Sawyer Creek Conservation Easement

Sawyer CreekJohn Kreider and his Australian cattle dog-blue tick heeler mix, Pepper, take the farm tractor over to the back meadow every evening to check on the mares. The wild apples are at peak ripeness and the young appaloosas are spry with the new autumn weather when John and I hike his property on Sawyer Creek during our annual visit. We are tending to the business of the 233-acre conservation easement the Adirondack Land Trust holds on his property, but the get-together is more inspiring than business-like. The property is a diverse blend of upland woods, upland meadows and lowland wet meadows. Sawyer Creek flows through the property, along part of which is a gneiss rock cliff.

A geologist by trade, John is a native of the Ozarks. He moved to Upstate New York in 1976 to work for the talc and zinc mines in Gouverneur. John grew up on a dairy and horse farm in Missouri and always knew that he’d start a farm in the Adirondacks. When he purchased his farm in the late 1970s there were six working dairy farms on his road; now there are none. As agricultural practices and distribution channels changed, John saw these farms disappear, the lands converted to other uses. It's a trend he saw repeated at his late father’s farm in the Ozarks, which was converted to a car junkyard. “I didn’t want that to happen here,” he said. When asked what he’d like to see happen, he simply says, “all you’ve got to do is look around. I want someone in the future to enjoy it here as much as I do. I want people and animals to continue to enjoy the northern New York woods and the waterfalls.”

When asked what’s most special about the property, he answers without hesitation: “Sawyer Creek.” I follow him across a homemade cable bridge that spans the creek and has two spliced garden hoses laced over the railing for grip. Having the creek on the property, John says, “increases the plant diversity and the wildlife.” While I step tentatively onto the swaying bridge, he moves forward with conviction; “It’s guaranteed,” he says without even looking back.

It was 1989 when John worked with Adirondack Land Trust on one of ALT's earliest easements. John remembers that the staff was wary the property wouldn’t meet the protection criteria. It did, though, and John worked closely with ALT’s land protection experts to craft an easement that offered the highest level of protection in the natural areas—with no cutting of vegetation or development—while leaving the farmstead out of the easement to accommodate his world-renowned horse breeding business.

When asked how the easement has affected him over the years and if there’s anything he’d do differently, John just looks over the banks of Sawyer Creek and tells me about the cardinal flowers, closed gentians and lady slippers that take his breath away every year. “I have no regrets,” he says.

“Sometimes it’s a lesson in discipline. The easement makes it so that I won’t be tempted to sell off portions if I come on hard times. Same with logging—I can’t touch the nature preserve area.” From the porch of a small cabin that he built by hand, we spot a flycatcher swooping toward the red spruce stand that he planted 20 years ago. “But what’s $50,000 compared to the beauty over there?” he asked. 

I couldn’t agree more.

Photos and essay by Erika Bailey, former conservation easement program coordinator

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