Earle Peterson of Cooperstown, N.Y., drives through his conserved property in Burlington, N.Y., on May 23, 2015. Peterson’s 1200 acres, dubbed Greenwoods Conservancy, is conserved through Otsego Land Trust, which recently celebrated 10,000 acres conserved.

Resting on the northern edge of the Appalachian plateau—just outside of Cooperstown, New York—are the 1,200 acres of land that make up The Greenwoods Conservancy. Earle Peterson, owner of the property, works with the Otsego Land Trust to permanently preserve the land through conservation easement. In addition to ensuring that the land remains undeveloped, it will serve as an educational, visual and environmental resource for the surrounding community, as well as a place protect the valued plants and wildlife that are indigenous to central New York.

A beaver swims across a pond at Greenwoods Conservancy on May 23, 2015. Peterson keeps a beaver dam small to avoid flooding cranberry bog. “We’re trying to keep a balance so the unique plants can survive,” Peterson said. “If the beavers flood it, it’s over.”

The seven conservation easements that make up the conservancy were obtained over time, with the first purchase in 1993 and the final plot added in 2001. “Earle has what we at Otsego Land Trust call a ‘conservation heart,’” explained Virginia Kennedy, Executive Director of the Otsego Land Trust. “Meaning that the desire to protect land and water lives inside him at the very heart of who he is. Protecting the lands of The Greenwoods Conservancy meant protecting a place that is both special for and necessary to, not just Earle, but the whole community who benefits when lands like the lands of Greenwoods are conserved.”

Earle Peterson stands on a dock facing Cranberry Bog, a pristine 70-acre wetland Greenwoods Conservancy, on May 23, 2015. “Otter, beaver, lots of ducks. We see bald and golden eagles. They do not nest here but they’re regular visitors. Osprey fish here a lot,” Peterson said.

Powerlines were built through Greenwoods Conservancy in the 1980s.

Spruce trees start to crowd a cabin that is used for summer housing for graduate students at Greenwoods Conservancy on May 23, 2015. “It used to be great to sit on the deck here and swing in the late afternoon with a beer in your hand.”

A diverse array of landscapes make up the conservancy: from a high elevation cranberry bog that provides habitat for many rare wetland species, to a sustainably managed forest for timber products, to meadows that are maintained for bird habitat and used by SUNY Oneonta for research and education. Conserving all of the land has taken a great deal of time, but to Peterson, it is all worth it in the name of conservation. “I told my wife [when we got married], ‘You have to understand that I have a mistress, and her name is Mother Nature. And like most mistresses, she’s very expensive,’” Peterson said.

An eastern painted turtle stops on a road through Greenwoods Conservancy. Turtles often lay their eggs near the roadside, next to a pond.

Wild turkeys roam at Greenwoods Conservancy on May 23, 2015.

Canada geese raise goslings in a pond at Greenwoods Conservancy on May 23, 2015.

Cranberry Bog’s isolation and altitude make it ideal for research, which is carried out regularly by the SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station. “Because of the elevation this is much more similar to a bog that you’d find in Quebec, or perhaps northern Maine,” Peterson said.

A heron flies above a large floating sphagnum mat that covers part of Cranberry Bog.

A fern grows in the woods at Greenwoods Conservancy.

Earle Peterson follows a trail leading away from Cranberry Bog at Greenwoods Conservancy in Burlington, N.Y., on May 23, 2015. Though there is no unattended public access at Greenwoods, several times a year the public can take advantage of docent-led walks or visits by sanctioned hiking groups.

This is the final installment in a series of three profiles of property owners that are protecting their land through the Otsego Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the natural heritage of woodlands, farmlands and waters that sustain rural communities, promote public health, support wildlife diversity and inspire the human spirit.

Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente



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