Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cook Foundation to Merge with Otsego Land Trust: Otsego County Mini-Grant Recipient

Otsego Land Trust Director Peter Hujik provided the following announcement. This project received funding support from the Otsego County Mini-Grant Program:

The boards of directors of The Cook Foundation and the Otsego Land Trust have approved a merger of the two not-for-profit organizations.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, The Cook Foundation will transfer all of its assets, including the 22-acre Brookwood property, to the Land Trust. The agreement is still subject to the approval of the Attorney General and confirmation by the New York State Supreme Court.

According to The Cook Foundation president, Robert Poulson, “Otsego Land Trust has a professional staff and is in the business of conserving land throughout the Otsego region. We are pleased that they are willing to assume responsibility for this very important property.”

The Cook Foundation was established in 1985 by Bob Cook, who donated his family’s Brookwood property to the Foundation. The property has a main house, parts of which date back to the early 1800’s, a garden house, extensive gardens, wetlands, flood plains, and over a quarter mile of frontage on Otsego Lake. In addition, the Foundation holds conservation easements on approximately 110 acres of land (unrelated to Brookwood) in the Otsego Lake watershed. When the merger is finalized, the Otsego Land Trust conservation holdings in this watershed will total over 975 acres.

Otsego Land Trust Chairman, Harry Levine, said that this merger is a very important step for both Otsego Land Trust and The Cook Foundation as they cooperate to protect a very valuable lakefront property. Mr. Levine said, “Assuming the merger is approved by the Attorney General and the court, we will establish a clear set of objectives for the property, a budget to meet these objectives, and a sustainable business model. Any such model will be dependent upon the public’s ability to provide both financial support and volunteer time.”

“We will be asking for public input in looking at the potential for the property,” Mr. Levine said. Land Trust board member, Francis Nolan, will be chairing a committee to address the opportunities and obligations of the property. This committee will include members of the public and will be charged with advising the Land Trust board about the property.

“Otsego Land Trust recognizes the longstanding and thoughtful efforts of The Cook Foundation. We are excited about planning for the future of this wonderful property. My sincere hope is that the community will provide the support necessary for us to be good stewards,” Mr. Levine said.

Mr. Poulson added, “The financial burden of the property exceeds the Foundation's resources. And while we don't expect the Land Trust to write the checks, we feel that it is far more capable of working with experts and the public to develop a long term plan for Brookwood. Maintaining the property is a daunting task that requires the solid sponsorship of the Land Trust and a great deal of financial support from the public. Realistically, everyone should expect that hard choices will need to be made about what to protect and what to let go. “

The merger agreement provides that Otsego Land Trust will be the surviving entity. Three members of The Cook Foundation Board of Trustees will become members of the Land Trust Board of Directors bringing the board up to 19 directors. Remaining trustees will join an advisory committee to provide assistance. The Land Trust will establish a designated fund to be named for Bob Cook and to be used exclusively for the purposes he set out when he created The Cook Foundation.

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