All long-time Saratoga Springs residents remember Kayadeross Park, the “vacation for a day” on the shores of Saratoga Lake. The Ferris wheel, the bumper cars. and the carousel that was saved and still entertains families in Congress Park to this day.
When the 50-acre property was sold for a large lakefront development in the late eighties, the community lost a favorite public access to Saratoga Lake. And Barbara Glaser decided it was time to act.
“In face of growing development pressures, we could see that it was important to proactively identify and preserve the view sheds, recreational resources, and green spaces that make Saratoga such an attractive region for tourists and residents alike.
"We weren't against development,” she continues. “But we wanted to make sure that citizens didn't lose the special places they most loved."
Saratoga Springs had a comprehensive development plan. But there was no Open Space Plan. No city fund for open-space preservation. No Saratoga PLAN. All of these innovations in open-space preservation would come later, created largely through Glaser’s persistent, understated approach to civic leadership.
A CHILDHOOD IN MINNESOTA
Glaser grew up in a part of the country that sounds a lot like Upstate New York: Hopkins, Minnesota. It was a small town that over the years became a suburb just west of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul.
“We were surrounded by fields,” she recalls. “Mom would send us out in the afternoon and tell us to be home by sunset. My brother and our friends would spend hours building forts, watching anthill colonies, identifying the songs of birds, collecting pheasant feathers, and picking cat tails."
Glaser's grandfather had died before she was born. Her grandmother remarried a farmer from Iowa.
"Several times a year we'd drive down to the farm." she recalls. "I remember picking sweet corn in the field, and shucking it as we ran back to the kitchen where Grandma had the water boiling. There's nothing like eating sweet corn three minutes after it's picked."
“As a family we'd spend time 'up north,'” she continues. “We’d stay at a cabin on Lake Superior or go on fishing trips to other wilderness lakes in Minnesota and Canada. I didn’t like to fish, but I loved being in the boat with my dad. And I treasure to this day the hours I spent exploring the forest, canoeing, listening to the loons and watching the Northern Lights.”
DISCOVERING THE ADIRONDACKS
At the age of 22, Glaser completed her master's degree at the University of Minnesota and moved to the Adirondacks. She was excited to be named co-director of an educational non-profit that acquired and “saved” the former Vanderbilt estate in Raquette Lake, New York. Six miles down a dirt road, Great Camp Sagamore is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Wilderness, which Glaser describes as a “magical place where you can still experience silence, the night sky without light pollution, the sound of the loons and the fragrance of balsam."
During her years as co-director of Sagamore, and later serving on its board, Glaser came to know and love the Adirondacks.
"We initiated workshops for educators -- programs like 'Women in the Woods' weekends, grandparent and grandchildren weeks, and all kinds of Adirondack programs that continue today."
In the mid seventies, Glaser was asked to join the board of the newly formed Adirondack Council, an environmental advocacy group that works full-time to champion the protection of the Adirondacks. She served on that board for 25 years, along the way heading the organization as chair, establishing the " Forever Wild Fund," and starting an internship program to engage young people in the Council's work.
Glaser subsequently served three terms on the board of the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and is currently on the Board of the Adirondack Land Trust.
A NON-PARTISAN APPROACH
While raising her Korean adopted daughter, Kimara -- who is now a pediatrician with the International Adoption Clinic at the University of Minnesota -- Glaser divided her time between Saratoga Springs and the Adirondacks. Seeing the pressures for development growing in the late eighties, she established the Saratoga Springs Open Space Project with a non-partisan board of directors and steered it toward raising money and soliciting proposals for creating an open space plan.
"We tried to interest the City in establishing such a plan, even identifying a pool of bipartisan potential leaders to develop it and raising the money to hire a consultant, but the City Council turned us down. So we turned to citizen advocacy.
“We held high-profile public hearings and in 1991 issued a first draft of 22 recommendations. We vetted the plan through all sectors of the community and published a revised Open Space Plan in 1993. That version was unanimously adopted in 1994, first by the Planning Board and then the City Council."
In 2002, the Open Space Project assembled a coalition to champion a non-partisan referendum that would allow the City of Saratoga Springs to bond up to $5 million for open space preservation. The measure passed with 74 percent of voters approving. It was from this fund that the City tapped $1.13 million in December to purchase the Pitney Farm's development rights as defined by its conservation easement.
"Over the years, the recommendations of this Open Space Plan have been integrated into the City’s zoning and has been updated in subsequent comprehensive planning efforts," Glaser says. "Among the recommendations of the original and subsequent plans was 'a commitment to preserve the agricultural lands on West Avenue.'
“Of course we meant the Pitney Farm,” she adds.
THE HEAVY LIFTING BEGINS
Today, Glaser chairs the Pitney Meadows Advisory Council, working with Sandy Arnold, president of Pitney Meadows Community Farm, Inc. (PMCF) president and the PMCF Board of Directors. While fund-raising is her major focus, Glaser also has been instrumental in developing PMCF's board and supporting PMCF's communications with various sectors of city government.
“Now the heavy lifting begins,” she says of Sunday’s meeting. “We’ve achieved a big milestone by defining and funding the conservation easement. We’ve retained the viewshed and saved the land for whatever it will become. Now we must create the vision and get the resources to achieve it.
“Vision, plan, resources,” she says. “The important thing is that we do it right.”