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Not long after the world celebrated the beginning of the new millennium, John Sullivan’s Kipp Mountain Tree Farm in Chestertown marked 50 years of forest management and successful timber production. In that time there have been eight harvests of the 350 acre woodlot, a couple of thinnings, one white pine planting and recognition as New York’s 2006 Tree Farm of the year.
The story started well over a century ago, in 1875, when Warren County was mainly farmland and John’s great-grandparents, Thomas and Mary Callahan, bought the land. After 35 years eking out a living on the area’s rocky soil, they quit farming and moved away; the fields began their reversion to woodland. Now jump forward to the early 1950s, when John’s parents, Bob and Christina Sullivan, bought the land from other members of the family.
“My father was a town and city boy,” says John, “but he figured if they were going to own the land they should make it productive, and that meant he needed to learn about woods. So he contacted the DEC and soon we were working with Phil Capone, then a service forester out of Warrensburg.”
Under Capone’s guidance — and others over the next 20-some years — John and his father planted white pine seedlings, conducted other timber stand improvements and contracted for several limited harvests of white pine, hardwoods and hemlock. In 1975 his father turned the land over to John.
Thinking it might be time for more formal management, John sought help in developing a forest management plan from the International Paper Company. At the time, IP and other large corporations maintained landowner assistance programs that would create management plans and provide other help to land owners in return for the right of first refusal on any harvests. John’s plan helped place the land under New York’s 480-A forest management program, which provided John a substantial reduction in real property taxes of the forested acres. While he receives the tax break, John commits his land to forest production for the next 10 years. “Many people think this is too much of a commitment, but it works for me because I intend to keep the land in the family, as forest, forever.”
Another management move made sense when, in 2002, the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks launched its Sustainable Forestry program, through which participating landowners receive certification from the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC certification confirms that the land is managed according to strict standards of sustainable growth and environmental responsibility. New York’s state forests, as well as International Paper and Finch, Pruyn and Company lands in the Adirondacks are FSC certified.
John has worked with two foresters for most of the 30 years he has owned the Kipp Mountain Tree Farm: Steve Warne, now retired from DEC, and Chris Gearwar of Lake George Forestry. “The Tree Farm would not have been successful without those two men,” he says.
Recent successes include a thinning of a 15-acre sugar maple stand that yielded a couple of years of firewood for two homes, and a 2006 harvest of a 20-acre white pine stand that yielded 113,000 board feet of pine, plus small amounts of other species.
John lived in New Jersey and later for 30 years in the Washington, DC, area and came to live on his property full-time about 10 years ago. He had built a log cabin – with logs cut on his land – in 1981 and after many improvements made it our permanent home.
John’s wife, Gretchen McHugh, is a photographer, writer, and treasurer of the Southern Adirondack Chapter of NYFOA, and a Tree Farmer in her own right. She owns a 118-acre woodlot in Washington County that includes a 200-year-old farmhouse, so the pair commute between the two properties.
John has always considered owning the Kipp Mountain Tree Farm as a major influence in his life. “It is a never-ending challenge; you think you know something and then it wakes you up and reminds you that you’re just starting to learn.” John tries to spend some part of every day in the woods, which leads his neighbors to joke that he has a name for every tree. He concedes this may be true, but maintains that it isn’t just the trees that he enjoys, but the wildlife as well.
While the tree farm grows white pine, red oak, white ash, hemlock, white cedar and several other species, it is also home to deer, bear, coyote, fox, fisher, the occasional moose and — to John’s surprise and delight one morning about 3 years ago — a cougar that he saw as it crossed the road.
The following article was adapted from remarks given by John Sullivan, Northern Adirondack Chapter NYFOA and 2005 NYS Tree Farmer of the Year. at a panel on New York's Forests and the Upstate Economy held during Forestry Awareness Day, March 19, 2007, in Albany - The Economic Reality of Small Woodlots (26kb PDF Document)
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