The story of the Harlem Valley Appalachian Trail Designation is one of bipartisanship, hard work, and involved individuals with profound social consciences. What does it mean that the Harlem Valley (which denotes, in this case, Pawling and Dover) is an A.T. Community? It means that we join an elite 30-Trails Community that enjoys the distinction of “protecting and promoting the Appalachian Trail.”
The Designation Ceremony, which took place Saturday, June 15th at Native Landscapes, saw a large and enthusiastic turnout. Denizens of Dover, Pawling, and of Dutchess County as a whole came to celebrate the designation – an honor that necessitated a year-long “whirlwind of activity,” according to Pawling Town Supervisor David Kelly.
Kelly and Dover Town Supervisor Ryan Courtien, along with a slew of other politicians, activists, organizations, and individuals, went through a laborious process to receive the sought-after title. This designation is a harbinger of a myriad other benefits, be they environmental, educational, economic, touristic, or cultural.
Before the ceremony began, attendees could peruse a lane of tents set up by various organizations invested in the wellbeing of the A.T.. Among those present were the NYS Bluebird Society (which believes that the bird population is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem), FrOGS or Friends of the Great Swamp (which recently discovered a new species of Leopard frog), Mizzentop Day School (which conducts hands-on middle school science courses in and around the A.T.), and the Quaker Hill Civic Association (which feels that preserving open spaces is advantageous for real estate).
The Ceremony kicked off with a performance of “This Land is Your Land” by Jay Erickson and everyone else present, as the whole audience eagerly joined in. The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts then proceeded with the Presentation of Colors, parading their flags through the beautiful grounds of Native Landscapes. After this, Regional Director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy – and the event’s emcee – Karen Lutz, welcomed the attendees and reminded everyone that, “both blazing left-wing liberals, and staunch right-wing conservatives” have come together in the past over their mutual “passion about the A.T..”
A series of other speakers followed, including: National Parks Service Superintendant Wendy Janssen, Pawling Town Supervisor David Kelly, Dover Town Supervisor Ryan Courtien, U. S. Congressman Chris Gibson, Director of Dutchess County Tourism Mary Kay Vrba, Senior Lands Project Manager of the Dutchess County Land Conservancy Karin Roux, and Executive Director of the NY-NJ Trail Conference Ed Goodell. The overwhelming theme was one of deep gratitude, as lists of thank-yous dominated the speeches. As Congressman Gibson pointed out, “It took a lot to do this – so much that we couldn’t list it all.”
For Congressman Gibson, attending this event was so much more than a political obligation. He recalled his days in the military, during which he spent much time on the Trail. He says he will never forget the “awe-inspiring beauty.” The designation was also of personal importance to Supervisor Courtien, who brought his adorable daughter Mackenzie with him to the podium (on his shoulders). He implored the audience to “involve kids [with nature] while they’re young, so that when they get older, it’s not a new experience for them. It’s just a part of their life.” The other speakers had personal stakes in the Trail, too: Supervisor Kelly had a ’71-’74 logbook from his family’s store signed by A.T. hikers; for Mary Kay Vrba the A.T. has been “a part of my being since I came to the East Coast,” as she dined with many trail hikers while she lived in Murrow Park.
It was a touching moment when Karen Lutz, David Kelly, and Ryan Courtien read the official proclamation of the designation together. The crowd cheered as two, shiny new signs declaring the Harlem Valley as an A.T. Community were presented. Pawling and Dover will now go down in history as promoters and protectors of what Superintendant Janssen calls “a national treasure of cultural and natural resources.”
The Ceremony could not have enjoyed better weather, even though its location was changed at the last minute due to flooding. As many speakers pointed it out, it was thanks to the hard work of Stancy DuHamel, Pete Murowski, and their committee that the Ceremony ran so smoothly.
This loveable team of concerned citizens and politicians achieved a truly great honor for Pawling and Dover this summer. With genuine support from the community, the Appalachian Trail Designation Ceremony was a grand success – and hopefully the beginning of a bright (green!) future for the Harlem Valley Appalachian Trail Community.