By Tara Kelly and Georgina Schaeffer
This January, the Dutchess Land Conservancy welcomed Eric Roberts as its newest board member. We sat down with Roberts to discover what brought him to the area, how his passion for Dutchess County developed and what he recommends for those who want to support the DLC’s future.
When Eric Roberts began to look for a second home outside of New York City in the early 1990s, he quickly homed in on Millbrook and its surrounding towns in no small part because of the work of the Dutchess Land Conservancy. “[I chose this area] because of the open spaces and the protections already in place to keep the area rural. This was the work of the DLC. I became a supporter and an advocate for their work and mission from those early days until the present.” Growing up in a western suburb of Philadelphia, Roberts saw the horse farms of his youth give way to subdivisions of 50 houses. He watched as the country of America’s oldest subscription hunt, the Rose Tree Hunt, was carved into smaller and smaller lots. “The hay fields we played in as kids became developments of stucco McMansions,” he recalls. “We are so lucky to have open space that is so readily accessible to New York City. I moved here because of the open land and I want to see it remain that way for others in the future.”
After renting in the area for a few years, Roberts bought the main house of Silver Mountain Farm on Charlie Hill Road in Millerton in 1995. The mountain, which is the highest New York peak east of the Hudson between New York City and Albany, takes its name from the silver mines active there in the 1800s. With astounding vistas in all directions and postcard-perfect sunsets, the area was also a favored picnicking spot of FDR. “The views are incredible, so the land was highly desirable,” Roberts notes. The farm had been sold to some land speculators and knowing the possibility of further development, Roberts began buying as much of the land as he could in pieces over the years, and then putting that land into conservation. Today, over 133 of his acres are overseen by the DLC.
Roberts first welcomed DLC visitors to Silver Mountain Farm for a farm tour in 2002. His farm managers, Chris and Vern Schrom, were raising more than 90 Border Leicester and Rambouillet sheep at that time. Today, the McEnroes manage an assortment of cattle, which graze in the fields behind the barns. Putting the land in active agricultural use is important to Roberts who, as a teenager, worked at a local farm after school. His understanding of the direct connection between open land and a farmer’s ability to make a living continues to inform his views.
In 2016, Roberts again welcomed DLC visitors to Silver Mountain Farm when he hosted the Spring Barn Dinner Dance on his property. “I love a good barn dance because it’s a chance for me to enjoy my other passion, music, with a good live band in a great barn setting,” he notes. The mission of DLC and land conservation is always a large part of the celebration for Roberts and the other barn raisers at the spring dance. “If you’re new to the area, the most important thing you can do is become part of the Dutchess Land Conservancy,” he says. “Most of the people who have established a life here have done it because of the land.” Roberts also became a Trustee of the Land in 2016, joining the most generous supporters who donate at the DLC’s highest giving level.
Last year, Roberts signed on as a DLC Legacy Society member, which means he included the DLC in his estate planning. “When I decided to join, I was at my desk in my office eating lunch. I logged into my donor-advised fund and in less than ten minutes I made the DLC a beneficiary of the fund. It’s so simple [to do],” Roberts explains. As a board member (past and present) of several other non-profits, including the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Cary Institute and the American Museum of Fly Fishing, Roberts’ involvement with, and knowledge of, charitable giving is extensive. “My experience with other charities led me to believe that building permanence into an organization is essential for long-term sustainability,” he says. “A healthy endowment is critical to that. The best way to build an endowment is through legacy gifts,” he continues. “The easiest mechanism for making a legacy gift is to make your charity the beneficiary of your IRA, 401k, life insurance policy or a charitable trust. It can be accomplished quickly, often with significant tax savings.” Most importantly, Roberts notes, “when you’re making estate plans— considering charities you’re passionate about is important.”
For Roberts, his passion for preserving Dutchess County has not gone unnoticed in the community and that devotion has led to his new appointment to the DLC board. “Eric has been an avid supporter of the DLC since he moved to Dutchess County,” Rebecca Seaman, Dutchess Land Conservancy’s Board Chairman says. “We are very excited to welcome someone with his passion and enthusiasm for land conservation onto the DLC Board.”