Governor Hochul Announces Protection of 275 Acres of Open Space in Cayuga County

Government and Politics

June 13, 2024

From: New York Governor Kathy Hochul
Acquisition Protects Water Quality of Owasco Lake Watershed

Lands Offer New Space for Passive Outdoor Recreation in Fillmore Glen State Park

Governor Kathy Hochul on June 13th, announced that New York State, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, permanently protected two environmentally sensitive parcels of open space in Cayuga County: a 203-acre addition to Fillmore Glen State Park in Moravia and 72 acres of forested wetlands in Venice. Both projects were funded through the State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Water Quality Improvement Project program, which supports projects that directly improve water quality or aquatic habitat, promote flood risk reduction, restoration, and enhanced flood and climate resiliency, or protect a drinking water source.

“The Finger Lakes region is home to some of New York's most extraordinary wonders, and expanding the footprint of the protected wetlands is a promise we make to their long-term wellbeing,” Governor Hochul said. “We are preserving our natural environment and ensuring New York continues to be a recreational and economic asset for future generations.”

Since 2018, The Nature Conservancy has used funding from the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Water Quality Improvement Project program (WQIP) to identify, protect, and restore lands in the Owasco Lake watershed that have the most impact on the lake's water quality. The newly acquired wetlands in Venice, utilizing a portion of a $1.1 million WQIP grant, brings the total amount of watershed area protected by The Nature Conservancy to 624 acres. Protected areas are not developed. Instead, the natural features of these lands are preserved to safeguard the water quality of nearby Owasco Lake, which serves as the drinking water source for more than 40,000?individuals.

Fillmore Glen State Park, now 1,144 acres, is an oasis of cool, dense woods crowding into a long, narrow gorge. Its hiking trails offer spectacular views, unique geological formations, including five waterfalls and a botanically rich glen. The park has 60 campsites, a stream-fed swimming pool, and fishing opportunities in the Owasco Lake inlet. In the winter, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are available.

The Nature Conservancy acquired the 203-acre property in 2020 and recently completed a donation of the property to Fillmore Glen State Park. The property consists of vacant woodland and approximately 50 acres of freshwater forested/shrub wetlands with two seasonal streams. Both streams flow north into Dry Creek within Fillmore Glen State Park, where they feed the park's natural swimming pool, then flow into the Owasco Inlet – the primary tributary to Owasco Lake. New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation intends to allow passive recreational activities such as hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, bird watching and hunting on the property.

In Venice, the newly protected land is home to a diverse forest of hemlocks, white pines, birch, and beech. It includes several streams and provides habitat for many species including grouse, coyote, and deer. The extensive wetlands on the property also function as a natural filter, cleaning the runoff from neighboring properties before the water ultimately reaches Owasco Lake.

DEC Interim Commissioner Sean Mahar said, “Protecting open space is essential to safeguarding water quality and the lands protected today demonstrate the power of Governor Hochul’s investments in the Clean Water Infrastructure Act and DEC’s Water Quality Improvement Program which facilitate important partnerships to advance conservation actions. Watershed protection projects like this are a win-win for local communities, wildlife, and the many visitors who enjoy the Finger Lakes every year by creating new recreational offerings, providing clean drinking water, and supporting tourism in the region.”

Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Pro Tempore Randy Simons said, “The expansion of Fillmore Glen is another example of how Governor Hochul is expanding outdoor recreational opportunities for New York residents and visitors. I’m grateful to the Department of Environment Conservation and The Nature Conservancy for their partnership in helping our parks grow and improve.”

The Nature Conservancy’s Freshwater Resilience Specialist Olivia Green said, “Across New York there are a million acres of small wetlands providing essential services to wildlife and people. Wetlands act like nature’s sponges to soak up and clean our water. Preventing development on wetlands protects people—not just against floods but against drought, too. We commend New York for leading the nation and taking action to proactively safeguard the quality of our drinking water.”

Like all open space conservation actions undertaken by DEC, acquisitions supported by WQIP help implement the goals identified in the New York State Open Space Plan and the state’s 30x30 Initiative to conserve 30 percent of New York’s lands and water by 2030.

Water Quality Improvement Project Program Applications Being Accepted Through July 31, 2024

In May, Governor Hochul announced nearly $300 million in climate resiliency funding available that included at least $215 million for WQIP projects funded through the State EPF, Clean Water Infrastructure Act (CWIA), and the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act combined. Earlier this year, $166 million in announced WQIP grants is helping support municipal wastewater treatment upgrades, polluted runoff abatement and control, land acquisition projects for drinking water protection, salt storage construction, aquatic connectivity restoration, and marine habitat restoration. More information on how to apply is available on the DEC WQIP website.

New York's Commitment to Water Quality

New York State continues to increase its nation-leading investments in water infrastructure, including $325 million in WIIA and up to $215 million in WQIP in grant opportunities currently available.

With $500 million allocated for clean water infrastructure in the FY25 Enacted Budget announced by Governor Hochul, New York will have invested a total of $5.5 billion in water infrastructure between 2017 and this year.

Governor?Hochul’s?State of the State initiative increased water infrastructure grants from 25 to 50 percent of net eligible project costs for wastewater projects to help support smaller communities.?To leverage these investments and ensure ongoing coordination with local governments,?the Governor expanded?EFC’s Community Assistance Teams to help small, rural, and disadvantaged communities leverage this funding and address their clean water infrastructure needs. Any community that needs help with their water infrastructure needs is encouraged to contact EFC here.

The funding is in addition to other substantial water quality investments, including the voter-approved $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022?which is advancing historic levels of funding to update aging water infrastructure and protect water quality, strengthen communities' ability to withstand severe storms and flooding, reduce air pollution and lower climate-altering emissions, restore habitats, and preserve outdoor spaces and local farms. The first round of funding under the Environmental Bond Act was awarded through the WIIA/IMG programs in December, when Governor?Hochul?announced $479 million in grants to 156 projects across New York State. Disadvantaged Communities will receive at least 35 percent of the benefits of Bond Act funding, with a goal of 40 percent. Governor Hochul also sustained record funding for the Environmental Protection Fund at $400 million in the Budget.