Interview with Brent Sverdlof & Rebecca Walker of the Columbia Land Conservancy

We're excited to launch a partnership with the Columbia Land Conservancy this summer as we present yoga at Ooms Conservation area. We've interviewed Director of Development and Communications Brent Sverdloff and Communications Manager Rebecca Walker to find out a little bit more about the Conservancy and these members of our community!

Please tell us a little bit about your roles at The Columbia Land Conservancy and how you came to work with them.

Rebecca: I'm the Communications Manager at CLC. I am responsible for maintaining our website, writing and designing print publications and advertisements, and managing our social media presence. I also write grant applications and keep track of our grant program. I found CLC while completing a dual-degree master's program at Syracuse University and the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry. I grew up in a rural area in Northwestern Pennsylvania and it really shaped who I am as a person, so I was excited to put my skills to use at a place that was working to make sure others could have the same types of formative experiences I did.
 
Brent: My role is Director of Development and Communications. I'm the bridge between the Executive Director and the three-person team, including Rebecca, that handles marketing, publicity, membership, events, and fundraising. My background is pretty different from that of other CLC staff. I studied historical linguistics and spent most of my career at arts- and education-related non-profits, like museums, university libraries, and theater companies, That said, at all these other organizations the goal has been to create compelling programming that raises people's awareness, increases their engagement with the subject matter, and makes them feel more connected to each other. For the Columbia Land Conservancy, driving home the importance of the region's forests, farmlands, wildlife habitat, and scenic trails is very fulfilling. My husband and I left the big city (San Francisco) precisely to live in a small town closer to nature.
 
What are some of The Columbia Land Conservancy's current projects and initiatives?
 
R: We're always protecting land and stewarding it through working with farmers and landowners.  More recently, some of the bigger projects I've been working on are revisiting the look and feel of a number of our print materials - you may notice new signage at our Public Conservation Areas. We're getting ready for our first-ever Gala, Over the Moon, which takes place October 8 at the beautiful Churchtown Dairy. You can find out more on our website.
 
B: One of my favorite CLC initiatives is called FLOM, the farmer landowner match program. Families with longstanding histories in the county for whatever reason may not want to farm their property but don't want to see the land developed for other purposes. There is a new generation of folks interested in farming who don't have easy access to land. CLC puts these two parties together and looks for compatibility in the arrangements they seek, e.g., producing vegetables, raising animals, leasing terms, etc.

How can someone get involved with your organization, as a volunteer or otherwise?
 
R:  We have a lot of different volunteer opportunities available, whether you'd like to be outside walking the trails, inside stuffing envelopes, or taking photos at events. If you're interested in volunteering, you should contact Nate Davis at  nate.davis@clctrust.org.
 
B: CLC works closely at the grass roots community level to bring neighbors together over land development issues. There are community advisory groups, rail trail task forces, ad hoc committees to deal with issues like industrial threats, and more. Contact Christine Vanderlan at christine.vanderlan@clctrust.org.

What do you love to do when you're not working?
 
R:  I have really enjoyed being able to experience Columbia County's working farms - so far this year I've picked and preserved blueberries, rhubarb, strawberries, and sour cherries. It's so great to know exactly where your food comes from and to meet the people growing it. My husband and I also love clambering around the Catskills and the Berkshires, and I've been embroidering a series of local songbirds.
 
B: I've been a long-distance runner for almost 40 years. After decades of living in big cities, it's exhilarating to run on trails and quiet country roads. I love going to farmers markets and enjoy the personal interaction with the vendors as much as the delicious locally produced food.

What's your favorite place in which to spend time in the area?
 
R: Working in Chatham is pretty great - it's easy to get a delicious lunch, browse a bookstore, and then head out to Ooms for a relaxing afternoon. I also just love driving around the back roads and seeing the farms, forests, and streams.
 
B: As much as I enjoy the rural offerings of Columbia County, my urban cravings are satisfied by the bookshops and eateries in Chatham, as well as the art, antique, and designer stores in Hudson.

Any fun facts about or  insider tips for visiting your conservation areas?

R: I'm not sure a lot of people know about Schor Conservation Area, in Canaan. It's one of my favorites, and has a really stunning hilltop view. I'd also suggest people take a lot of photos and send them to me! We always provide photography credits and love seeing what you see when you're out.
 
B: Each Public Conservation Area has its own personality. You really have to pay attention to see the nuances of the place. I have a soft spot for Hand Hollow up in New Lebanon because its mascot is the otter, which is impossibly cute. Having gone there and keeping a careful eye out for otters, I was stunned to see elaborate beaver dams and gorgeous blue herons wheeling over the pond.