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TrekEast Blog 50: Shawangunk Ridge, NY

Climbing a Lifeline for Raptors and Climbers

End of July 2011

Photos by Philip Lacinak 

New York’s Shawangunks are world-famous for their hard rock climbing.  They are also critical habitat or migration routes for hawks, eagles, falcons, bobcats, bears, gray foxes, rare plants, unique vegetation communities, and a future restored population of cougars.

With almost startling success, given the nearness of huge population centers, conservationists have already pieced together nearly 40,000 acres of mostly continuous wildlife habitat and sublime scenery on the Shawangunk Ridge, and are striving mightily to keep the Shawangunk forests connected to the Catskill forests northward.  Leaders in these habitat connection efforts include the Open Space Institute, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Mohonk Preserve, and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.  Beneficiaries include the many raptors that yearly ride the thermals above the Shawangunk/Kittitinny Ridge southward in autumn and northward in spring. 

The Shawangunk Ridge is really a northward extension of an immense and ecologically critical ridge that stretches south through Pennsylvania as the Kittittinny Ridge then farther still as West Virginia’s North Fork Mountain and on into North Carolina as the Blue Ridge.  The geology may not be entirely continuous, but the ecology once was and should be again, as we restore an Eastern Wildway.  Fronting this great ridge system is an equally important valley system, which OSI friends are calling the Great Valley.  Much of this is heavily developed, unfortunately, but if partially restored it might allow species a gentler route north from the Southern Appalachian valleys in Georgia through the Champlain Valley of New York and Vermont.

These are the sorts of dreams shared with me by conservation friends in the Shawangunks, in my too-brief visit there.  With only a couple days to hike, boulder, and scramble, I pressed my guides – Cara Lee of TNC, Gretchen Reed of Mohonk Preserve, Patty Parmelo of Save the Ridge, Nadia Steinzor of Earthworks, and Chris Spatz of Cougar Rewilding Foundation – for clues on how my own home, the Adirondacks, might be ecologically reunited with other New York and New England wildlands, particularly the Catskills, Shawangunks, Taconic and Green Mountains, and Rensellaer Plateau.

As with other regions, river corridors emerge as key connectors, and the cougar as a focal species by which to evaluate the success of our efforts.  Presently, Mohonk Preserve is spending large amounts of money to build fenced deer exclosures, where trees and herbs that are being browsed away elsewhere can regenerate.  How much better, cheaper, and more natural to restore our top cat, the cougar or panther, in populations spanning and enriching the Eastern Wildway.

How You Can Help: 

  • Support OSI and TNC and regional land trusts in their land conservation efforts. If you live in New York, tell your elected officials you want a large and fully funded Environmental Protection Fund to help conserve imperiled wildlands and the connections between them. 
  • If you live in the East, support restoration of the cougar. 
  • If you live in America, support efforts to make our transportation system less deadly to wildlife and people and more permeable to animal movement.

For the Wild,


A special note of thanks to Philip Lacinak, Wildlands Network’s accomplished volunteer and contract still and video photographer for joining me on this adventure.  

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