that exist now, so that they will always be available for future generations to discover, and rediscover in years to come.
TILT offers multiple opportunities for you to battle “nature deficit disorder” by living in, learning from and conserving the open spaces of the Thousand Islands this summer. From bike and kayak treks, to a Family Day on the Rivergate Trail to our always popular KidsTreks, there is something for everyone. For more information and a full schedule of events, call TILT at 686-5345 or visit the website, www.tilandtrust.org. Hope to see you outside this summer!
By Corinne Mockler
Corinne is responsible for developing and managing the TILTreks & Talks program, as well as community outreach and development. She grew up in rural Maine and earned her BFA in advertising and graphic design from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She has also taken classes in horticulture from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. She earned a Permaculture Design Certificate from the NY Open Center. It was the basic theory of Permaculture that really hit home for Corinne: “Care of People. Care of Planet. Return of Surplus to Both.” Although only completing her first month at TILT, she has already helped design programs that will allow many to enjoy those special places in the Thousand Islands that we call, Open Space.