Unique Loan Lets Scenic Hudson Start Work from $20 Million Bequest

Contact: Justin Kenney, 215.575.4816, Jay Burgess, 845.473.4440, ext. 222


Hudson Valley, NY - 10/19/2007 - Through an interest-free loan from The Pew Charitable Trusts, Scenic Hudson now has immediate access to $5 million of a $20-million bequest it received recently from 100-year-old kayaking philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis.  The environmental group will use the money to buy land to create public parks up and down the Hudson River. 

To date Scenic Hudson has created 40 such places where people can experience the river’s inspiration, sightseeing and recreation.  Amid a land rush of developers wanting to create massive housing projects along the river, Scenic Hudson has identified 65,000 acres of the “land that matters most” that must be saved along the river’s shore.  This riverfront land, according to Scenic Hudson, should become community assets that help improve the region’s quality of life and economic prosperity.  With an estimated cost of $500 million to complete the land program, the group is seeking private and public funding to build on Mrs. Davis’ investment.

Urgency for the land program is key because of escalating development pressure – an estimated 75,000 new houses will be built in the region in the next 10 years, 15,000 alone along the Hudson’s shoreline.  Timeliness is further an issue as Scenic Hudson wants to achieve strong progress by 2009 and the celebration for the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s historic sail up the river.

Pew and Scenic Hudson team to create innovative loan

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems.  Pew dedicates nearly $300 million annually to a variety of initiatives, applying a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.  Characterized by its innovative approaches to complex environmental and economic challenges, Scenic Hudson worked with The Pew Charitable Trusts to fashion a loan that would meet Kathryn Wasserman Davis’ ambition to see her funds immediately begin saving the land that matters most.

We’re working to get ahead of a wave of unchecked, unplanned development, said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan.  Scenic Hudson supports and even is sponsoring smart, “green” development in Hudson Valley cities and town centers.  But sprawling growth threatens to destroy the very quality of life that makes the Hudson Valley such a national treasure.  The New York Times, in an editorial, has said that runaway development is “chocking the river’s banks like plaque on an artery.”  Earlier in his career Mr. Sullivan worked in banking, directing an initiative that helped government and corporate clients obtain funding for major capital projects, including developing a strategy and legislation to finance the multi-billion-dollar cleanup of Boston Harbor.

“I knew there had to be a way to do public good with Mrs. Davis’ amazing gift – right away.  Having an internationally recognized group such as The Pew Charitable Trusts give its vote of confidence to our work and to our donor’s ambitious goal of preserving critical parcels of land along the river is gratifying,” said Mr. Sullivan.  “We need to do the right thing to preserve the beauty and health of our valley’s environment, because it is the foundation of our lasting economic opportunity,” he added.

“Kathryn Wasserman Davis is truly inspirational and has been a leader in protecting the Hudson Valley’s stunning landscapes and its unique history,” said Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts.  “Pew is thrilled to partner with such an important philanthropist and support her efforts with Scenic Hudson to preserve and revitalize this true American jewel.”

Plans for the $5 million loan

One million dollars will be used along with funds contributed by the Village of Tarrytown, Westchester County, Scenic Hudson, and developer Ferry Landings LLC to create Scenic Hudson RiverWalk Park at Tarrytown.  The same private-public partnership along with residents worked to remove from the waterfront an unsightly asphalt plant that blocked access to the river for nearly 100 years.  This new riverfront park will provide a critical link to Westchester County’s RiverWalk, a ribbon of recreation and economic development that will extend from the southern tip of Yonkers to the northern end of Peekskill.

The remaining $4 million is targeted for Sleepy Hollow, also in Westchester County, for renovating the historic bathhouse at Kingsland Point Park and for adjacent parkland buffering the park from a new development to be known as Lighthouse Landing.  Key elements include a pedestrian bridge that will dramatically increase access to the park and riverfront.  The bathhouse will become a center of activity in the park.  Public input will be sought on future uses of the bathhouse, which is owned by Westchester County and operated by the Village of Sleepy Hollow.  Possible ideas include an outdoor café, ecological field station with educational displays, kayak rentals and changing rooms.  Landscaping for the buffer land and possible restoration of the Pocantico River are contemplated.  The neighboring communities are important to Mrs. Davis, who lives in Tarrytown.

The vision of Kathryn Wasserman Davis

Kathryn Wasserman Davis recently drew up a five-year plan.  If the years ahead are anything like her past few, she will meet with world leaders and enjoy an incredibly active lifestyle that includes kayaking in her beloved Hudson.  She also will keep track of how Scenic Hudson uses her $20 million to improve parks in Westchester County and create new parks up and down the river to enrich the lives of those who live in and visit the valley.

Matriarch of financial dynasty has 80-year love affair with her river

It began before her marriage to Wall Street legend Shelby Cullom Davis when she lived at International House, along Riverside Drive, and could see construction of the George Washington Bridge.  Taking up painting in her late 90s, her canvases reflect the beauty of the river that inspires her.  She admires the 20th-century philanthropy of her neighbors, the Rockefellers, and others who preserved world-class landscapes along her river.  But regular kayak trips raised her concern about a rash of housing and commercial development spoiling the river’s beauty.  She decided she needed to do something to preserve this mystic beauty for future generations.

About Scenic Hudson

Scenic Hudson works to protect and restore the Hudson River and its majestic landscape as an irreplaceable national treasure and a vital resource for residents and visitors.  A crusader for the valley since 1963, we are credited with saving fabled Storm King Mountain from a destructive industrial project and launching the modern grass-roots environmental movement.  Today with more than 20,000 ardent supporters, we are the largest environmental group focused on the Hudson River Valley.  Our team of experts combines land acquisition, support for agriculture, citizen-based advocacy and sophisticated planning tools to create environmentally healthy communities, champion smart economic growth, open up riverfronts to the public and preserve the valley's inspiring beauty and natural resources. 

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