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  • Elizabeth Hayes

Together, Let's Keep Gaining Ground

Elizabeth Hayes, January 19, 2024

I'd like to share a personal story from my life with you -- if you'll bear with me --  because it reminds me of how much is at stake for our collective environment. 

At the beginning of August 2023, my sister got married. She and her now husband decided to have a destination wedding in the Caribbean. A small group of friends and family flew down to a resort for a week to enjoy the sunshine and spend time together. 


On the second day, my brother and I went swimming in the ocean. We didn’t swim out very far. The water was shallow, and I kept stepping on something sharp. I reached down to touch the sand below my foot and pulled up a piece of coral. It was bleached.   

Once a vibrant color that supported an entire ecosystem, this piece of coral was stark white. It was dead.  

A piece of bleached coral from the Caribbean Ocean.

A gut punch I couldn't shake, I was devastated to hold a real-world effect of climate change in my hand. It also catapulted me back to reality— the reality of what is happening to our world and the consequences of my own actions in choosing to travel.  

Back home in New York State, the climate wasn’t much better. For much of the summer, we experienced near-suffocating smoke-filled air due to the wildfires in Canada. The whole world, in one way or another, seemed to be melting.


I felt despondent. I wanted to cry. The only thing that gave me hope was to think: All I can do, right now, is get back to the office on Monday and keep working to support land conservation on the Rensselaer Plateau.

Wildfire smoke from Canada created an orange haze around the sun for most of the summer in the Northeast.

It’s so easy to feel helpless with today’s climate crisis. Now, more than ever, we are seeing the tangible results of climate change play out in real-time. It can feel very scary—not knowing what’s going to happen next. 


I don't tell you this story to make you feel even more depressed about the state of the world than you may already feel. I am sharing this story because the work we are doing together, right here on the Rensselaer Plateau and throughout Rensselaer County, gives me hope.   

Together, we are making a difference. With your help, we have already conserved 15,000 acres of wetlands, old-growth forests, and irreplaceable wildlife that will make our region more resilient in the face of climate change. We hope to continue conserving even more natural spaces in the future.  

What gives me even greater hope, though, is that the work we are doing on the Rensselaer Plateau and beyond makes an impact across the U.S. and worldwide. And you, as a friend of RPA, are part of this. 

Rensselaer Plateau Alliance is part of a larger network of land trusts working to conserve the land we all love.

Rensselaer Plateau Alliance is part of a network of land trusts that spans from New York state to California all working to conserve land for everyone— humans, plants, and animals. From neighborhood parks and community gardens to vast mountains, forests, and working family farms and ranches, land trusts conserve the places we need and love by partnering with willing landowners across the country who wish to permanently protect their land for future generations.  

Every acre we conserve means less carbon in the air we breathe, healthier soil for our crops, cleaner water in our taps, protected habitat for plants and animals, and access to natural areas where we can increase our fitness and decrease our stress.  

I am so grateful that this work we do together is part of the Land Trust Alliance (LTA) network, connecting us to other land trusts across the country. RPA is working alongside these many land trusts to help save 60 million acres by the end of 2030. That’s a big goal, but together I believe it’s possible. 


LTA’s Gaining Ground Campaign unites us in our efforts to minimize the effects of climate change. Our local work, coupled with the work of other land trusts, is truly helping us do our best to leave this planet a little better. Together, we can conserve 60 million acres by the end of this decade. Together, we can lessen the extent of climate change and make nature accessible to more people. Together, let’s keep Gaining Ground.  


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