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Historic Environmental Movements of Warwick

This guide presents material on the history of social movements and activism about Warwick's environment.

Introduction - Saving Sterling Forest

​After an epic struggle of more than a decade, Sterling Forest State Park was created in February of 1998 when Gov. George Pataki of New York and Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New York signed a deal for 15,800 acres of the rugged mountain woodland.  Straddling the state line, the preserve has grown to include nearly 22,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands since that date, ensuring that the giant "green lungs" and watershed straddling the northern NY/NJ border are intact for future generations.

Activists began their efforts in 1985 when it was first learned that the privately owned land was going to be slated for development. Paul and JoAnn Dolan and other environmental leaders assembled a coalition of stakeholders to work on different aspects of this uphill battle. 

In the following decade, with preservationists chipping persistently away at the project, new urgency arose when the Sterling Forest Corporation proposed major development in a number of different iterations.  A vigorous program of outreach and creative tactics on the part of both development advocates and preservations ramped up. and after many dramatic developments, the Park was finally secured in 1998.

The original boundaries were gradually expanded and most of the remaining Sterling Forest land was brought into the park,.which is operated by the Palisades Interstate Parks Commission.

[Source: Berger, Joseph. "For 55 Million, New York Acquires Sterling Forest".  The New York Times, Feb. 11, 1998.  Section B, p. 5, and Saving Sterling Forest by Ann Botshon.

The Town of Warwick includes about 1,700 acres of Sterling Forest State Park, lands to the east of Greenwood Lake.  The Lautenberg Visitor Center and the lands around it are within the Town.


Chronology of events extracted from 

Saving Sterling Forest by Ann Botshon and Palisades: 100,000 Acres in 100 Years  by Robert Binnewiess, and other sources

1953 Sterling Iron and Railway Company's 20,000 acres are sold to City Investing and transferred to subsidiary Home Insurance Co. of Hartford, Ct.  [City Investing later liquidates in the 1980s and ownership remains with Home Insurance Co.]

October: Notice of the sale first appears in the Warwick papers and the idea of development is included.

November: Description of plans for between "400,000-500,000" families are in local paper. [Note: appears to be "too many zeros?!"]; extraction of peat and lumber resources to be marketed under brand name "Sterling Forest."

1957 Union Carbide establishes nuclear research center.  Sterling Corporation begins selling Sterling Forest Peat as it excavates wetland for new building, lake.
1958-1959 Sterling Forest Corporation hosts the Empire State Music Festival and opens Sterling Forest Gardens in Tuxedo, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands donating tulip bulbs and attending opening.
1960-1965 More corporations begin locating in Sterling (NYU, 1960).  Sterling Ski Center opens, 1963.
1969-1974 Regional Plan Association renews call to preserve Sterling Forest, most of which is still owned by City Investing Corporation and administered by Sterling Forest Corporation.  Plans are discussed to develop the land for as many as 80,000 residents. 
1975- A giant development, "Sterling One" is proposed to the Town of Tuxedo.  The newly passed New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) requires more rigorous examination of the environmental impact.  Although passed by the Tuxedo Town Board's vote, overriding the Tuxedo Planning Board, the case is taken to court and the approval is nullified by the New York Supreme Court in July 1978.
1979 National Park Service buys a narrow strip along the Appalachian Trail.

Sterling Forest Corp. announces plan to sell all 20,000 acres.  JoAnn and Paul Dolan organize the Greenwood Trust and a tour for government officials, and begin to build a coalition for preservation of the Forest; a presentation on preserving 10,000 access is given before the Regional Plan Association.  Passaic County (NJ) applies for NJ Green Acres funding to preserve a portion for watershed; negotiations with City Investing stall. 

Lynmark Corporation sues Warwick Town Board for refusing variance to develop former International Nickel parcel.

A new exit off of the NYS Thruway is proposed to facilitate access for economic development of the area, which is eventually tabled due to opposition and the disclosure of high level officials' ties to developers.  It was eventually built (exist 15A) several miles further south, at Sloatsburg.


Passaic County (NJ) condemns and takes ownership of NJ acreage in a "seizure for public good" action.  Preservation discussions with the newly minted AMBASE (formerly The Home Group) corporation stall in New York.  As negotiations further deteriorate, the Regional Plan Association steps in to help the coalition (eventually called the Sterling Forest Coalition) to move forward. 

