October 3, 2022
A new Wildlife Conservation Preserve is created in Dutchess County protecting critical wetlands and wildlife habitat.

Ensuring the permanent preservation of crucial open land in Dutchess County, generous landowners Gayle and the late Jesse Bontecou donated more than 1,250 acres of critical wetland and forest habitat, open fields, wooded hillsides, streams and Bontecou Lake to the Dutchess Land Conservancy (DLC). All part of their former Rally Farm, straddling the Towns of Stanford and Washington, this gift has now created the Jesse and Gayle Bontecou Wildlife Conservation Preserve. The land is made up of irreplaceable natural resources that will be forever safeguarded and held in ownership by the DLC, with perpetual protection through a conservation easement that the family also donated to Scenic Hudson. This donation increases an impressive band of over 12,000 acres of contiguous properties protected by the DLC.

The Jesse and Gayle Bontecou Wildlife Conservation Preserve is abundant in water resources, including one of Dutchess County’s largest lakes, Bontecou Lake. The Preserve also contains the headwaters of the East Branch of the Wappinger Creek and tributaries to the Wassaic Creek. Wetlands surrounding Bontecou Lake, including Tamarack Swamp, straddle the drainage divide between the Wappinger Creek watershed to the west and the Wassaic Creek/Tenmile River watersheds to the east.

Bontecou Lake, and the vital wetlands surrounding it, has always been an important habitat for wildlife. In 1987, the Town of Stanford designated the northern portion of the lake and the remaining portion of Tamarack Swamp as a Critical Environmental Area due to its high value to migratory waterfowl and nesting birds, including bald eagles, great blue herons, osprey, Canadian geese, mallards, and wood ducks. Sparrows, eastern bluebirds, and countless other bird species make the fields and forests around Bontecou Lake their home.

In addition to its wetland and wildlife habitat importance, the Jesse and Gayle Bontecou Conservation Preserve includes hundreds of acres of fertile farm soils and fields that will continue to be farmed by local farmers, utilizing the best practices established over decades by Jesse Bontecou.

Rally Farms, established by former state senator Frederic Bontecou in 1926, served as a well-known and well-run Dutchess County farm for many years, producing national champion Angus cattle. Frederic’s son, Jesse Bontecou, and his wife, Gayle, cared deeply for the land which will forever live on as a conservation Preserve in their name. Sadly, Jesse passed away in 2020 but leaves behind a legacy of incredible preservation, through his wife Gayle’s mutual desires and actions, as thoughtful and diligent stewards of his well-maintained and beloved land.

Gayle Bontecou serves on the DLC’s Advisory Council, and was a former Board member. Jesse Bontecou was a founding member of the DLC’s Board in 1985.

 “This gift makes my eyes water with tears of immeasurable joy,” said DLC President Becky Thornton. “Jesse and Gayle so loved this land and its countless special and unique qualities. It is truly iconic, and so well-known to people throughout this area. I cannot thank Gayle enough for her commitment to seeing through their desire to donate and protect this land as a forever Preserve. This is a gift that is unmatched by any we have seen before. It will live on in perpetuity. I feel very blessed that the DLC is the recipient of this amazing and wonderful donation, and that she double protected it with an easement gift to Scenic Hudson.”

 “It is rare for a landowner to donate such a large and significant property as the Jesse and Gayle Bontecou Conservation Preserve,” said Seth McKee, executive director of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust. “We are in awe of the vision and generosity of Gayle and Jesse, and we thank Gayle for this wonderful donation. Together with our partner Dutchess Land Conservancy, we will ensure that the Preserve’s natural character endures!”

“It was so important to Jesse and me that this land be permanently preserved as a conservation refuge where animals can peacefully live in their natural habitat,” said Gayle Bontecou. “We also wanted to conserve the existing farm uses and natural resources on the property. We can think of no greater stewards of this land than the Dutchess Land Conservancy and Scenic Hudson together.”