Open Space

Open space includes all unbuilt areas, whether publicly or privately owned, protected or unprotected. Open space lands can include forests, grasslands, farms, streams and parks. Permanently protecting and preserving open space can provide social, economic, and environmental benefits to a community.

“Some communities protect open space as a way to guide growth and avert the costs of urban and suburban sprawl. In others, new parks have invigorated downtown businesses and neighborhood economies. Some communities work to conserve economically important landscapes, such as watersheds and farmland, or they preserve open space as a way to attract tourists and new business. And many communities are learning that conserved open space contributes to the quality of life and community character that supports economic well-being. Too many community leaders feel they must choose between economic growth and open space protection. But no such choice is necessary. Open space protection is good for a community’s health, stability, beauty, and quality of life. It is also good for the bottom line.”

Read More:
Economic Benefits of Open Space, by Will Rogers, President Trust for Public Land

Benefits of Open Space Preservation

Open space preservation helps communities grow smart, preventing the higher costs of unplanned development. Water is at the core of sustainable development and is critical for socio-economic development, healthy ecosystems and for human survival itself.

The failure to protect the environment will lead to the depletion of important resources, which later affects economic growth.

The Preservation Collective supports the efforts by State and local government working with conservation organizations and willing landowners to connect networks of open space across municipal boundaries to preserve large corridors of ecologically significant and sensitive areas.

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Flood Control

Open spaces and green infrastructure can make a valuable contribution to managing surface water runoff and flooding.

Blue infrastructure such as ponds, lakes, and rivers do help store water, but additional stormwater management is gained with green areas such as parks and fields within the floodplain that will temporarily store stormwater and aid with infiltration.

“if you wait until it floods, it will be too late”

Floods occur when runoff from rain or snowmelt exceeds the capacity of rivers, stream channels or lakes and overflows onto adjacent land. Floods can also be caused by storm surges. Flood risks and impacts can be worsened by new development, clearing and increased impervious surface cover in upstream areas, which causes increased runoff during storm events.

Orange County has experienced flooding events impacting residential, business and agriculture communities. Flooding damage cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Area reports of sewage backing up into homes and streets where families needed to be evacuated and structures condemned. Throughout history, floods have claimed uncounted human lives and devastated property, even destroying cities. Yet people continue to settle and build in floodplains, increasing the risk of property damage and loss of life.

Open space preservation is a strategy that reduces flood risk by restricting development in flood-prone greenspaces. These greenspaces might exist in naturally low-lying areas and river floodplains, thereby making them more prone to flooding. Restricting development in flood prone open spaces can keep homes out of harm’s way from floodwaters and provide for the natural process of absorption and filtering of water.

Communities need to work together in flood control and preventing water contamination from entering a larger watershed across municipal boundaries by way of streams and groundwater from runoff from roads and construction sites as well as aging wastewater infrastructure. As the amount of imperviousness increases in a watershed, the velocity and volume of stormwater runoff increases, which can have several environmental impacts: increased flooding downstream, erosion, and pollutant loads in receiving waters; decreased groundwater recharge and level of water table; altered stream beds and flows; and impaired aquatic habitat.

Preserving open space and creating parks and greenways are key tools to limit imperviousness and create riparian buffers in a watershed, which can be the most cost-effective means for reducing and managing stormwater runoff and protecting water quality.

Floodplain Construction Requirements in NYS – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation

Noise, Air and Water Pollution Abatement

Land protection is a high-impact investment that can safeguard water sources, improve air quality, and reduce noise pollution to avoid health problems for people and wildlife.

Trees are important not only to provide oxygen for us to breathe, but trees clean the air of many harmful pollutants and help with water filtration. Open space can also be used as a noise barrier or buffer zone when the need for noise controls arises due to the proximity of incompatible uses (e.g. frequently traveled highway next to a residential area). In such case, a linear open space with tree cover may serve to reduce the noise as well as the pollution emitted from the highway.

Open space can also assist with the negative impacts of artificial lighting on wildlife habitats in regards to interrupting nocturnal activity and interfering with reproduction.

“…forests are often described as the lungs of the Earth because they’re important sources of oxygen, wetlands are described as the kidneys because they filter upstream pollutants.”

New development should try to work the site design around preserving large trees already thriving to provide health benefits, shade and stormwater reduction, as well as improved property values. When new plantings are appropriate, their location should be given serious consideration based on site conditions such as avoid wires, road signs, etc. Also if possible, trees should be planted on the east and west side of a structure to maximize energy savings by shading buildings during the summer and blocking winter winds. In addition trees have a benefit alongside streams provide stability to the bank, shade and maintain stream temperatures.

There is a correlation between the location of development or impervious surface, within a watershed and water quality. In a natural landscape, stormwater that is not penetrated runs off into waterways, but not without travelling first through vegetated stream bands, thereby being slowed down and filtered. When a watershed is developed, however, stormwater can be piped through sewer systems and paved drainage ditches picking up velocity and pollutants along the way.

Clean and plentiful drinking water depends on healthy wetlands. Changes to hydrology or species and vegetative composition may impair the ability of a wetland or riparian buffer to function properly. Such alterations can affect the ability of the wetland or riparian area to act as a filter for excess sedimentation and nutrients, which can result in deteriorated surface water quality.

Municipalities can utilize planning tools to improve their water quality through low impact development techniques, conservation development designs, riparian buffer regulations, protective overlay zoning, purchase of development rights or transferring development rights to preserve environmentally sensitive lands.

Communities, citizen groups, and individuals can also take an active role in protecting their drinking water sources from contamination by getting educated on water protection measures they can implement at home and business.

