1850 - The city of Albany bought what is now Tivoli Lake Preserve from a Dutch land baron, at which time it built a dam on the Patroon Creek to create a reservoir.
Early 1900s - The city had enough other sources for its water supply, and the area became (not for the first time) a dumping ground for trash and polluted water. At one point the creek ran red from the discharge from Tobin Packing Company and other slaughterhouses upstream. (The “Tobin” sign can still be seen high above Interstate 90.)
1957 - The city decided (also not for the first time) to revitalize the area by creating, for the school district, the “Tivoli Lakes Nature Study Sanctuary,” where students from the adjacent Philip Livingston Junior High School learned gardening, biology, art, and homemaking.
1974 - The preserve was suffering from another period of neglect. The Times Union wrote a mock “obituary” for it that year. In June, 1986, a Times Union article noted that “people simply drive in, dump their garbage, and leave.”
1990s - A group of activists successfully persuaded the state to close a soot-emitting power plant about a half-mile from Tivoli; part of the large monetary settlement resulting from this closure was granted by the city, in 1998, to a private environmental organization to revitalize the Preserve.
Early 2000s - The rustic trails had been surfaced with wood chips and bordered with heavy beams – some of which are still visible along the trails. Occasionally, neighborhood groups formed to assist with clean-up and development.
The environmental group went out of business, the city did not replace the large amount of grant money that the group had lost, and another period of decline set in. This did not, however, stop the few city residents who knew about the Preserve from continuing to enjoy its beauty; nor a few grassroots groups from organizing clean-ups and outings for children.
Brother Yusuf Burgess
1991 - Brother Yusuf moved to Albany, after a childhood in a housing project in Brooklyn, a tour of duty in Vietnam, and several years of struggle to raise a large family. He became active in advocacy groups for children and environmental causes almost as soon as he arrived here. (He called himself a “closet environmentalist” in the inner city.) He founded Youth Ed-Venture and Nature Network, to introduce Albany youth to the Adirondacks and the Catskills – and to the Tivoli Lake Preserve. His favorite slogan was “No Child Left Inside.
2014 - He founded Friends of Tivoli Lake. Brother Yusuf and this group were an important part of the city’s next revitalization effort, this time involving the hiring of a consultant firm and the organizing of community meetings to get input; culminating, in the fall of 2014, with a Visioning Plan, which is now part of the city’s comprehensive plan. (See albany2030.org/tivoli-visioning.)
Part of the plan was to “daylight” the Patroon Creek, which many years ago had been diverted through a six-foot-wide pipe that ran underground through the section of the creek that was north of the Preserve – this to prevent stormwater runoff from sending polluted water into the lake. (The idea was not entirely successful, as bigger storms created more runoff, which overflowed the entrance to the pipe.) Since the upstream sources of the pollution had largely been eliminated by the 2010s, the city applied for a multi-million-dollar grant to reopen the creek. This work is being done as this history is being written.
Tragically, Brother Yusuf died suddenly in December 2014. The line of people at his service extended around the block, and included city officials and representatives from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. About 50 people attended a memorial tree-planting in Brother Yusuf’s honor the following year, at the Manning Boulevard entrance to the Preserve.
The Board of Directors of the Friends group that Brother Yusuf had founded continued to meet sporadically, and organized occasional community events, clean-ups, and “plant walks.”
The lake in the middle of the preserve was by this time less than half its original size, because of the spread of invasive species. Eliminating these was a crucial part of the Visioning Plan. The city in 2015 found a way to begin this very long process: They hired sheep, and a border collie, and a shepherd. The shepherd set up an enclosed area – formerly the Livingston Middle School baseball field – to house the sheep when they weren’t on the job; and the shepherd, followed by her successor, the current farm manager, grew the project to include alpacas, chickens, compost sites, and organic gardens. The expanded operation became known as Tivoli Preserve Community Farm.
Friends of Tivoli
2019 - Tivoli Preserve Community Farm joined forces with Friends of Tivoli Lake to form Friends of Tivoli Lake Preserve and Farm, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation registered with the state and eligible to receive tax-exempt donations.