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Seven Days to Conserve the World: Wilderness Island and the Paths of Mianus

Can you...

Can you point out any of the following objects in the picture at left?

1) The United Nations headquarters 2) River dam 3) Office building 4) Grocery store 5) Playground

The waterfall in the picture is just one of the many pristine natural wonders at the Mianus River Gorge in eastern New York State. You cannot tell by looking at it, but years ago this site was considered one of the UN's top choices for its international headquarters. It has also been the prime target of public dam building projects and real-estate developers.

Today, it is forty-five degrees, and as I walk the "ready-for-spring" paths around the Mianus River Gorge, I find myself breathing a little deeper and walking a little slower. I am only fifty miles away from New York City, but the short step from the city's concrete sidewalks to these soft, mulchy paths makes a world of difference.


It is rainy, and every time I reach a bend in the trail to see that it has been washed away by an overflowing stream, I am reminded that I am not supposed to be here. It is only barely April, and the paths of Mianus are not yet open for the season. No one is permitted on these trails, but some helpful friends in the area have made a special exception for the purposes of our trek.

At this time of year on the paths of Mianus, you can take photos of glowing-green moss covered rocks, three-century-old hemlock trees that tower and sway overhead, or maybe even a waterfall or two. But, you will NOT be able to take photos of any of the objects I listed above. Due to the awareness and determination of a small group of Connecticut conservationists and the help of the Nature Conservancy, the paths of the Mianus River Gorge have been protected from development and will stay moss-covered and hemlock-lined for years to come.

The largest private system of natural sanctuaries in the world protects and conserves the unspoiled remnants of our natural history -->
Since the UN was dissuaded from settling in the area, the Connecticut residents who were first concerned about the gorge joined with their New York neighbors to protect their haven of natural treasures. When the Greenwich Water Company proposed to build a dam in the area, the residents were already prepared with a list of environmental experts who verified that the area's 524 species of plants and animals made it a natural museum of the Northeastern ecosystem.


FoodTrek.org...imagine the possibilities!

The success the group had against the water company could not prepare them for what was to happen on Christmas Eve, 1954. While they were decorating their Christmas tree, Gloria and Anthony Anabele heard a knock on their door. The gentlemen waiting at the threshold to their home delivered a letter announcing that the owner of the gorge had prepared to sell it to a private real-estate developer. According to the letter, the Anabeles and their small group of conservationists would have until New Year's Day to come up with the necessary money to purchase the land themselves.

In the rainy Mianus off-season, our trek guide needs to resort to some creative trail blazing

Christmas tree decorating was immediately abandoned. The thought of losing the land to chainsaws and bulldozers was entirely too imminent and real. In the next seven days, the conservation group frantically organized a local fundraising campaign and pledged their life insurance policies in order to amass the funds necessary for a down payment. They composed a payment contract for the remaining price of the land and had it in the landowner's mailbox by the deadline of 8:00 A.M. on January 1, 1955.

In the contract, the group had agreed to collect the entire price of the Mianus River Gorge within six months. It was during those six months that they applied for financial assistance from the Nature Conservancy. At the time, the newly created Nature Conservancy was already resolved to save threatened natural environments through the "direct action" of land purchase. By acquiring endangered lands, the organization believed it could preserve plants, animals, and the natural diversity of life on earth.

Not 'fowl', 'FOAL'!  You know, baby horses

The Nature Conservancy agreed to help the group of unlikely conservationists, and the Mianus River Gorge became the organization's first land acquisition. Since its first success with Mianus, the Nature Conservancy has become "a revolution...an evolution of human beings in relation to the land," according to writer and Conservancy advisor, Terry Williams. It now heads the largest private system of natural sanctuaries in the world!

Is there a pill Stephen can take to stop cart wheeling?

With the help of the Nature Conservancy, lands like those of the Mianus River Gorge are now considered "living museums". The distinct flora and fauna of the Mianus River Gorge (a.k.a. Wilderness Island), in particular, became the US's first Natural History Landmark in the 60's. While it is still a mystery, that such an oasis of natural beauty exists so close to New York City, the flora and fauna there will continue to survive as a remnant of an unspoiled, undeveloped America.

I don't know, folks, the path looks a little flooded to me

Keep in mind that this leg of the environmental movement started out as a small group of community members who did not like how their neighborhood was changing. They were not experts. They were not wealthy. They were not even active conservationists. They just saw something they did not like, organized themselves, and changed it. In so doing, they created a legacy for environmental conservation and now hope to inspire newcomers to the field.

The Nature Conservancy has preservation projects all over the world. You can volunteer with them in your own state by just clicking on their website. Volunteer for nature, get involved with these projects, and understand the places where, writer Terry Williams says, "human history and natural history converge".


Please email me at: stephen@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - Your life is in danger if your neighbor is a toxic dump
Rebecca - "I survived a nuclear meltdown...I think"
Nick - Two years in a tree can make you a believer, and change the world
Making A Difference - Save the world, Superhero! It's going down faster than a speeding bullet
Stephen - How many Styrofoam cups does it take to kill off all the animals in the world?