From Farm to Forest
The Journey of the New Land Trust
In the shadows of Lyon Mountain, amongst a forest of balsam, maple and birch, the New Land Trust’s web of trails sprawls over 281 acres of reclaimed farmland atop rolling hills. The land, once used to raise livestock and crops, is now harvested in a different way.
The New Land Trust was born from a back-to-the-land movement that swept the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Its founders, graduates from SUNY Plattsburgh, rejected the common trajectory of people in America at the time: one of white picket fences and the comforts of suburbia.
Their inspiration stemmed from the Mohawk occupation at Moss Lake in 1974 and their subsequent creation of the Turtle Island Trust, a manifesto declaring autonomy and self-reliance.
Brian Turner, the same lawyer who worked on behalf of the Mohawks, wrote a similar manifesto for the young graduates, who had recently purchased the land below Lyon Mountain for a little over $100 per acre. In 1977, the New Land Trust was born.
In the Trust’s early days, the trustees sought to create, as they put it, “an experiment in cooperative land management” that emphasized a respect for nature and a sense of freedom to live as they chose. Residing in an old barn, the trustees began to live out their idea, whatever it would turn out to be.
“We never had a clear goal,” said Hal Moore, one of the founders. “It was hard to define to people what we were doing. It also allowed us to do differently. We weren’t stuck in a category but we didn’t always know where we were going either.”
Saranac residents had their reservations in the beginning. Moore recalled locals thinking of the trustees as “the dirty hippies that were going to grow pot.” As the Trust matured, the relationship with locals has solidified.
“As I’ve lived here, people have told me as much: ‘We were afraid of you when you first moved here!’ As we were of them,” Moore said.
Moore, owner of Saranac Hollow Woodworking, has remained in the area. Over the years, his mindset changed.
“Personally, when we first bought this, we sort of thought of this (the NLT) as our community. For me, my idea of community has broadened to a larger area and that is sort of in keeping with inviting the public here and sharing what this is, and what a special place it is.”
As the years went by, and after most members drifted away to settle elsewhere, the Trust started to shift towards a more public identity. In the 2000s, the Trust assumed a new role and welcomed the public in.
“People gradually moved away and it sort of evolved into a not-for-profit, and we didn’t have a real focused agenda,” said Moore. “Then the whole idea of inviting the public in and setting up trails and letting people appreciate what was here evolved into what it is today.”
The Trust is publicly funded by the community. Monetary donations are taken directly, but they also have an account at Play It Again Sports in Plattsburgh where donors can sell used gear and have the proceeds sent to the Trust.
Moore is convinced that the New Land Trust offers a personality unlike that of other public lands. With signs, benches, outhouses and lean-tos built by volunteers of the community, Moore’s conviction rings true. By bringing the community in and allowing them to be a part of the experiment, the Trust has demonstrated to the public what a connection to the land means.
“In the Adirondacks, there’s lots of public land. I think people feel more connected to this because it’s in their town, it’s developed enough that it has trails, some outhouses and a place to warm up. It’s more personal,” Moore said.
The Trust is busiest in the winter. Lyon Mountain and the surrounding area receive a lot of snow compared to the rest of the park, making the Trust a haven for cross country skiers and snowshoers.
“Where there’s snow nowhere else, there’s usually snow here,” Moore said.
The back-to-the-land movement, which fostered the conception of the NLT, has forged on. Moore has seen young people step up, and he finds joy in their desire to do things the right way.
“There’s a new generation of small farmers and people moving back to rural areas and it’s sort of inspiring for us to see that coming around again … and (they’re) doing things that we didn’t quite know how to do … something we aspired to is actually coming true all these years later.”
The Trust lends itself to education, which is one of its core values as outlined in its bylaws. Saranac School District has partnered with the Trust and the DEC to record and view wildlife with game cameras as a school project. Scout Troops have built two bridges and a lean-to on the property, and every fall the Trust hosts weekend volunteer projects and trail-maintenance days.
Though the Trust pales in size to the surrounding 6 million acre Adirondack Park, it offers a truly distinctive outdoor experience, one that transcends measure. Moore is proud of what the Trust has become.
“It’s a small niche that I feel good about filling.”
story by Cal Seeley