Lake Valhalla residents worry about visitor access
Scenic Hudson wants to transfer 766 acres of property it owns at Lake Valhalla in Philipstown to New York State or put it under a conservation easement, and some residents are wary.
At a public hearing convened by the Philipstown Planning Board last month, several neighbors of the property expressed fears that if the nonprofit gives some of the land to the state, and the state adds it to the park system, their idyllic enclave could be within reach of thousands of visitors.
The public hearing continues on Thursday (Aug. 20) via Zoom.
On Tuesday (Aug. 11), Scenic Hudson officials said dividing its property at Lake Valhalla will preserve it as open space and protect its ridgetop trails; fill a major gap in the Hudson Highlands State Park; and provide Lake Valhalla residents “with control over lands surrounding their community.”
Scenic Hudson purchased 1,178 acres of property at Lake Valhalla in 2018 for $12 million through a subsidiary, Slopeline LLC. The property, which straddles the Putnam-Dutchess border and is adjacent to the Hudson Highlands State Park, lies atop an aquifer that serves six Dutchess County communities.
Scenic Hudson wants to divide part of the tract into three pieces:
- Parcel A, with 520.5 acres, would be placed under a conservation easement and eventually given the state.
- Parcel B, with 193.5 acres, has a picnic area, tennis courts and trails. It would be transferred to a Lake Valhalla homeowners’ association under a conservation easement that precludes development.
- Parcel C, with 52 acres, contains Valkyria, a historic home, a second residence or two and outbuildings, and would be sold but likewise protected by a conservation easement.
Lake Valhalla, which was created by damming a brook, lies in Parcels B and C.
The remaining land, with 411 acres, would remain with Scenic Hudson.
Representing Scenic Hudson, Glenn Watson, of Badey & Watson Surveying & Engineering, told the Planning Board in June that the plan is “a chance to create a win-win situation that’s been a long time coming.” Last month, he added that “ultimately, the entire property will be subject to some kind of permanent conservation” and that conservation easements “are very strictly regulated.”
The Lake Valhalla community was founded in the 1930s by Ludwig Novoting, who owned Valkyria. Watson told the Planning Board that residents had “the run of the property” during Novoting’s tenure but that after its sale following his death disputes arose about the extent of homeowner rights. He said the community, where he lives, consists of about 60 houses, most on quarter-acre lots.
The Philipstown Planning Board must approve Scenic Hudson’s plan. Land divisions, especially those not linked to commercial activities or road construction, often draw little attention. However, Stephen Gaba, the Philipstown town government attorney, advised the Planning Board in June that “even though there’s no development involved, this is clearly important land and you want to give the public a chance” to react.
Lake Valhalla residents took that opportunity when the public hearing opened in July, cautioning that if some of the land joins the park system, the state could build an access lane, parking lot and trails to alleviate pressure on Breakneck Ridge.
“We all know that the situation with the influx of hikers on Route 9D is just a disaster,” said James Calimano. At Lake Valhalla, “the thought of any parking lot, even for 25 cars, is kind of terrifying,” he said. “We live in a beautiful little community up here. We certainly do not want it overrun the way other parts of Philipstown have been, by people who come from distances to hike the trails.”
Richard Chirls warned that building a public access lane to a parking lot off Foundry Pound Road would risk “extreme danger” from infrastructure “development on steep slopes off a very narrow road.”
However, Joseph Lombardi, president of the Lake Valhalla Civic Association, said the group supports Scenic Hudson’s plan.
Nancy Montgomery, who also lives at Lake Valhalla and represents Philipstown in the Putnam County Legislature, cited the town’s Open Space Index that prioritizes land to be preserved as providing protection against development.
“I don’t believe either Scenic Hudson or the state can override that,” said Montgomery, who was a member of the Town Board when the index was updated in 2016. “For me there was no great fear of development. “We will have the protection we want and need.”
Michael Knutson, Scenic Hudson’s senior land project manager, told The Current that Scenic Hudson “can’t speak for the state, but we’re not aware of any plans to add any” hiking trails or parking lots. “We would expect the use of the property transferred to the state to remain as it is now.”