Ron Bishop, November 9, 2019 (video)


Ron Bishop, November 9, 2019 (video)
Ron Bishop
Zachary Greenfield
Brookwood Point
Cook Foundation
Otsego County Conservation Association - OCCA
Otsego Land Trust
Dr. Ronald E. Bishop is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at SUNY Oneonta in Oneonta, New York. Dr. Bishop was born in 1957 in Youngstown, Ohio. He received his bachelor's at Youngstown State University before moving to West Virginia for work and eventually received his Ph.D. from WVU's School of Medicine. After attaining his Ph.D. in Biochemistry, he worked for a branch campus of the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland. While in Frederick, he was on the cutting edge of cancer research at the time and was part of a team that discovered a vitamin B6 metabolite with ties to out of control growth states.

In 2008 Ron moved to Cooperstown, New York to be closer to family and found himself involved in environmental work in addition to his academic work at SUNY Oneonta thanks to friends he made in the area. He also is a certified electrician and heavy equipment operator, in addition to being a federally accredited Chemical Hygiene Officer. With this background, he was uniquely poised to do a technology assessment on hydraulic fracturing and energy services. He worked directly with oil companies and environmental groups during this research, while being beholden to neither group. In this video interview, we discuss how he got started in the environmental field and his involvement with Brookwood Point and other local organizations.
Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2019

RB = Ron Bishop
ZG = Zac Greenfield


ZG: This is Zac Greenfield interviewing Ron Bishop for Cooperstown Community Stories at his home on Saturday November 9th, 2019. Would you tell me how you got involved in local environmentalism?

RB: It's actually the people that I met here. Early on after we moved here, some of my family members who already lived in the area were pretty plugged into the environmental scene. They knew already people like Martha Frye and Adrien Kuzminski. Through a network of those friends, I got into a broader network of people involved with these issues here.

ZG: What kind of issues did the people you know get you involved in?

RB: Early on, I think it was just public access to nice, clean spaces. One of the earliest projects I got involved in was Brookwood Point, which at that time was really difficult for the Cook Foundation to manage and to maintain because the property had been donated to the public, but without much of an endowment to help with all that. Not long after we moved here, the Cook Foundation was entertaining the idea of selling that property to a private individual. Which would mean that my friends, my relatives, people who paint and do different kinds of outdoors sort of things would just lose access to that. That was sort of the beginning of my working with people to do some… I guess, for lack of a better word, public activism. We were pretty successful. As a small group of people, we were able to craft a complaint to the State Attorney General, that eventually caused the person who was offering the property to back out of the sale. No one else ever came in after that. Now the 22-acre property is still open to the public and for all we can tell, doing better with more sustainable management than it had at that time. So that was a pretty good experience for all of us. Any more you'd like on that?


ZG: Can you tell me about Brookwood Point specifically?

RB: Well, Brookwood Point is this wonderful point on Otsego Lake, maybe two miles out from the village of Cooperstown on the west side. It had been in this one family for a pretty long time. We've got a lot of people still related to that family, like the Townsends, still living around here. It was believed that one of the earliest owners of that property was Abner Doubleday, or someone in his family, who is considered the founder of baseball. So, parts of the old mansion that were there were believed to date from the 1820s. It was a pretty old historic property and a wonderful access point to the lake. Right around 2006, 2007, the Cook Foundation, who was trying to manage the property was really struggling financially. The needs of upkeep on the mansion and the various infrastructure, there are bridges, Brookwood Creek and things like that, were really getting beyond them. They were trying to figure out what to do. They decided to sell part of the property, the lake facing part of the property, in order to maybe hold onto the rest. That was just something that a lot of local people, including my relatives and friends, were unwilling to just see happen. After all, that property had been deeded to the public and some us were already enjoying it as just public land.


We met on different occasions. I took some of the lead in doing the legal research and drafted an initial complaint. Which we got dressed up a little bit with the help of an attorney that as a small group we hired to help us with this. We presented this complaint, something that is bequeathed to the public just shouldn't be sold to a private individual and have that taken away. The attorney general of our state didn't seem to have a lot of enthusiasm for prosecuting that particular angle, but he took the complaint seriously enough that it caused the prospective buyer, who was at that time running for a spot in the state assembly, to just back out of the deal. That was how that pretty much came about after a year of some pretty hard behind the scenes work. Since then, the Cook Foundation, since there was quite a bit of crosspollination with this other organization, has been pretty well folded into the Otsego Land Trust board. The Otsego Land Trust has since that time, managed to find some creative ways to generate income and still maintain the pretty unimproved and wild and pristine look of that place. So, we're pretty happy with the outcome in that sense as well.


ZG: Was the Otsego Land Trust already around for this or did it help get it started?

RB: The Otsego Land Trust had been around for a while. I think the connection between the Cook Foundation and the Otsego Land Trust had more to do with who knew who, you know, people connecting with other people than a real corporate or institutional connection. Harry Levine, who was at that point the president of the board of the Otsego Land Trust, was pretty well drawn into our small circle of friends and became rather concerned with the whole idea of rescuing Brookwood Point and keeping it available for public access, which after all is one of those things Otsego Land Trust seeks to do with a large number of the properties that they manage under conservation easements and things like that. And so, it didn't seem to him out of the scope of what they like to do, to try to fold this property into their portfolio. It was a little different in that it was already a public land, and no one was seeking to make it more public, they were just trying to make it sustainably public. The other members of the board went along with his concerns and also they went along with the whole idea of just enabling the Otsego Land Trust board to grow and accommodate a few more members who up to that point, simply just been members of the Cook Foundation formed for the support of that one property. It was not, as far as I could tell, a terribly difficult thing once the seed of the idea came up to do it that way. I have to admit I can take no credit for that idea at all, but that's what groups are for.


ZG: You mentioned a connection to Abner Doubleday, is there any validity to that or is that just one of those public myths that everybody loves?


RB: There seems to be a pretty real connection. The people who did the historical research on the property, Martha Frye who was at that time the executive director for Otsego 2000, took the lead on that because that was something, she had particular strength in. By the way, I did not take on the legal research because I have any particular strength there. I just appeared to be the one who could, and I already knew how to do land record searches and things like that. So, she took the lead on that and we actually had a small grant that was developed for them to look into the property, its history, and so forth. I could probably dig it up from my files, I still have a copy of that report from I guess it would be 2008 now. I don't think that's really just an urban legend, or in this case a rural legend, but I think there actually is some validity to that viewpoint. I know that nobody in the Doubleday family owned it in the current era, but there is some reason to believe that wasn't just a hoax.

ZG: Alright, this has been fascinating! Thank you very much.
Upstate New York
Cooperstown, NY
Zachary Greenfield
Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New Your-College at Oneonta
Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY
Moving Image
02:42 - Brookwood Point
06:32 - Otsego Land Trust
09:00 - Abner Doubleday