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A Family Protects Picton Island

Editor's Note:  At the end of July, the Thousand Islands Land Trust sent this press release to a group of past executive members and former trustees.  Jake Tibbles, the Executive Director of TILT, knew that many of us would not only be thrilled to receive this news, but would take great pride in the small role each of us played, and continue to play, in helping to preserve the area we love. 

I immediately wrote to congratulate the current trustees, but I also spent several minutes thinking how lucky I am to have been part of TILT, as a trustee for over 25 years.  That may sound like a lifetime, but the friendships I have made, and the projects completed, make me immensely proud.  Thank you TILT for all you have done for me, and for our Thousand Islands.  It is appreciated.


In July of 2016, the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) conserved two parcels, on one of the largest remaining forested and virtually undeveloped islands within the Thousand Islands region, Picton Island. Over 100 acres and nearly 10,000 feet of pristine, natural shoreline, along the eastern half of the Island, are now protected under two limited development conservation easements, signed with the Picton Island LLC, which is composed of members of the Heineman Family. Conservation Easements are legal agreements that limit certain activities on the conserved property. While construction is prohibited on the majority of the land, protected by the Picton easements, a few small, clearly defined, future development lots, are permitted. Picton Island LLC will continue to own the protected lands, allowing the property to remain on the tax rolls of the Town of Clayton.

Picton Island, the fifth largest American island in the Thousand Islands region, features an incredible natural resource base, as well as a unique history of natural resource use. The Island’s array of mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, coastal wetlands and granite rock outcroppings,comprise a vast diversity of habitat types and terrain variations. “The unfragmented forest acts as a habitat corridor, by providing connectivity across the Frontenac Arch,” explained Spencer Busler, TILT’s Director of Land Conservation. “Interestingly, Picton’s granite was mined in large quantities, in the early 1900s, by the Picton Island Red Granite Company. Its superior quality and color was highly sought after and was most notably utilized in the construction of the Maryland Institute Building of Baltimore and the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City. It’s clear that Picton is rich with natural resources, but perhaps the Island’s most invaluable resource is the breathtaking panoramic waterscapes of the St. Lawrence River.”

The Heineman family has an extensive legacy of philanthropy toward the region and the Thousand Islands Land Trust. Bernard (Barney) Heineman, Sr. purchased Picton Island, plus 300 acres on the foot of Grindstone Island, in 1934. This was shortly after falling in love with the area during a fishing trip. “This was also right after the Depression,” explained his granddaughter, Deborah Heineman. “Half of Picton was slated for development and had been divided into postage-stamp-sized lots, much like many of the islands off the head of Wellesley. As a life-long conservationist, outdoorsman and avid lepidopterist (butterfly & moth collector) our grandpa was thrilled with the opportunity to keep the island paradise from development.”

In 1995, Barney’s sons, Bernard, Jr. (Jack), Bill and Andrew Heineman, all avid bird watchers, donated approximately 230 acres on Grindstone Island, to help TILT and New York State Parks develop the Grindstone Island Nature Trail, connecting Canoe Point and Picnic Point State Parks. The sons later worked with the Land Trust, to dedicate the land donated on Grindstone, as the Heineman Family Songbird Forest, in the early 2000s.

To this day, the unlogged, mixed hardwood forest preserve, continues to provide breeding habitat for a number of Neotropical migratory song birds, including Cerulean Warblers and a variety of Thrush species. Also the Songbird Forest and adjacent State Parks are open to the public for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing. “The goal of TILT’s work is a greater quality of life, an improved foundation for our local economy, and an enhanced environment,” stated Jake Tibbles, TILT’s Executive Director. “Ultimately, the Land Trust strives to protect our region’s most precious natural resources and then gives them back to our local communities through public access and recreational opportunities.”

After nearly ten years of negotiations with TILT, the Heinemans have carried forward family tradition, of philanthropy and conservation, with the donation and bargain-sale of the Picton Island Conservation Easements, now protecting half of the Island. Through a combination of funding, from the Andrew Heineman Estate, TILT’s “Conserving The Place We Love” Mission Support Campaign and the North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA), over 100 acres of Picton Island will remain in its natural state for generations to come. “We are thrilled to be able to continue the vision our grandfather had over 80 years ago,” says Deborah Heineman. “And we look forward to working with the Thousand Islands Land Trust to protect the remainder of Picton Island, either through a similar conservation easement or through an outright donation in the very near future.”

By Jake Tibbles, Executive Director, Thousand Islands Land Trust.

Jake 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, he has overseen TILT's Reaccreditation by the Land Trust Alliance Accreditation Commission, and its growth in conserved lands, in educational programs, and staffing.

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Bob Isaacs
Comment by: Bob Isaacs
Left at: 2:33 PM Monday, September 5, 2016
Does any of this land affect the bay where all the boats hang out?