The Hyde Park Visual Environment Committee evolved from a 1970 trial committee project of the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Assisted by Dutchess County Planning, the committee's aim was to increase residential involvement in the local planning process and create a defined vision for Hyde Park's future development. Their goals included increased attendance and participation at Town Board, Planning Board and Zoning Board meetings. During this time period, Hyde Park was beginning to feel the pressure of budding suburban amenities, commercial development, and the struggle to identify a community image in a Town that was divided culturally, historically and politically. It was facing changing population growth, due to IBM expansion and struggling with how to encourage acceptable commerce within the limits of zoning regulations, an Historic District and State and Federal Parks. Initial meetings with residents, local developers and businesses only clarified the enormous divide between these groups and their respective ideas towards the Town's future development. It became clear that Hyde Park needed an organized study of its historical treasures. Committee members, along with D.C. Landmarks Association and the fledgling Hyde Park Historical Society began to grid-map Hyde Park's neighborhoods for historic landmarks and future preservation. The resulting photographs and research information were compiled into a Landmarks Survey and housed temporarily with D.C. Landmarks and later turned over to the D.C. Historical Society. The Committee continued to participate in the town's planning process, with regular meeting attendance, site visits and public commentary. As the public image of The Committee grew, it was approached by other organizations to assist with their community projects. The Jaycee's requested assistance in repairing Hyde Park's damaged stonewalls. This led to a combined sponsorship of Stone Wall Building Classes that set about repairing a section of the Route 9 historic stonewalls. The National Parks Service requested assistance in sorting Hyde Park historical information it had been holding in storage several decades, which was subsequently given to the Hyde Park Historical Society. The Committee's community involvement grew into various arenas led by its volunteers' talents and interests. Environmentalists contributed to site planning and development of town park walking paths. Gardeners assisted in park and street clean-ups and beautification projects. Photographers, writers and draftsmen recorded The Committee's progress and helped disseminate information to town residents.
INCORPORATION OF THE HYDE PARK VISUAL ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE
The Committee was growing both in its representation of all segments of the Town and its skills in understanding the issues, but lacked a formal organization and a stated mission. Therefore, in 1972 it was decided that The Committee should incorporate in order to publicize its mission and attract a sizeable supporting membership, raise money and seek grants and gifts as a legal not-for-profit. After setting up banking, electing a board and creating its constitution and by-laws, the Hyde Park Visual Environment Committee's incorporation was approved by the NYS Department of State as a public education provider. A budget and membership dues were established. Permanent committees were formed that would report to the HPVEC board at their monthly meetings. All of the work continued to be done by volunteers. The HPVEC continued to focus on stonewall restoration, architectural and historic neighborhood preservation, beautification, commercial and suburban development (including their affects ground water) and commercial signage ordinances. Several grants were received to assist the committee in these efforts. Positive relationships continued to grow with the NPS, the NYS DOT and the FDR Presidential Library. Public education efforts helped increase the HPVEC's membership and also contributed to the well-attended town government meetings and an out pouring of well-informed opinion to guide the elected and appointed leadership. As the 1976 bicentennial celebration approached, the HPVEC applied for and received a grant to undertake a movie depicting the struggle over democratic change and growth in the lives of an American community. Ralph Arlyck, of the Vassar film workshop was selected to oversee and create this film, while the HPVEC continued fundraising to cover the expenses. The film became an educational tool for the local high school as well as college classes and planning groups.
In 1976, the HPVEC became aware of NY State's interest in the condition of Val-kill: Eleanor Roosevelt's Hyde Park Cottage Retreat and the possibility of preserving it as a national or state park. An initial meeting was set up with the Lt. Governor's office to discuss their goal of including Val-kill in the 1977 "Year of the Woman" Celebration. Until this point, the land was being considered for private development as a senior nursing center. The HPVEC quickly responded by establishing a group called The Cottage Committee to investigate the possibility of saving this important historic and natural site for the town. However, it would remove the property from the tax rolls and therefore the idea needed community support. A NYSCA grant helped to fund a slide program, which was presented to the community. The presentation was an enormous success, due in part to the participation of actress Jean Stapleton and her reading as Eleanor, supporting words from Curtis Roosevelt and the work of countless volunteers. It became apparent that the Cottage Committee would be best served if it became independently incorporated. HPVEC's board granted permission and continued to partner and supports the Eleanor Roosevelt's Val-Kill (ERVK) in their mission to see Val-Kill become the first National Park to honor a First Lady. The ERVK continued its efforts, culminating in a trip to Washington DC to testify at the committee hearings in support of their congressional Bill. Both Houses subsequently passed it unanimously and Val-Kill joined an important group of historical and educational National Parks in the Town of Hyde Park. Val-Kill also remains as a model for other generations seeking to preserve community historic and natural resources.
The HPVEC as a not for profit organization has been honored by the service of a dedicated membership of volunteers. Below is a sampling in no particular order of some of those early members, but by no means is it a complete list of all of those who have aided this organization in its mission over the years.