Abigail (Abby) Addington-May

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Abigail (Abby) Addington-May grew up in Long Island and now lives in Massachusetts with her husband Warren, daughter Jane, son Edgar and dog Chloe. Abby works from home as a corporate development manager for an electrical inspection company based in Seattle, where she lived for some time. Previously, she was in operations, sales and marketing for BP Marine in London, Houston and Seattle. Her husband Warren is an instructor for automotive technology at UTI (Universal Technical Institute), and Jane and Edgar are sophomores in college and high school, respectively.

Abby is relatively new to NYFOA, and forest management, but her family has been on their 109 acres on Platner Brook in Delhi for generations now. Her grandfather, Wetzel Swartz, purchased the original farm in 1942, back when it was popular for people in New York City area to come to the Catskills for clean cool air in summer. “Also, as was true for most of his generation, he and my grandmother were raised on farms and he wanted his piece of the earth,” Abby said. “My grandfather had a WWII victory garden on the flat at the bottom of the hill, and otherwise, the family has used it as a summer retreat.” The property was handed down through the family, and Abby inherited it after her sister Caroline passed away in 2007.

Abby and Warren make the management decisions together. “We are just starting out, so are not sure how the work will be done yet,” Abby confessed. They just received their forest management plan from their forester, Ron Frisbee, whom Abby found on a referral list online. Recognizing his family name as an old Delhi name going back 12 generations or so, she figured she would give him a call. In addition to the information they get from their forester, Abby and Warren rely on NYFOA and Cornell Cooperative Extension, and every year they go to the Walton Fair and Abby stops at all the conservation booths. “I learned about the emerald ash borer so that when our forester was talking to us about harvesting the ash and why, I knew what he was talking about,” Abby said. “I love NYFOA’s magazine — I learn a lot, about other forest owners and what they are doing with their land.” She also learned about the bi-annual workshop for women forest owners, and plans to attend when the next one is held in 2018.

The property is mostly on a hillside; some features include two old meadows, old apple orchards and a spring (which used to feed into the house across the brook near the road – Abby and Warren hope to replumb it this year). There is a waterfall at the brook where an old mill pond used to be, in the mid 1800’s; the stacked slate foundation wall with sluice opening is still visible. A power line cuts across the property, which was hard to accept when the easement was taken by eminent domain in the late 1960s, but which the family now realizes gives them some lovely views from the top of the hill. The house is from 1850 and didn’t have plumbing when Abby’s grandfather Wetzel bought it; her grandparents replaced the old three hole outhouse with modern facilities.

Altogether, 62 of the 109 acres are forested — unforested land includes the 28 acre power line right of way, a 5 acre riparian buffer area, and 14 acres of old field meadow. The 62 forested acres comprise five stands ranging in size from pole timber to mature woods, with shallow to bedrock soils.Trees are mixed hemlock and hardwood, including sugar and red maples, black and yellow birch, beech, white ash, poplar, red oak, and black cherry.

There are several stands of trees identified in the management plan that Abby and Warren are planning to harvest selectively in the next few years to improve stand quality, protect against emerald ash borer, and provide regeneration opportunities. They plan to leave some woody material on the ground to help provide protection for tree seedlings from deer, and may consider installing some exclosures or utilizing tree tubes for the same purpose. Emerald ash borer (EAB) is getting closer to Delhi each year, so they are planning to remove the white ash with the first thinning in stands where it is prevalent, leaving isolated seed trees for future regeneration — potentially in conjunction with a ‘trap’ of stressed (via girdling) ash trees in a location away from the isolated seed trees to act as a decoy for EAB. Abby and Warren are also planning to monitor stands with hemlock for hemlock woolly adelgid, as it is in the county, and rejuvenate some of the old apple trees for wildlife.

“We are at the very beginning in relation to [managing] the land,” Abby said. “My husband has spent his spare time making sure that the 1850 farm house will not fall into the brook.” The finalization of the management plan and blazing of the property line was illuminating, as there were some sections of the property that Abby had never explored. They intend to start with some apple tree release and pruning this year, are eager to get the spring feeding into the house again and are researching how to do that. Their first tree thinning is planned for 2019.

Right now (and historically), the land’s primarily use is recreational. Abby, her cousin Edgar, and the extended familyhave spent all of the major holidays and a couple of weeks in the summertime out there for as long as she can remember — she has been going out there since she was born. “We hike, pick apples and blackberries, and we have friends who hunt on the property,” Abby said. “We fish and swim in the small pool at the base of the falls in the brook.” They also enjoy the rhubarb harvest every spring, planted next to the barn by Abby and Edgar’s grandfather, Wetzel.Watching wildlife is another regular pleasure — there is a heron that flies up and down the brook regularly, not to mention the resident bobcat that Abby heard on a walk with her son in 2010, years before a friend put up a trailcam and caught a photo of it. “I heard a motor, and thought someone was chainsawing, but then it stopped on a dime,” she laughed. “Motors don’t stop on a dime, they wind down. Then I realized that it sounded like a very big cat purring.”

The land has changed significantly since Abby and Edgar’s grandfather purchased it in 1942.The hillside was practically bare then but now, except for the power line easement, it is fully covered with forest and grasses. The two meadows need to be managed to keep them from going back to forest also. The course of the brook, which had not changed perceptively between Abby’s childhood (late 1950’s) and 1985, has recently changed quite a bit.“The flood of 2006 completely stripped all vegetation from the brook bed and broke off some cherished pieces of our waterfall,” Abby remembers. The ‘hairwash’ was one of them — a well worn small fall, about 4 feet above a nice flat rock that was “perfect for setting up your shampoo, leaning over and getting a good wash.Remember, there’s no bathtub/shower in our old farmhouse” — the outhouse was replaced with just a sink/toilet.

Abby and Warren’s biggest challenge when it comes to managing the property is the fact that they live four hours away, have kids in school, and can only come for long weekends and a few weeks in the summer.“The house is not insulated so we don’t come in the winter. I’m trying to stretch out the season for us though — coming earlier in April and getting up in November,” Abby said. The first thing Warren did when Abby inherited the farm was to buy a farm truck so that they could drive up to the top of the hill.“Until 2007 we would have to ford the brook on foot and hike up the steep hill, stopping in the shade of the stone fences between the meadows to rest before carrying on. Since we always were there in the summer time, these were hot hikes,” Abby laughed. “So we would get to the top of the hill, take a gander at the view, then rush down to get a dip in the brook to cool off.” Now that they use a farm truck to get up to the hill they spend a whole lot more time on the property, exploring the different sections.

Abby was inspired to get involved in forest management due to her love of the land. “We love Delhi, the Catskills and our little piece of heaven, and we want to be good stewards and keep it in the family for another five generations,” she said. She most enjoys the permanence of the land. “I have been coming to Platner Brook since I was born, 62 years ago, and remember being here with my great-grandmother Rose and now with my daughter Jane — so five generations, the same hill, the same brook, seeing tiny cedars grow to be towering cedars in the course of my lifetime. I like seeing the changes.” When asked about advice she would give to other forest owners, she laughed, “I’m not in a position to give advice yet, except to say, get out and enjoy your land!”


Briana Binkerd-Dale is a student in Environmental Biology and Applied Ecology at Cornell University. If you are interested in being featured in a member profile, please email Jeff Joseph at jeffjosephwoodworker@gmail.com


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