The Home Group resists the publicly floated purchase price by preservationists, and develops a new assessment of the market value, vastly increasing the expected price.

In October, 1989, a U. S. Congressional hearing is held at Tuxedo to examine the issue, organized by Representative Peter Kostmayer (PA) at the urging of NJ Congressman Robert Torricelli.  One of the outcomes of the hearing is increased Federal interest in the preservation and/or oversight of development.


Sterling Forest Corporation retools its development plans to exhibit greater sensitivity to the environment. Citizens for Environmentally Responsible Development (CERD) forms, but is later shown to be receiving substantial funding from the Sterling Forest Corporation.   Local activists are split between those who advocate responsible development and those who want the land preserved intact.

Lack of forward movement on public acquisition lead to continued efforts by the Sterling Forest Corporation to continue efforts to develop the land.  

In June, plans for development of 14,500 resident units in Tuxedo, Warwick, and Monroe are presented by Sterling Forest Corporation, which would fragment the forest.  

The U.S. Forest Service is appropriated $250.000 to study the NY/NJ Hudson Highlands, sponsored by Rep. Kostmayer, and protested by Rep. Ben Gilman.

The Draft "New York- New Jersey Highlands Regional Study" is released in November of 1991, and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission also discussed preservation in its Second Century Plan in 1990.


Hearings are held in Washington regarding funding and creation of public lands of Sterling Forest.  Despite several dramatic developments, in June of 1992 the House Appropriations Committee  authorized five million dollars for the purchase, requiring matching funds from New York and New Jersey.  After intervention by New Jersey's Senator Frank Lautenberg, but New York's legislators were lukewarm or disapproving. Eventually five million (later reduced to three) a fraction of what was needed, was approved.

The environmental coalition began to suffer from infighting and differing views and approaches as the search for funding to accomplish preservation continued.


By late 1993 progress had been accomplished, and fell appart, due in part to an economic downturn which diminished the financial resources of all parties.    A new administration in Washington allowed plans to move forward.  Representatives from both states--- Torricelli, Gilman, Roukema, and Lautenberg-- all now supported preservation.

In 1993, New York established the Environmental Protection Fund.

In 1994, ten million of New Jersey funds were committed.

The ownership of Sterling Forest Corporation was shifting, and negotiations were moving in a more positive direction, yet the plans for development are moving slowly forward, with an environmental review in 1993.

The preservation coalition, with the leadership of JoAnn Dolan, coalesces with renewed efforts, and enlists several key powerhouse organizations and individuals. 

1995 The Sterling Forest Corporation releases its Draft Environmental Impact Statement of 5,000 pages.
1996 In May, New York and New Jersey reach an agreement about purchase price.
1998 The Town of Warwick Board supports the creation of NYS Thruway Exit 15B. The acquisition of the bulk of Sterling Forest by the public, administered by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, is completed. 


In 2020, Paul and Joann Dolan donated copies video footage, documentaries, and documents to the Albert Wisner Public Library's local history room so that the history of the movement to save Sterling Forest would be accessible to future generations. The DVDs are available for in-house viewing only.

1    36:52 President Clinton bill signing: Parks and Public Land Mamagement Act
2   23.16 Newt Gingrich Sterling Forest
3   63:00 Gov. Pataki and Sen. Lautenberg. Sterling Forest Lautenberg Center
4   21:32 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape One of Five.
5   21:24 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape Two of Five.
6   19.20 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape Three  of Five.
7   21:46 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape Four of Five.
8   21:47 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape Five of Five.
9   21.51 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape Six.
10   22.15 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape Seven.
11   21.51 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape Eight.
12   22.21 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape Nine.
13   22.17 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape Ten.
14   22.06 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape Eleven.
15   09.48 House Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Sterling Forest. Tape Twelve.  
16   14:28 Sterling Forest: A Quality of Life Choice. 
17   30:00 This is your land: Sterling Forest.  Race to Save the Planet (Partial)
18   58.07 Target NJ-- Pure Water: Green Vs. Green
19   26.33 New Jersey Viewpoint: Sterling Forest
20   56:48 Race for Open Space: New Jersey Sprawl
21   62.20 America's Healing Pole Journey