Nikki Nielson '12 was recently awarded a Tibor T. Polgar Fellowship to spend the summer researching conservation easements along the Hudson River corridor stretching from New York City to Troy, N.Y.
At the end of the summer, she will present her findings to the Hudson River Foundation and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the two entities who administer the fellowship.
"Ulster County alone has 11 land trusts, and there are many more throughout the Hudson Valley," explained Nielson, who operated her own grant writing and project management firm in New Paltz, N.Y., prior to enrolling at Albany Law.
"My work will be to step back and try to determine how this type of land can best be used while preserving environmental benefits."
Many historic properties along the Hudson River - estates of industrialists, religious retreats and agricultural lands - have been converted over the years from private ownership into a mixture of public, private and quasi-public ownership. One of these conversion mechanisms has been for the landowner to grant conservation easements to restrict development of their property.
However, there is currently a lack of information about the implementation of conservation easements, as well as some confusion as to the legal implications of such a designation. Nielson will spend the summer surveying the quantity and types of easements along the Hudson River, analyzing existing case law and legal research on the topic, and developing analysis and recommendations for future implementation.
She hopes to publish a paper based on her work.
"Ultimately, my goal is to inform the public policy discussion on how best to move forward with a comprehensive plan while still protecting the land for future generations," she said.
The Polgar Fellowship provides a summertime grant and research funds for up to eight college students to conduct research on the Hudson River. The program's objectives are to gather information on all aspects of the Hudson River and to train students in conducting estuarine studies and public policy research.
Professor Keith Hirokawa, who taught Nielson's Property class, will act as her advisor during the fellowship. "He's the one who encouraged me to apply," she recalled.
After teaching in the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, Calif., Nielson moved to the Hudson Valley in 2001 and took a position developing grants and managing projects for municipalities and regional organizations.
She launched her own firm, Arcady Solutions, in 2008, where she provided writing, research, needs assessments, project development, fundraising and project management services for organizations in the fields of economic development, environmental sustainability through the protection of open space and educational equity.
"I've always wanted to go to law school," she said. "And now, based on my prior work experience and current interests, I really feel like I have direction in terms of what kind of law I want to pursue."
Nielson, who lives in New Paltz with her husband and their daughter, holds a B.S. from the University of Rochester, and a M.A. from Teacher's College, Columbia University, in politics and education.