The Stewart Park and Reserve Coalition, aka SPARC, is a grassroots, all-volunteer organization founded in 1987 by the late Ben Kissam to save as open space the 7,000 acres west of Drury Lane, adjacent to Stewart Airport in Newburgh, in Orange County New York. SPARC formed a coalition of diverse groups, from sportsmen and environmentalists, to concerned citizens and smart-development advocates, to persuade the "powers that be" to channel development appropriately, rather than scatter it across these valuable lands.
Originally, a good portion of the 7,000 acres was a community - until 1971 when lands were condemned and taken in order to provide a necessary airport buffer zone. You can see the remnants of driveways and home sites, and the old roads that enter the forest at several points. This acreage, what we often call "the lands" for short, now serves a variety of purposes. It is a unique habitat for wildlife and plantlife. It serves as a public hunting cooperative. It is a multi-recreational area for hiking, biking, horseback riding, bird-watching and other passive uses. It offers cross-country skiing and snowmobile trails. Portions of the land are also (still) farmed. The lands also help mitigate ongoing air pollution, while providing a noise and safety buffer around Stewart International Airport to the east -- thus the phrase "buffer lands."
Through the years SPARC has served as a watchdog over Stewart Airport development and has steadfastly lobbied to influence and bring the public into the planning process. SPARC did not oppose airport expansion and development; its focus was to preserve those 7,000 unique acres, rather than convert large areas (and spending lots of taxpayer dollars on infrastructure) into cargo-related facilities such as warehouses and office parks.
The fight was a long one, but resulted in victory. In 1999, New York Governor Pataki set aside about 5,100 acres of the buffer lands as 'State Forest Land'. (But at the same time, he also allowed the Empire State Development Corporation, New York State's development arm, to offer 1,200 acres for development.) Fortunately, that development was not to be, because in 2005, after a long legal action, SPARC settled its case and won protection of the entire 7,000 acres as Stewart State Forest, to be managed by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
SPARC was delighted with the settlement, but a huge legal debt remained. To retire this debt, SPARC has sponsored events such the Bike Tour, its annual Trail Ride in May for horseback riders, and a fall banquet dinner. Thanks to the generous support of its Board of Directors, past and present, and its many members, SPARC succeeded in paying off this large debt in 2008. Today, SPARC continues its role as watchdog and advocate for the lands. If you have enjoyed Stewart State Forest, and would like future generations to be able to do the same, please join SPARC as a member today.
[Above: On Barron Road, by artist Linda Richichi]
SPARC Contact Information
- Telephone / fax (Sandra Kissam, president)
- Postal address
- P.O. Box 90, Blooming Grove, NY 10914
- Electronic mail
- Be a Facebook fan