Last year, the River community took urgent action to protect a special place that was in danger of being changed forever. After learning of US Customs & Border Protection’s (CBP) plan to construct a new Border Patrol facility in the heart of the Thousand Islands, the River community stepped in to help prevent what could only be described as an unprecedented loss to our St. Lawrence River ecosystem. And although located on the US side, the loss of this habitat would have affected ecosystems in both the US and Canada.
Concerns surrounding the new Border Patrol facility, in this location, reinforced the importance of being proactive in protecting lands that are critical to the health of the River, a thriving local economy, and the region’s overall quality of life. In fact, over a thousand members of the River community submitted public comments encouraging CBP to seek alternative sites.
In November 2022, the Land Trust officially acquired the 22-acre property. A true environmental treasure, Blind Bay is not only an historic breeding ground for muskellunge and 53 additional fish species, it also is home to numerous mammal and bird species that are characteristic of the Thousand Islands.
Since the acquisition was finalized, TILT and partner Save The RiverⓇ Upper St. Lawrence RiverkeeperⓇ (STR) have been focused on developing a long-term conservation plan for Blind Bay. Recently, the organizations hosted a group of Scouts from Fort Drum. As part of our Blind Bay Stewardship Day, the group installed wood duck boxes and a variety of songbird nest boxes.
The Scouts reveled in a unique, firsthand experience by engaging with the land and contributing to the critical stewardship of wildlife habitat. “Educating the next generation on what the Blind Bay Preserve provides is a big step in our advocacy. It’s imperative that our youth become the stewards of Blind Bay, the stewards of the broader Thousand Islands region,” says Robin Hall, STR’s Education Coordinator.
For the last several months, the Blind Bay Coalition has been working with elected officials and community leaders to help identify alternative sites for the proposed Border Patrol facility. Jake Tibbles, TILT’s executive director, states, “While the Blind Bay Coalition is opposed to CBP siting the new facility in and around Blind Bay, it understands the important role the Agency plays when it comes to homeland security and protecting our nation’s borders, and that’s one of the reasons why we have offered to assist CBP with the environmental evaluation of alternative sites.”
A proposal by the Town of Alexandria to locate a new Border Patrol facility at the former Bonnie Castle Recreation Center was sent to CBP last year. The Recreation Center, located on Route 12 and adjacent to I-81, addresses CBP’s need to access these two main highways to improve their response times to incidents and provides agents with quicker access to patrol and surveillance areas.
“As highlighted in recent news articles, the Bonnie Castle Recreation Center offered by the Town of Alexandria seems to address Customs & Border Protection’s needs, at the same time, avoids negatively impacting the environmentally sensitive Blind Bay,” explained Phil Reed, Jefferson County Legislator. “This proposal looks to have the support of the local community and many elected officials.”
The Recreation Center provides adequate space for station siting, access to municipal water and sewer, and zoning that is compatible with the proposed facility. In addition, the Center is already off the tax rolls and is in close proximity to convenient boat access. “Interestingly, by photo documenting the ice cover in and around the various areas that we believe CBP is considering for the new facility, Blind Bay is by far the first to ice-up and the last to see ice-out,” stated Reed. “This could significantly impact CBP’s response time during spring and fall months.”
Moving forward, the Blind Bay Coalition plans to keep the River community informed of any developments pertaining to CBP’s proposal. It also plans to continue working with elected officials and proactively engaging with CBP. “Considering our long-standing relationships with the River communities, and deep knowledge of the region’s complex ecosystems, Coalition partners are uniquely positioned to work with CBP to avoid other sites that may be equally or more sensitive than Blind Bay,” said John Peach, STR’s Executive Director.
Echoing these concerns for biodiversity, Spencer Busler, TILT’s Assistant Director, stated, “Over the coming months, mink will scurry along the rocky shoreline looking for food to feed their young and the sounds of our beloved loons will echo across the Bay. When combined with the existing conservation lands, 36 acres of mixed forest and grasslands and 835 feet of undeveloped coastal shoreline are now under permanent protection, providing a safe haven for our local wildlife.”
“The preservation of one of the most prolific muskellunge spawning areas in the Upper St. Lawrence is very important to the survival of the apex predator in the River. Save The River (STR) applauds TILT’s bold initiative in protecting this critical habitat that is essential to support biodiversity in the River and along its shorelines,” commented Peach. “TILT’s commitment to conserving critical environmental habitat, combined with STR’s advocacy on behalf of the River, has made the protection of Blind Bay possible. It’s an excellent example of advocacy and conservation working hand in hand for the long-term benefit of our region.”
This summer TILT and Save The River plan to hold additional environmental education programs and continue their support of the Thousand Islands Biological Station’s Muskellunge Population Restoration Program. The two organizations also plan to host a community gathering to raise funds for the long-term conservation and legal defense of Blind Bay.
For more information, news and how to get involved, visit SaveBlindBay.com
By Jake Tibbles
Jake Tibbles was appointed Executive Director in May 2012. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the State University of New York at Cortland, majoring in both Biology and Chemistry. He first came to the Land Trust in 2007 in a research internship and continued on as Director of Stewardship. Since being appointed Executive Director, Jake has overseen TILT's Reaccreditation by the Land Trust Alliance Accreditation Commission, and its growth in conserved lands, in educational programs, and staffing.
Editor's note: Stay tuned as we learned last week that the Customs and border Services still have their eye on the property. This is an important subject so let your voice be heard. Call Save the River or TILT to see what you can do to help.
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