Winnie Blackwood/For The Recorder

A part of the two-and-a-half mile trail that surrounds Strawberry Fields Nature Preserve in the town of Amsterdam. 

By Winnie Blackwood

For The Recorder

Winne Blackwood/For The Recorder
Jeff Leon, owner and steward of Strawberry Fields Nature Preserve, stands in front of the kiosk that contains information about the property.

TOWN OF AMSTERDAM — A belief that nature can unite the human race and the looming concern of climate change led to the preservation and its public opening of Strawberry Fields Nature Preserve.

When visitors drive up the steep driveway to the fields, they are met with several signs containing the lyrics to John Lennon’s song, “Strawberry Fields,” and on the way down, lyrics to “Imagine.”

The fields, named for it’s abundance in wild strawberry plants, has much to offer the public from it’s two-and-a-half-mile walking trail with a view overlooking the Mohawk Valley, a picnic table, benches, 300 species of vascular plants and around 60 species of birds.

Jeff Leon is owner and steward of the 118-acre property. Guided tours by Leon are also available, and in the winter cross country skiers can use the trails.

Aside from functioning as a nature preserve, Strawberry Fields acts as a homestead to Leon and his family, and his son and daughter-in-law’s farm, Lovin’ Mama Farm.

Maple syrup is also harvested and produced on the property.

“It’s really got three purposes and we’re trying to find out if those can co-exist peacefully,” Leon said.

The trails and signage ensure visitors stay away from the family’s homes.

The property has a rich history dating back to the 1700s with its owner Phillip Groat, a survivor of the Stockade Massacre of 1690, a Canadian attack on the village of Schenectady.

It was not until 1971 that Leon became the owner. His father first bought it in 1968 and sold it to Leon, who lived in New York City at the time.

Leon, an avid believer of climate change, said overdevelopment leads to climate change and he thought it was best to look for a nature conservancy in order to stop this from happening to his property.

“I think people are having a hard time realizing the way we live our lives generally is contributing to climate change,” Leon said.

The peculiar weather patterns and the notion that many know of a person who has been affected by extreme weather events, including flooding and tornadoes, is proof climate change is real, Leon said.

Strawberry Fields is even run on renewable electricity.

Being out in nature and nature itself can benefit humans, such as a walk in the woods to relieve stress or the clean air from trees, Leon said.

“The steep bank here is so deep and thick, it’s like being in church,” Leon said of the bank, which visitors can see on the property’s walking trail. “It gives you that reverend feeling.”

Through Strawberry Fields, he hopes people can learn to respect and appreciate nature. When visitors come to the preserve, a kiosk informs them of the rules to stay on the guided trail, no motorized vehicles, carry in and carry out, no fires and no unauthorized removal of plants and wildlife.

“By opening this place to the public, I’m hoping more people become fond of nature and take better care of it,” Leon said.

The process to preserve Strawberry Fields has taken fifteen years after Leon moved from New York City to Amsterdam full time with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving lands in Albany, Montgomery and Schenectady Counties.

The reasoning behind the wait, Leon said, was because for the first six years he was helping MHLC expand and strengthen the organization before preserving his lands, which occurred in 2013. They then officially opened to the public on May 20 with an outdoor event.

MHLC preservation of Strawberry Fields is its first hybrid with a conservative easement, said Mark King, MHLC’s executive director.

The easement allows for public use of the property, when usually they are private, King said.

“It’s really generous of Jeff to share his passion with the public, and it’s a very nice place to take a walk,” King said.

Strawberry Fields is located on 240 Cranes Hollow Road in Amsterdam.