It’s not easy being green, but Hudson Valley organizations and activists are pushing for change. From harnessing the energy of city sidewalks to cleaning the Hudson River, this region continues to make strides toward cleaner living.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced six new certified “Climate Smart” communities in May of 2021. Of the six, four Hudson Valley communities — Athens, Hudson, and Ulster and Westchester counties — were given a bronze or silver medal certification for town-wide conservation and sustainability efforts. Back in March 2021, Philipstown and New Lebanon were also honored with this recognition.
According to the DEC, the Climate Smart Communities program encourages “locally led efforts to meet the economic, social, and environmental challenges posed by climate change.” The program launched in 2009 and provides a framework in steps for local governments to take action and adapt to the changes necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Since its creation, 332 communities in New York State have registered with a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as individual municipalities and create new standards and programs to help lessen the global and local damages caused by climate change.
In 2014, the DEC created a set of 12 main goals, including developing infrastructure for the beginnings of a climate smart community, setting individual goals and plans, shifting to renewable energy, and innovating land use. Each of the main goals have sub-goals that earn communities points towards levels of certification.
All the communities recognized by the DEC have also worked with the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority to “assist in clean energy actions and save on energy costs,” according to the DEC.
The DEC calls New York State’s climate agenda the “most aggressive climate and clean energy initiative in the nation, calling for an orderly and just transition to clean energy.” New York State is looking to achieve a “zero-emission electricity sector by 2040” and get 70 percent of the state to run on renewable energy by 2030. So far, the state is allotting $21 billion towards 91 renewable energy projects across the state and, according to the DEC, has established over 150,000 jobs in New York’s clean energy sector since 2019.
But Westchester, Ulster, and Greene counties are not the only ones taking part in climate action initiatives. Of the 339 communities registered in the Climate Smart Communities program, over 120 of them are in the Hudson Valley. Communities from every county in the region have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, become carbon neutral, and work together to make New York one of the greenest states in the country.
With 11 bronze-rated communities and two silver-rated communities, Westchester County has the most climate actions in the area so far. Dutchess and Ulster have five bronze-rated and eight silver-rated communities among them. These are the latest additions to the Hudson Valley’s sprawling collection of Climate Smart communities.
The village of Athens, in Greene County, achieved a bronze certification in June 2021 by creating a Climate Smart Task Force and participating with other national and regional climate preservation programs. It also adopted LED street lights and created an energy-use benchmark for municipal buildings.
Athens is also well-known for its unique Hudson-Athens Lighthouse right on the river. Built in 1873, the still-operating lighthouse also serves as a museum, educating hundreds of guests about the history of the upper Hudson Valley and Columbia County.
The historic city of Hudson, in Columbia County, achieved a bronze certification with actions such as improving public bicycle transit throughout the city and supporting the upkeep and development of the recently completed Empire State Trail that runs through the city. Visitors can bike or hike part of the 210-mile Hudson Valley Greenway portion of the 750-mile long trail through the charming city.
Hudson draws tourists from all over the world to experience breathtaking sites. Explore Olana State Historic Site and Hudson Hall, where Susan B. Anthony gave iconic speeches. The riverfront city’s many restaurants, wine bars, and boutique hotels offer one-of-a-kind experiences. There’s nothing like grabbing a quick bite after a hike or bike in this area.
Philipstown received a bronze designation for its efforts, which included a greenhouse gas inventory, a community choice aggregation program, and initiatives to help conserve natural spaces throughout the town. Philipstown’s participation in NYSERDA’s Clean Energy Communities program also earned it the certification of Clean Energy Community. This organization aids local governments in implementing “green” action.
Columbia County’s New Lebanon earned a bronze certification due to its extensive efforts. Over 22 actions were completed by The New Lebanon Climate Smart Communities task force. The group established a recycling program of bicycles, headed a town hall initiative for residents to donate or receive clothing and home goods, and more. New Lebanon also focused on seasonal drought, completed a natural resources inventory, and participated in NYSERDA.
Ulster County, one of Hudson Valley’s greenest communities to date, achieved a silver medal certification. It partnered with several NGOs and other organizations to create the Ulster County Water Quality Coordinating Committee, “overseeing all water quality programs and related activities in the county.” It also completed a preliminary greenhouse gas emission inventory to determine how to reduce its emissions over time.
Explore the Ulster communities of New Paltz and Kingston by visiting Minnewaska State Park. There are plenty of hiking trails to enjoy and a public lake for swimming. Ulster is home to some of the Hudson Valley’s best vineyards, so be sure to stop by for a wine tasting at any of the Shawangunk Wine Trail stops.
Westchester County adopted updated waste management, including household non-recyclable materials recovery and food scraps recycling. It also installed electric vehicle charging stations throughout the county, encouraged carpooling between employees, and established anti-idling ordinances for a bronze certification. The Village of Irvington specifically was awarded bronze thanks to its flood mitigation plan.
Westchester County has many verdant parks and gorgeous natural spaces to enjoy. Get some exercise and fresh air by walking the three-mile Mario Cuomo Bridge walking trail, beginning in Tarrytown and ending in Nyack. The Sleepy Hollow RiverWalk is part of the previously mentioned Hudson Valley Greenway Trail and is linked to the Scenic Hudson RiverWalk.