Conservation group set to expand

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The North Shore Land Alliance, a regional group devoted to environmental conservation, operates in a barn on a protected hundred-acre estate in Old Westbury. Employees and volunteers at the office need only look out the window to see the fruits of their work. 

“Our objective is to protect land,” said Lisa Ott, the president and CEO, as she gazed at the rolling hills. “The most successful way to do that is bottom up with people taking responsibility for what goes on around them.” 

The alliance’s most recent success on that score occurred three weeks ago, when it acquired a seven-acre parcel that connects Oyster Bay’s Upper Francis Pond Preserve to the south with the Shu Swamp Preserve to the north. Another significant achievement took place last spring, when the alliance negotiated a 53-acre conservation easement on Mill River Road in Upper Brookville, which was approved by the village’s Planning Board in April. 

Even the estate on which the NSLA’s barn is located, Groton Place, exemplifies the group’s commitment to conservation advocacy; it was purchased in 1997 by community activists who later helped found the North Shore Land Alliance in 2002. 

Since then, the organization has grown from a volunteer outfit to a staff of nine. It counts 3,000 members, each of whom pay $40 per year in dues, said Ott. “Ninety-nine percent of our funding comes from the community,” she added. On Saturday, Sept. 24, the NSLA held a wine auction at the barn on Groton Place, where attendees celebrated the organization’s work. The fund-raising goal for the event was $20,000, and it brought in $24,000. 

In return for such community support, the NSLA offers opportunities for local residents to learn more about their natural environment. “A big part of what we do is education,” explained Ott.

Alliance members go on monthly nature walks led by knowledgeable guides.  The organization’s lecture series is open to all comers, who can see nature author and photographer Scott Weidensaul on Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Hoffman Center Nature Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary in East Norwich. He will discuss the impact of climate change on bird migration. 

When people learn about the environment, they’re more likely to get involved in protecting it, said Ott. Engaged community members like those form NSLA’s corps of volunteers, who have allowed the organization to expand its services. 

“Each year we work with 200 volunteers who contribute a total of 1,000 hours of work. That saves us a lot of money and time,” said Andrea Millwood, the associate director. “Volunteers have their own niches,” said the internship coordinator, Amanda Furcall. She mentioned some who do weekly trail maintenance and others who prune trees or even care for goats on neighboring parcels. The organization offered a summer internship this year that received 36 applications for four positions, which went to local college students who remain involved in the group. 

Due to recent programming growth, the NSLA will bid farewell to its barn at Groton Place next month. The organization is moving into the Manor House at the Planting Fields Arboretum in Upper Brookville, where employees and volunteers will enjoy a similarly scenic view. 

BY MAX ZAHN

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