UPPER NYACK, N.Y. -- Forgive a visitor for having the urge to spin around and sing "the hills are alive with the sound of music" while visiting Marydell, the 38-acre preserve that squats in the shadow of Hook Mountain. The 360-degree vista of the cliffs and the river is sublime, especially when the autumn leaves are still an artist's pallet of fiery colors. It's at moments like this when one can understand why the Sisters of our Lady of Christian Doctrine, which owns this paradise, is trying so hard to make sure it preserved forever.
Area residents who've heard rumors that the sisters plan to sell the land to developers can rest easy for the moment. Some 30 of the 38 acres of the land is under contract to be bought for $3.1 million by the Trust For Public Land, a national land protection non-profit, that hopes to connect this glorious natural outpost to Hook Mountain and Nyack Beach State Park.
But the deal is not done. The Trust For Public Land needs to raise about $1 million in order to get the state to kick in the rest. Sen. David Carlucci has expressed a willingness to see that this deal is completed.
"I am working with my partners in government to preserve the Marydell property as open space to be enjoyed by generations to come," said Carlucci.
But first, pressure is on the land trust to raise money.
"I've got some good ideas for raising a good chunk of it, but if some angel wants to come to our rescue, that'd be great," said Ben Weiland, project manager at The Trust For Public Land.
Weiland said he has until late 2016 to raise the money.
From 1925 to 1988, the property was a girls' summer camp. In 1990, it was reincarnated as the Marydell Faith and Life Center, which is run by 17 sisters, ages 68 to 98. The sisters hold weekend retreats for 16 in onsite cabins and in its 1929 prefabricated Sears barn known as the Kateri Lodge. Summer camps also use the site. Presently, Universal Studios is filming a Hulu Drama Series called The Way, a religious cult story starring Michelle Monaghan.
The ministry runs on an annual budget of about $200,000, according to Sister Veronica Mendez, the ministry's president. The property is part of the order's tax-exempt holdings in Upper Nyack, which is within the Town of Clarkstown.
With the sisters dying off, there's a need to plan for the future.
Mendez says the order wants to take eight acres for the sisters, but they are emphatically united in their desire to preserve the rest of the land forever. The $3.1 million proceeds for the land will be used to support the sisters as they age and will need medical care or to move into nursing homes.
Mendez said the ministry is in the process of creating a board that will carry on their work when they are gone.
"The land is not threatened by development,," said Mendez,. "It is a strong value of ours to preserve this planet, to respect God's creation."
There have, of course, been offers. The land is prime property, with views of the Hudson River. But Mendez said she's confident the Trust For Public Land will pull through. "They have a great track record."
Asked what would happen if the deal falls through, Mendez said, "If the Trust For Public Land can't raise the money, we are back to square one. But we have every intention of keeping this beautiful place open space."
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.