Trees for Tribs – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation
How Can You Help Protect Source Water? | Source Water Protection | US EPA
Source Water Protection — Safe Drinking Water Foundation (

Health and Diversity of Wild Animals and Plants

Communities need to work together to advance protection of ecologically significant and sensitive areas. Open space corridors provide broad swaths of habitat that connects habitat hubs, enable dispersal of habitats among hubs, maintaining gene pools and preventing localized species extinctions.

Continuous forests, higher elevation ridges, and networks of relatively undisturbed wetlands in the valleys need to be protected. Fragmentation of natural ecosystems, reduces their sustainability.

“The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and will.”

Habitat fragmentation by definition is that process that cuts big habitats into smaller pieces of land that get isolated from each other. Each of these pieces constitutes a habitat by itself, but they no longer interact with each other like they did when they were all part of the same ecosystem. Studies have shown that whenever a region suffers habitat fragmentation, the edge effect occurs. This means the newly created edge of the habitat becomes less friendly for the species that populate it.

As a result, they start withdrawing towards the center, so the living space gets even smaller. In many cases, the creatures cannot adapt to these conditions, so their numbers suffer massive drops. This leads to many populations getting thinner or maybe disappearing completely, while other species may thrive in disturbed areas like mice and deer ticks.

In some cases, animals are separated from the resources they depend on, causing them to travel across dangerous areas to get to those resources. This may directly affect species by decreasing the abundance of one species and giving rise to an invasive species. Humans heavily rely on pollinators to fertilize crops and on animals to disperse seeds and because of fragmentation, the population of pollinators and seed-dispersing animals are at risk. Habitat fragmentation often leads to degradation, causing pollution and disruption of ecosystem processes. Because of these drastic effects, habitats can no longer support native wildlife.

Orange County is home to critical plants, animals and habitats. While some biologically diverse portions of the County have been permanently protected, many areas with remarkable richness remain unprotected and thus vulnerable to development. The current high and increasing growth rate threatens the remaining biologically diverse region, unless measures to prevent habitat fragmentation and degradation are put into place. Since critical species are listed as Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern because their low population numbers leave them ultimately vulnerable to extinction, it is especially important that these species have sufficient quality habitat to guarantee their continued survival. And because species population numbers are often low due to insufficient habitat, it is a high priority to locate, map, and ultimately protect the habitats upon which rare species depend. Aside from those on the State and Federal Listings, species that depend on vernal pools are unlisted and may depend on wetlands and the surrounding forest, however, they receive little or no regulatory protection and are rapidly disappearing.

Conservationists promote a range of techniques to help increase connectivity in fragmented landscapes. These include creating open space corridors, buffers, and stepping stones to help wildlife move around.

To stop habitat fragmentation, communities should think twice before erecting a new building and cutting a pristine patch of land. Human development is, indeed, necessary, but evolving cleverly can keep natural habitats safe.

Read More:
Southern Walkill Biodiversity Study

2004 Orange County Open Space Plan

NYS-DEC: Protect Fish, Wildlife and Open Space – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation

Light Pollution Can Harm Wildlife

Scenic, Historic, Social and Recreational Value

Open spaces and green infrastructure can make a valuable contribution to managing surface water runoff and flooding.

Blue infrastructure such as ponds, lakes, and rivers do help store water, but additional stormwater management is gained with green areas such as parks and fields within the floodplain that will temporarily store stormwater and aid with infiltration.

When a community protects its natural resources, it protects the reason outdoor tourists come to the community. Tourism is an important industry to Orange County. Parks, scenic views, historic sites and river recreation attract millions of out-of-town and state visitors who spend large amounts of money for services and products provided by local area businesses. The effects of trickling down provide jobs and income for support service providers. Agriculture in the County is also still an important economic industry that provides product, jobs and income to the economy.

The social value of open space lies in the opportunities it provides for social interaction, social mixing and social inclusion. It can help facilitate the development of community ties and neighborhood interaction. In addition, it is important in promoting health and well-being; providing space for exercise and play, education, art and cultural activities as well as food growing; and promoting community cohesion and pride in the placemaking value of spaces.

Public open space is especially important for young children to enjoy the natural world and have a place to make friends. Local parks and hiking trails provide healthy and affordable outings where lasting memories are being made for residents and their families. These positive childhood adventures can inspire future environmental stewards.

“Trails and open spaces are important resources that enhance communities, foster healthy lifestyles, protect natural areas, and support local tourism and economic development. The Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan highlights a range of opportunities to permanently protect and enhance the landscape, working toward the creation of a connected, regional trail network that will provide recreational opportunities for residents and visitors, protect critical wildlife habitat, and safeguard local watersheds.”

Read More:
Plan to Protect Hudson Highlands and Improve Trail Connectivity Announced. Open Space Institute

What Can You Do?

Residents need to talk to public officials to learn more about community growth planning and what protective measures are in place to preserve important resources. In New York State, local governments have broad authority for pursuing policy actions to protect their conservation priorities.

Read More:
Preserving Orange County NY through Conservation Easements
Conservation Planning in the Hudson River Estuary Watershed

Large landowners could also consider protecting sensitive areas on their property from further development. Land donated to a land trust or placed under a conservation easement is among the most meaningful legacies a person can leave to future generations. Communities across the country are enjoying nature preserves, recreation areas, and other open space today because of the foresight and generosity of landowners who have gifted land for public benefit. Conservation easements can also be used to protect land while allowing owners to retain important private property rights, maintain traditional land uses, like farming, and secure potential tax benefits or income.