Sometimes all it takes is a phone call. That’s all it took for Deb Cohen, and she’s been a driving force behind the success of Friends of Taconic State Park since.
“I will never forget the phone call I got from my neighbor and friend Robin Bruce in 2008 who said, ‘We’re forming this group to help the park, and we’d really like it if you’d agree to be on the board. I promise, you don’t have to do anything.’ The rest, as they say, is history!”
Deb has served as the board treasurer since the group was formed and now handles most of the social media and communications for the Friends group. Like the rest of the 8-member board, she’s also done quite a bit of fundraising and “friend-raising.”
And raise friends and funds they have. The Friends quickly identified the preservation of the historic Copake Iron Works site, located within the Taconic State Park, as its first priority and it has developed a 20-year plan to stabilize, preserve and in some cases, restore the property to the condition of its operating hey-day in the mid-1800s. With the support of park staff, the Friends secured a 50% matching grant through the New York State Environmental Protection Fund and received contributions from more than 300 individuals, businesses and foundations, enabling them to meet the $150,000 fundraising goal. After just over a year of construction work, the protective cover for the historic Copake Iron Works furnace in Taconic State Park was completed.
One of Deb’s proudest moments was when the Friends learned Edgar Masters, the chairman of the Friends’ historic preservation committee, had won Parks & Trails New York’s Volunteer Service Award for his efforts to protect and preserve the 19th century blast furnace in the Copake Iron Works historic site.
Taconic State Park has many special features, making it easy to see why Deb and the Friends are so dedicated to its preservation and enhancement: its many miles of mountain trails, its proximity to the Bash Bish Falls (located in adjacent Massachusetts but most easily accessible through the Park), the crystal clear waters of the Ore Pit swimming area and of course, the Copake Iron Works historic site which is one of the most complete and intact examples of 19th century iron making in the Northeast.
Like most Friends groups, however, there are always challenges. Despite their fundraising success, Deb says, “Learning how to fundraise, write grant applications, find an appropriate tone for appeal letters, etc. – those challenges can be quite daunting, especially for an all-volunteer organization such as ours.”
Another challenge is volunteer recruitment. “It can be hard to find people who can make significant commitments of time, treasure and talent,” notes Deb. “We are lucky to have many volunteers who have made Friends of Taconic State Park a priority in their lives.”
Still, the Friends have been fortunate to have the enthusiastic support of the community. “Every project we have undertaken, every event we have hosted, every fundraising campaign we have launched has been unreservedly embraced by an ever-expanding circle of supporters,” adds Deb. “It never ceases to amaze me how eagerly people say yes when asked to help.”
Now that the furnace cover has been completed, the Friends have two new exciting projects underway. The first is an interpretative signage project at the Copake Iron Works historic site. The Friends are working with State Parks staff to create a history trail comprising 25 informative and engaging signs.
“Having preserved and stabilized the 19th century blast furnace and the nearby Engine House, we now have a duty to tell the story to ever-increasing numbers of visitors,” says Deb.
The group is also planning further stabilization work on the blast furnace. This project would entail replacing the massive cornerstones of the blast furnace, which were repurposed to rebuild a nearby roadway that had been washed out in the September 1938 hurricane.
Deb, who works remotely from Copake Falls as the Chief Financial Officer for a technology consulting firm in the Greater Boston area, recently joined the Parks & Trails New York Board of Directors. She’s also a longtime member of the Blue Hill Troupe in New York City and an ardent supporter of a number of environmental organizations in New York and Massachusetts and several animal shelters and rescue organizations.
When she’s not volunteering, Deb spends a lot of time walking her two very-old Siberian huskies and even more time pulling weeds in her way-too-big vegetable garden, but she admits she spends “not nearly enough time hiking in the Taconic mountain range that surrounds my home.”