The Genesee Valley Hunt (GVH) is celebrating their 146th anniversary. Steeped in history and tradition, the GVH was organized by Major W. Austin Wadsworth in 1876. Wadsworth served as the Master of the Livingston County Hunt, the precursor to the GVH.
“The major achieved a level of fame in the foxhunting world and from the 1880s through the 1890s the Genesee Valley was regarded as the foxhunting center of North America. The major hunted his hounds in the valley for almost four decades, only relinquishing his role as huntsman the last few years of his life and keeping his role as Master until 1917,” according to the GVH website.
Today, the GVH depends on the generosity of farmers and landowners to perpetuate access to open space and agricultural land. Permission is sought from the GVH from landowners before riding on their property. Much of the land in the heart of Genesee Valley Hunt country has prime farmland soils. Marion Thorne, Austin Wadsworth and Martha C. Wadsworth, current Masters of the Hunt, work with other members of the GVH to maintain positive landowner relations to have access to ride on privately owned lands.
As urban sprawl and development pressure impacted the ability for organized foxhunts to continue their activity in the Northeast, some members of the GVH took a proactive approach to protecting open space and prime farmland in the Genesee River watershed. In 1989, several hunt members and other dedicated individuals with an interest in protecting farmland and open space were instrumental in forming the Genesee Valley Conservancy. Fully established by 1990, the Conservancy started protecting land with conservation easements. Martha Wadsworth was the first landowner and member of the GVH to donate a conservation easement on her land to preserve it from development.
In 2007, the Genesee Valley Hunt received the Masters of Fox Hound Association (MFHA) Hunting Habitat Conservation Award for their contributions and effort to protect land through the Conservancy. The purpose of the Hunting Habitat Conservation Award is to recognize those hunts who have made significant and enduring contributions toward the preservation of habitat and biodiversity of its flora and fauna. The MFHA also recognizes hunts that work to preserve land and conserve habitat for the future of the sport.
Dairyman Jeff Mulligan is a member of the GVH who operates a large farm in Livingston County. In 2006, working with the Conservancy, he started the process of becoming the first landowner in his area to participate in the New York State Department of Ag & Markets Farmland Protection Program. In 2010, the Mulligan family worked with the Genesee Valley Conservancy to permanently protect 1,240 acres of farmland within the Genesee River watershed. Eleven years later, the family protected an additional 550 acres of land. The parcels protected have over 70% USDA prime soils and were identified in the Town of Avon’s Comprehensive Plan for permanent protection due to the importance of the agricultural scenic views the lands provide.
In the early 1990s, the Mulligan dairy consisted of a herd of 100 cows. The decision to expand was based on foresight and the need to have the family’s ag operation productive, profitable and sustainable for future generations. The combined family efforts of Jeff’s wife Lesa Sobolewski, their daughter Emilie Callan and nephew Forrest Watson resulted in the expansion of the operation to approximately 3,000 cows and replacement heifers. The Mulligans own approximately 1,800 acres and lease another 1,000 acres to support their farming operation. Callan is the dairy herd manager, and Watson is the cropping operation manager. The Mulligan family’s participation in the Farmland Protection Program has ensured that they will all be able to continue farming in the Genesee River watershed in future generations.
Members of the Genesee Valley Hunt have also served on the board of directors of the Genesee Valley Conservancy.
Conservancy Executive Director Benjamin Gajewski and his staff have been very effective in acquiring funding for farmland and open space protection through the NYS Ag & Markets Farmland Protection Program and Environmental Protection Fund. In addition to other programs and donations of conservation easements, the Conservancy has successfully completed 22 Farmland Protection conservation easements with 17,279 acres protected. Seventeen conservation easements are in progress, with another 12,267 acres of farmland protection pending.
Protecting significant areas requires strong community support, with Resolutions of Support passed by town planning boards. The comprehensive review effort of identifying areas with prime farmland soils includes a system of ranking to prioritize areas for protection. The staff at the Conservancy expedites conservation easements and the transfer of development rights, providing long term protection on farmland and open space and equity to the landowner for their property in the form of “transfer of development rights.”
The Conservancy also works with landowners who are not in hunt country. For example, the third generation Emerling Farm in Perry, NY, is the Conservancy’s most recent success in farmland protection, with 1,331 acres added to the Conservancy’s total acreage protected. The Genesee Valley Conservancy has protected over 27,618 acres of farmland and open space in the history of the organization.
For more information regarding the work of the Genesee Valley Conservancy visit geneseevalleyconservancy.org.
For more information on the Genesee Valley Hunt, its history and future events, visit geneseevalleyhunt.org.
by Pauline E. Burnes, RLA
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