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  • Elizabeth Hayes

"There's always enough to share": Taborton family conserves their land for future generations

Elizabeth Hayes

August 4, 2023

A wild turkey ruffling its feathers on the plateau. Bessie's Woods is home to many wild turkeys, which Roland cherished.

Roland and Bessie LeBarron loved each other, and their home up on Taborton Mountain.

Roland relished the freedom the mountain brought. A former Navy veteran, he didn’t much like being told what to do, and Taborton Mountain in the 1950s was like the New York equivalent of the Wild West.

He also loved the wildlife the forest brought. Roland hunted most of his life and taught his family to hunt as well. But he had a special connection with the wild turkeys that roamed around the land and refused to harm them.

Roland was seen as a bit of a "turkey whisperer." Turkeys would walk right up to him despite their skittish nature. He was known for wearing a turkey feather in his fedora hat—a symbol, of sorts, of their mutual respect.

Bessie had a green thumb. She could grow just about anything. Her trumpet vines snaked up the house, and she loved watching birds play through her picture window.

Bessie was also a master in the kitchen. Cooking was one of the many ways she she showed her love, and the whole family spent a lot of time cooking together.

Roland and Bessie’s youngest daughter Robbin recalls, “There was always extra stock in the freezer. Somehow, she knew when someone in the community was sick—and this was long before Facebook.”

Robbin remembers her mother taking out the extra stock to make chicken soup. They would then head down the mountain and show up at the ailing neighbor's doorstep, soup in hand.

Bessie and Roland shared a love for the mountain and the freedom it brought.

Bessie had a motto she lived by, one Robbin swears her mother sang to her in the crib:

There’s always enough to share, be kind no matter what, and people are more important.

“People are more important than what?" Robbin would ask. "That’s the end of the sentence," Bessie would reply. "People are more important."

Roland worked three jobs to support their seven kids. Bessie had four kids from a previous marriage and Roland and Bessie had three daughters together. In the 1950s, Roland bought the 158 acres and home on Taborton Mountain that Robbin grew up in for $10,000. It took him nearly his whole life to pay it off, but he wanted his wife and family to have the life they dreamed of.

“There were no fences or boundaries. Growing up on the mountain meant running around every day with all the kids. There weren’t really any limits to where you could go," says Robbin.

Taborton Mountain, like other areas on the Plateau, is home to an array of biodiversity. Below the Mountain lies Little Bowman Pond, a glacial remnant. As you enter the forest, you’ll find Hemlocks and Northern hardwoods that give way to Beech and Maple forests at higher elevations. Coyote, bobcat, and snow-shoe hare live on the rocky forest floor while downy woodpeckers and black-capped chickadees find refuge in the canopy.

This forested landscape creates an important link for plants and animals to move freely across the land, which helps keep wildlife—and humans—resilient to the more devastating consequences of climate change.

Bessie's Woods is home to an array of biodiversity, as well as vast fields of ferns that line the trails as you hike.

The Future of the LeBarron Woods

Bessie LeBarron passed away in 2012. Not long after, there was a house fire that leveled the home and destroyed everything, including Bessie’s ashes that sat by Roland’s bedside.

When deciding how to move forward, a developer approached one of Roland and Bessie’s oldest daughters and offered the family a considerable sum of money to build condos on the property.

Roland didn’t want to sell. He didn’t want to leave his mountain and didn’t want someone paving over or living on top of his wife’s ashes. He wanted his family's land to remain wild.

"We can make that happen," Robbin assured her father.

The next day, Robbin called up Jim Bonesteel at the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance. She asked if they could donate the land to be conserved forever.

Roland loved the idea, but hesitated with the decision. He wanted to be sure his daughters were taken care of financially. Together, they decided to sell part of the land to a family that values its history. They donated the rest in honor of Bessie's love for the Mountain, so others could enjoy the same beauty that Roland, Bessie, and the family shared for years.

“There’s always enough to share, Daddy. You don’t have to worry about me.” Robbin comforted her father. “Your mother would be so proud of you,” said Roland. He was proud, too.

Robbin says that her father almost never smiled. He liked to laugh and tell jokes, but he wasn’t the type of person who would walk around smiling.

After all the papers were signed and Bessie’s Woods was officially conserved, Roland didn’t stop smiling for three days straight.

Roland passed away at the age of 88, just six months after closing on the property. He said that donating his land to the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance was one of his proudest life achievements.

Bessie's Woods is now open to the public. You can learn more on our website.


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