by Carolyn Keogh and Gracie Mills
Olana’s landscape is full of stories. Tour guides escort visitors on forested gravel roads on top of a hill to scenic viewpoints that show off the rolling hills and horizon of the Hudson Valley, the prowess of the entire Catskill Mountain range, and the flows of the Hudson River.
Each view was designed and framed by Frederic Church, and within this experience lies a part of his legacy. The guides capture his creation and the living history of Olana well, but time and resources can limit the interpretation of the land.
The Olana Partnership started the Environmentalists on Olana program series in April, so park-goers can learn from a diverse range of voices about Olana’s landscape through monthly walking tours.
This series allows participants to consider Olana’s history and current legacy through the intersections of art and environmentalism. During each program, regional environmentalists, activists, agriculturalists, and ecological stewards will lead walking tours of Olana’s landscape–engaging participants in the work of their organizations and providing new insights into Olana’s 250 acres.
Already, the program partners revealed how Frederic Church created an enduring landscape that is a prime habitat for pollinators and shared native peoples’ history and the effects of colonial resource extraction.
By connecting the expertise of the guest speaker with Olana’s physical landscape and viewshed, each visiting environmentalist will give a deeper understanding of Olana as not only an artist-designed landscape but a resource for immersive explorations in our contemporary environment and appreciation of the natural world.
Last year, this program series connected directly with Olana’s joint exhibition with the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Cross Pollination: Heade, Cole, Church, and Our Contemporary Moment, but this year’s programs are taking a broader look at the environmental and cultural issues facing a landscape like Olana’s. During program planning, The Olana Partnership prioritized inviting diverse voices and providing an opportunity for visitors to learn more about Olana through new or unexpected lenses.
Now, visitors have the opportunity to think deeply about the indigenous histories implicit in landscapes like Olana’s. With Forge Project, explore the aquatic ecosystem of Olana’s man-made lake with Columbia Land Conservancy, or even consider what Church and his 19th-century contemporaries may have known about climate change with Partners for Climate Action.
This year’s program partners include activists, scholars, ecological stewards, agriculturalists, and local businesses who can highlight diverse and wide-ranging environmental perspectives. We are so excited to work with this selection of partners including: Amplify the Future, Fox Farm Apiary, Forge Project, The Outside Institute, Grow Back Hudson, Columbia Land Conservancy, Nine Pin Cider, Samascott Orchards, Riverkeeper, Partners for Climate Action, Scenic Hudson, and Churchtown Dairy.
Though the partner list is expansive, there are still more stories and perspectives to explore. The Olana Partnership is excited to continue this series to learn all that there is about the history and creatures within the living environment and how people engage with what is around them.