By Norah Machia
The Tug Hill region has been described as one of the “last of the untouched wildernesses” in New York state, covering 2,100 square miles of land, including parts of Oswego, Oneida, Jefferson and Lewis counties.
During the past year, the owners of Tug Hill Outfitters in Williamstown have formed a partnership with the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust (THTLT) to highlight the region’s beautiful and valuable natural resources through outdoor recreational activities.
“Their mission is akin to ours,” said Emily Hart, who owns Tug Hill Outfitters with her husband, Chris Legard. “We’re both trying to get people outside and appreciate what Tug Hill has to offer.”
At the same time, “we are all strong believers in conserving land for future generations,” said Hart.
The couple is the caretakers of 140 acres of land, part of which falls along the west branch of Fish Creek, that has been passed down through generations of family members.
Tug Hill Outfitters offers kayak and canoe paddling excursions at different sites in Oswego and Oneida counties (ranging from a couple of hours to a half-day trip), kayak lessons for beginners to advanced paddlers (including those interested in racing), along with guided snowshoeing and cross-country ski outings during the winter months. Programs are also available for those interested in learning more about trekking and orienteering in the wilderness. All excursions and programs are offered to individuals, families and small groups, but specialized corporate outings may be planned as well. Advance registration is required.
THTLT has joined with the business to help sponsor two paddling excursions in July, one at Kasoag Lake in Oswego County and the other through the west branch of Fish Creek to Gifford Lake in Oneida County. A portion of the proceeds from any kayak rentals will be donated to the THTLT.
The business is hoping to work with the nonprofit land trust on other programs in the future, including the Tug Hill Extreme Adventure, an eight-hour race which includes mountain biking, trekking and paddling at various locations throughout the Tug Hill region.
“We’re really impressed and excited about the work the land trust is doing in our area,” said Hart, who works full time as a librarian at Syracuse University. She and her husband, a fisheries biologist, opened their part-time business last year to share their passion for the outdoors and the Tug Hill region.
THTLT was incorporated in 1991 to protect the open spaces, the working forests and farms of the Tug Hill region, along with promoting a greater appreciation of the area’s natural and cultural heritage.
“The land trust’s partnership with Tug Hill Outfitters combines our organizations’ common passion for helping people experience Tug Hill as a unique place to explore,” said Linda Gibbs, THTLT community programs director. “Our partnership helps both organizations not only spread the enjoyment of the outdoors to a larger audience, but also the message that Tug Hill is a gem worth protecting.”
THTLT primarily uses conservation easements as the tool to accomplish its land protection goals. As of this year, the land trust has protected more than 21,000 acres of land with conservation easements throughout Central and Northern New York. Most conservation easements held by the THTLT have been donated, and as a result, the landowners have qualified for tax benefits.
Conservation easements range from designating land “forever wild” to keeping the working lands for farming and logging operations. Some lands are also held in conservation easements to create public recreational opportunities, including hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
In 2011, the THTLT achieved national accreditation by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, making it one of approximately 300 of the nation’s 1,700 land trusts to hold the distinction that year.
“The land trust wants to provide opportunities for all people to learn about the Tug Hill region and experience the outdoors,” said Gibbs. “Tug Hill Outfitters is a great partner to help us achieve that goal.”