Monday, May 30, 2011

WWPP Update and Chat with the Executive Director

One of the great things about living in the Saratoga / Glens Falls region is the easy access to outdoor recreation. The Adirondacks are just stone's throw away, but there are some amazing outdoor resources literally out the back door. If you live in or near Saratoga and don't already know about the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park, its outdoor recreation opportunities and interesting ecology, you need to get introduced. The lupine is in bloom and the first hatch of Karner blue butterflies are emerging, so now is a great time to visit.

WWPP has been featured in several news stories recently, including pieces in The Saratogian and the Times Union about the restored fire tower that was dedicated recently, and a pair of pieces I wrote for Spirit of Saratoga (a monthly magazine published by The Saratogian) last month. The Spirit of Saratoga pieces don't link well, so they're reprinted below:

Oasis for Butterflies, Wildlife, People

Many area residents are familiar with the Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park for its recreational opportunities, but some may not realize that those protected lands and open spaces owe their existence to the presence of a small, but strikingly beautiful, endangered butterfly. The Karner blue butterfly once inhabited a broad geographic range from Maine to Minnesota and north into Canada, but now exists in just a few locations in the northeast. In the mid-1990s, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Town of Wilton partnered to form the Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park (WWPP) with the goal of not only preserving habitat for the Karner blue butterfly, but also providing recreational and educational opportunities for people. Since that time, approximately 2400 acres of land has been protected with 14 miles of trails for recreational use, and WWPP now supports the largest population of Karner blues in the northeast.

Executive Director Margo Bloom Olson described the Karner blue’s dependence on the unique habitat protected by WWPP: “The lands protected by WWPP are part of the Saratoga Sandplains, and are characterized by large open areas of native grasses and wildflowers with scattered trees, mainly pitch pine and oak. The sandy soils and open areas support wild blue lupine, the Karner blue larvae’s sole food source.”

Historically, fire played an important role in the Saratoga Sandplains by maintaining the sunny openings and the grasses and wildflowers they support, including blue lupine. But development pressure and fire suppression practices in the 20th century resulted in a loss of much of this habitat, threatening the existence of the animal species such as the Karner blue butterfly that depend on it. WWPP, working through its partners, has stepped in to fill the role that wildfire once played by actively restoring and maintaining the characteristic habitat of the Saratoga Sandplains. Suitable sandy upland areas are identified, cleared and then re-planted with native grasses, wildflowers and nectar species that support the Karner blue. More than 130 acres throughout the parcels that make up WWPP have been restored to this habitat, including lands recently cleared at Camp Saratoga which will be re-planted this spring.

The Saratoga Sandplains are also characterized by seasonal wetlands known as vernal pools, and these areas support other important species such as the endangered Blanding’s turtle. The turtles live in vernal pools and wetlands, but they rely on open, sandy areas for nesting and laying their eggs. The habitat restoration work that was originally undertaken for the Karner blues has ended up encouraging diversity and benefiting an entire suite of other important and endangered animals including the Blanding’s turtle, eastern spadefoot toad, eastern hognose snake, blue-spotted salamander and the frosted elfin butterfly.

Olson summed up WWPP’s mission and the importance of the Karner blue: “It took the butterfly to be the catalyst for protecting the land, but that protection provides lots of benefit to people as well. WWPP provides an important place for people to recreate, interact with, and learn about nature. There’s plenty of challenge ahead, but when you consider how far the organization has come in just 15 years, it is a real testament to the dedication of the partner organizations, the volunteers, and the community.”

A Chat with Margo Bloom Olson, WWPP Executive Director

Margo Bloom Olson was appointed as the Executive Director of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park in November, 2010, and I recently had the opportunity to talk with her about her background and the challenges and opportunities facing WWPP.

Jeff – There’s been a lot going on at WWPP over the past several months since you were appointed Executive Director. Could you fill us in some of these developments?

Margo – We just completed the acquisition of another parcel of land in February, bringing our total protected lands up to around 2400 acres. Besides providing an important link between parcels that have already been protected, the new acquisition provides acreage that is suitable for restoration to habitat that supports the Karner blue butterfly and other important species.

And speaking of habitat restoration, we’re finishing up a major restoration project at Camp Saratoga. Lands were cleared there last fall, and will be replanted with native grasses and nectar species this spring.

We’re also excited about the restoration and relocation of an historic fire tower to the Camp Saratoga parcel. The fire tower presents us with some interesting interpretational and educational opportunities, and there will be a dedication ceremony later this spring. These projects were all underway before my arrival at WWPP in November, but it’s exciting to see them coming to fruition.

Jeff – What brought you to WWPP?

Margo – My background is in environmental education, first as an Interpretive Ranger at Grand Canyon and King’s Canyon / Sequoia National Parks, and then later in positions with the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar, the Junior Museum in Troy, and the State Museum in Albany. After taking some time out of the workforce to raise three kids, and then a part-time position at Skidmore, WWPP represented an opportunity to return to the field of environmental education.

Jeff – What do you see as the major challenges and opportunities facing WWPP?

Margo – Whew! I’ll start with the opportunities. First, WWPP represents a wonderful partnership between the Town of Wilton, Saratoga County, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and The Nature Conservancy. These organizations all come together under the umbrella of the WWPP with their own missions and priorities, but also with their own technical expertise, funding and other resources. It’s a real collaborative effort and that partnership has been very successful. The partnership model, our dedicated volunteers and strong community support represent exciting opportunities for WWPP.

I’m also excited about the importance of educational programming in WWPP’s mission. We work in the local elementary schools and with various children’s groups, and the opportunity to have that impact on young people is exciting.

As for challenges, like most non-profit organizations our biggest challenges are in fundraising and building constituency and awareness. But once people see what a wonderful resource they have here in their backyards, the other pieces fall into place. The community understands that WWPP is both a preserve for nature and a park for people.

photo credits: WWPP

Link to Spirit of Saratoga articles

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