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  • Annie Jacobs

Two forests conserved, and a life remembered

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

February 17, 2022

Annie Jacobs

Great news comes as the Rensselaer Plateau's snow cover turns to patches of slick ice, and morning birdsong sounds like spring. RPA has just closed on the third and fourth parcels funded by the Forests Forever Campaign! These properties, from two different sellers, together will form the future 153-acre Dill Brook Community Forest in memory of Robert Simms. Photo of the Dill Brook stream in summer, by Nate Simms

A family ethic

After Donna and Bob Simms had their first child, Matthew, they started searching for a beautiful piece of land that they might enjoy together and that would be protected from development.

Bob treasured wild nature, and he loved sharing the trails with his sons, Matt (walking) and Nate (up on Bob's shoulders).

They were inspired by Bob's father's farm in Virginia, which they loved visiting. In summers, they would help make hay on the farm and hike along the Rappahanock River.

Donna and Bob searched in West Virginia,

but all the land they could afford on their

very limited budget already had the mineral rights sold.

They started looking in Maine and eventually bought a 282-acre parcel there, called Popple Hill, for $8,000. It was 1969.

When their two boys, Matt and Nate, were in grade school—and after living in Greece for a year where Bob was studying Greek archaeology—Donna and Bob both got teaching jobs at Emma Willard School in Troy, NY.

The young family settled in Troy but maintained their adventurous approach to life. They hiked, camped, and even bike-toured through Europe, instilling a love of nature in Matt and Nate.

Activism was also a heartfelt aspect of their lives. Bob was a person who acted on his principles, and saving wild land from development was important to him and Donna.

Bob died in 2009, but both Donna and Nate, who lives in Albany, are very involved with local conservation through the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance.

In 2011, Donna, Nate, Matt, and his family, including Donna's grandsons, Will and Thomas, climbed Mt. Olympus to scatter Bob's ashes.

In 2020, Nate—a landscape photographer and filmmaker—discovered that one of his favorite spots on the Rensselaer Plateau's eastern escarpment was for sale.

Donna and Nate wondered if they could somehow sell (and conserve) the Maine property while also conserving this plateau property—and honor Bob's memory and his values in the process.

Donna called up Jim Bonesteel, RPA's Executive Director, to pitch the idea. At first, she thought she might donate her Maine land to RPA, but then realized that she needed to keep some of the income from Popple Hill to supplement her retirement.

Jim proposed that she could sell her land and donate enough of the funds from that sale to cover a substantial portion of the cost of the Dill Brook property. The remaining expenses would be covered by RPA, allowing Donna to get back what she needed from the sale.

Jim connected Donna with Jim Daus, a new RPA volunteer, and with the Greater Lovell Land Trust in Maine. As a former realtor and Colorado land trust executive director, Jim Daus was the perfect person for her to work with.

The future community forest is located in Petersburgh near the corner of Route 22 and Dill Brook Road. The land includes sections of the high-quality Dill Brook stream, vernal pools and other wetlands, and a climb through mixed forest types and mature trees.

In the end, Donna was able to put a conservation easement on her Maine property and sell it to a neighbor. She then used proceeds of that sale to become one of the lead donors to the Forests Forever Campaign.

Her donation was used to purchase the Dill Brook property for permanent conservation in memory of Robert Simms.

Donna said that she's never given a gift of more than a few thousand dollars to any organization, and will never be able to do so again. For her, this was the legacy gift of a lifetime.

We're so grateful that Donna and Nate, with Matt's enthusiastic support, chose to honor Bob in this way, allowing not only one, but two special forests to remain wild, long into the future.

Just as Bob would have wanted.


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