The Woodstock Land Conservancy’s second annual “Vernal Fling,” held at the ever-remarkable Maverick Concert Hall Saturday, May 12, paid special tribute to Congressman Maurice Hinchey’s never-flagging guardianship of local wildness, awarding him the William R. Ginsberg Stewardship Award in remembrance of that nationally known advocate of conservation and open space.

“We’re all familiar with Congressman’s Hinchey distinguished environmental leadership, on issues from Love Canal to hydrofracking,” said Land Conservancy president Patty Goodwin, “but few of us realize that in the state assembly in the ‘70’s, it was Maurice who lead the effort to codify New York State conservation law, which has allowed WLC and our sister land trusts to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness, open space and agricultural land in New York State.”

It was also Hinchey, who in the early days of his career in The New York State Legislature, blew the whistle on organized crime’s waste hauling resulting in 20 criminal convictions after exposing illegal causes of Love Canal, the nation’s first recognized major toxic dumpsite. Maurice pioneered environmental legislation that was instrumental in forcing General Electric to clean-up PCB’s in the Hudson, and proposed the first law to control acid rain. Recently, Hinchey’s “FRAC Act” bill would close the loophole exempting gas companies from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It was more than appropriate, too, that the honor was bestowed at the Maverick Concert Hall, which has recently been restored with a major grant from Save America’s Treasures that Hinchey helped secure.

The truly Woodstockian event featured a “found poem” culled by Ed Sanders from fragments of Hinchey’s emotionally charged retirement speech given at the Senate House in Kingston, and sung with a total of three voices, over a “clapping” composition by Garry Kvistad. The tribute culminated in a celebratory video by Patty Goodwin, Lisa Pollard, Julie Last, Burrill Crohn, Cambiz Khosravi and narrated by Robbie Dupree, utilizing many images culled from Hinchey’s long, photo-perfect career. Supporters of the Land Conservancy cheered from the floor, joining in a general outpouring of thanks palpable throughout Hinchey’s multi-county constituency, ever more poignant as Maurice Hinchey serves the last full calendar of his 38 year career in public office. He is stepping down from office in January.

Past president of Land Conservancy, Kevin Smith praised the congressman’s uncompromising support before welcoming him to the stage. Flanked by his family and visibly moved, Hinchey approached the podium and thanked many, hurrahed the Land Conservancy and the Catskill Mountainkeeper and closing his ten minute speech with a vow of continued vigilance: “…it is so important for all of us to continue to carry the torch of our core ideals and pass these onto next generation of environmental leaders.”

A gem-studded silent auction, sumptious eats and drink, and marvelous music by the Perry Beekman Quartet (with special guest Warren Bernhardt) rounded out the night. “This Vernal Fling was classic Woodstock: a warm, emotional evening of great music, great images and great people, all in honor of a man who proves that heroes still exist,” said  Goodwin. “We want to thank Maurice and all the friends who joined us at The Maverick.”

Among other recent effusions of gratitude for Maurice Hinchey: the Dutchess County Democrats honored him at their spring brunch last weekend where he received the prestigious Eleanor and Franklin Award. Elsewhere, the American Cancer Society — Cancer Action Network honored him at its annual gala Friday, May 11, and he was given the Capitol Dome Award, the highest ACS-CAN award in the nation.

At the ceremony, the Land Conservancy eschewed the usual plaque, choosing instead to honor the Congressman by creating a 75-page book covering his career in the State Assembly and in Congress, in the context of his life story and extraordinary character.  Copies of the book will soon be available for purchase on the conservancy’s website, www.woodstocklandconservancy.org.++