Reflections and Accountability

Looking Back at Our Statement on Racial Inequity and the First Year of Relearning Highlands History

One year ago this month, we launched the Relearning Highlands History series to deliver on a promise we made in our June 5, 2020 statement on racial inequity. Among other diversity and equity initiatives, we made a commitment to use our platforms to share and amplify stories of and from People of Color throughout the history of the Hudson Highlands. Since the series launched last September, we’ve published nine important but previously lesser-told stories about People of Color and their relationship to the land we work to conserve today. Series topics have ranged from slavery to stone walls to tree inequity.

Reviving Chief Nimham’s Story
The first story in the series was a seminal story for relearning the history of the land here in the Hudson Highlands. It was the story of Chief (Sachem) Daniel Nimham and the Wappinger Tribe’s challenge to the Philipse Patent, covering what is now Putnam County, written by historian Peter Cutul of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks). The Chief Nimham story has since been highlighted by many other organizations as well. The Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail (a subsidiary of Scenic Hudson) and State Parks recently dedicated a new trail on Breakneck Ridge to Chief Nimham. Ned Sullivan, Scenic Hudson’s President, said of Chief Nimham:

“Naming this trail after Daniel Nimham…should inspire more people to learn about this courageous advocate for…conflict resolution…Though unsuccessful — the Wappinger’s valid claims were denied and they were forced to disperse — Nimham set an example for his successors in the Indigenous and civil rights movements, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

We are glad to see Chief Nimham receive the recognition he deserves. You can revisit Chief Nimham’s story here. We hope to see further sharing of the other eight stories published so far in the series, as well as the stories to come.

Keeping Ourselves Accountable
On this one-year anniversary of the series, we also wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made, and challenges we’ve encountered, in our anti-racism work over the past year. In our statement on racial inequity, we made five important commitments. Here’s what we’ve done so far as we work steadfastly to meet those commitments:

(1) Safe and equitable access to nature: We’ve formed new partnerships, like with the Felix Organization, to help more people gain exposure to the outdoors. We are also working with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference to make Breakneck Ridge, one of the most popular hiking trails in the country, safer for visitors. And for our soon-to-be Preserve at the Garrison Golf Course property, which is located on the traditional lands of the Wappinger Band of the Lenape Nation, we are committed to seeking holistic public input during our management planning process and to creating an accessible, welcoming experience for all.

(2) Sharing stories of People of Color on the land: In addition to the stories we’ve already shared through Relearning Highlands History, we have big plans for the series going forward. First, we are in the process of seeking commissioned articles from authors of color that have the lived experience of the stories we want to share widely in order to uplift a holistic history of the Highlands. We are also working to bring many of the stories told through the series “to life” through a research project that will set the stage for a virtual heritage trail focusing on Black and Native American history in the Hudson Highlands and Putnam County. Stay tuned for more news on these exciting developments over the coming months.

(3) Clean water for all our communities: We continue to conserve and manage sensitive lands within the City of Peekskill’s watershed, which is in the heart of our service area, and we recognize that more must be done to protect watersheds throughout the Highlands region.

(4) Diverse hiring practices: We continued our land management internship program with five new interns from diverse backgrounds over this past summer. This program was originally created in partnership with The Fresh Air Fund to remove barriers for participation in the environmental field. We are also continuing to review and improve upon our staff hiring and Board recruitment practices with an emphasis on equity.

(5) Inclusive community outreach and events: Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant we had to pause our in-person events over the past year and a half, but we’ve been helping people safely connect with nature through our virtual Nature Time series, which includes Spanish language videos. In the future, we are committed to providing low-to-no cost programming on topics of interest to traditionally underrepresented communities, in accessible ways.

We recognize we still have progress to make, and we will continue to hold ourselves accountable for delivering on the commitments we’ve made to our community. We always welcome your thoughts on how we can continue to improve. Thank you for “relearning” with us.