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The Heavy Hand of Mohonk

August 4, 2013

Bloggers Planet Wave have been following the story of Mohonk Preserve’s legal battle against Mike Fink and Karen Pardini for years, and now report a positive end to the story in their latest update on the lawsuit.   You can read the entire history and story here. 

Those who use the Mohonk Preserve as their recreational playground don’t realize the toll on neighbors who suffer under the heavy hand of the Preserve.  While living on the sacred “ridge”, and in the shadow the mighty Preserve myself, my small 2.5 acres does not border the Preserve, nor is my property an object of desire to them.  I have personal friends and neighbors however – Charlie and Mary Beth Majestic, Bill Connor, Pauline Alexander, Mike Yukowicz, Bruce and Carol Keeping, Kent Pierce, Charlie Bales , to name a few – who share property lines with the Preserve, and who have felt the heavy hand in many ways over the years.

Below is a copy of a press release from 1965, when the Preserve was created.

Public to Benefit from Land Ownership by Mohonk Trust [Press Release] 11/29/08 4:27 PM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  September 15, 1965


The first moves have been made towards fulfillment of an Imaginative project whereby 6,000 acres of unspoiled woodlands and semi-wilderness in five townships of Ulster County will be protected from development, and will continue to be made available for recreational and educational use by the public. The area involved represents most of the lands west of New Paltz which have been owned by the Smiley family since the 1860’s.

The only part of the Smiley property not included in the scheme is the land immediately surrounding the world-famous resort operated by the family as the Lake Mohonk Mountain House, on a high ridge of the Shawangunks. The resort will still be run as at present, accommodating thousand of Americans and others every year, who seek the exquisite peace and relaxation which this high, secluded – and motorless – haven has offered for so many generations.

The long-range continuance of 6,000 acres of the amenities of Ulster County is to be secured through theoperation of The Mohonk Trust, which was recently founded as a charitable and educational enterprise, with the aims of promoting conservation, enlightened land use, and the preservation of natural beauty. As a parallel aim, the Trust is working for the development of better human relations, not only between Americans, but between them and the peoples of other countries throughout the world, particularly through the medium of Foreign Student Consultations.

As a first step towards translating the conservation ideals into substantial achievement, members of the Smiley family called a meeting this month, sponsored by The Trust, at which they presented an outline of the new plan to a group of prominent local citizens, who in turn profferred their suggestions of steps which The Trust might take to perform to maximum advantage the function it has set itself. Those attending the meeting, in addition to seven members of the Smiley family, were: Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Davenport, General Sherman V. Hasbrouck, and Mrs. Dorothy King Vanderburgh (all of Stone Ridge); Mr. Deyo Johnson, of Ellenville; Mr. Albert Edward Milliken, Mr. Harry Rigby, Jr., Mr. Clair Sheaffer (all of Kingston); Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Tetlow and Mr. Timothy Tetlow, of Alligerville; and Mr. J. C. van Rijn andMr. Benjamin Webster, of Woodstock.

At the outset, Mr. Daniel Smiley, administrator of The Mohonk Trust, explained how in a pilot operation some 500 acres of land shortly to be transferred to The Trust are already being made available for public use on a modest fee basis. The area will be used primarily for rock-climbing, camping, hiking, and other types of outdoor recreation. The Trustees of The Trust do not plan to ask for exemption from land taxes. Many valuable suggestions and proposals were made during a general discussion presided over by Mr. Gerow Smiley. The meeting lasted four hours, with a short interval for lunch. Among matters discussed at length were the following:

1. How best to secure public participation in the activities of The Trust.

2. Sponsorship of national and international assemblies, including educational and recreational visits by foreign students and others.

3. Public use of the land for hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, bird-watching, the study of wild life, scientific research, and many other such activities.

4. Acquisition by The Trust of adjoining lands, either by gift, purchase, or easement, for similar uses by the public.

It was emphasized during the meeting that the proposed uses of the magnificent lands to be owned by The Trust offers an opportunity for profitable enjoyment which must be developed with the utmost skill and care, so that over-use does not produce abuse. Speakers pointed out that every precaution must be taken to ensure that what will amount to “semi-public” ownership leaves the lands unspoiled as a heritage from one generation to another. Further meetings are to beheld to work out details of the conservation operation of The Trust. Experts In the fields of conservation, land-management, taxation, and many other aspects of the new role of The Mohonk Trust property are to be invited to address meetings, all available means are to be used to keep the public informed of developments.

EDITORS: More details, etc., may be obtained from Mrs. Daniel Smiley, Phone:(914) 256-2211 Mohonk Lake, New Paltz, N.Y.

Sounds all warm and fuzzy, no?  Notice the statement in bold (mine) that the Trust did not intend to take the land off the tax rolls.  This was also promised to the surrounding towns, including Gardiner.  However, the trust had a heavy hand in changing NYS law allowing for land trusts with “educational” arms to be eligible for full tax exemption, and the first moment possible, Mohonk land became tax exempt, the goal all along.  Do you think they plan all of those public workshops because they really care about educating the public?

When the Town of Gardiner was enacting their onerous zoning laws and Open space plan a few years ago, representatives of Mohonk Preserve, were loudly vocal in the public hearings to ensure that the law allowed as little development as possible for those who happened to be fortunate enough, or not, to own valuable property on the “ridge” in the shadow of the Preserve.

Today, Mohonk pays a PILOT – payment in lieu of taxes – to the town of Gardiner every year in the paltry sum of $3,500.   Mohonks lawyers are also on the boards of various environmental groups, like theShawangunk Biodiversity Partnership, and use groups like  Friends of the Shawangunk to sue the town ZBA and any property owner who would DARE to try and have legal use of their own property.

The heavy hand may have been dealt a legal blow, but I doubt that it will keep them from their nefarious ways.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 5, 2013 12:08 am

    Wow! Amazing read at Planet Wave on the background of this attempted thievery. I wish Cahill could make Mohonk pay Pardini’s and Fink’s legal fees.

  2. Mike A permalink
    August 6, 2013 10:06 am

    Excellent piece.

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