2015 Excellence in Conservation Awards

Excellence in Conservation Organization Award

Connecticut Farmland Trust & Sharon Land Trust for the Wike Brothers Farm, Sharon, CT

Protecting Wike Brothers Farm demonstrates even when a project spans seven years in two phases, requires the coordination of three separate federal and state agencies each with its own sets of rules and regulations, and involves significant fundraising, it can still happen.

A Farming Legacy in a Significant Conservation Area

One of Sharon's oldest and largest farms, Wike Brothers Farm has been owned and worked by the same family for more than 150 years.  The 92-year old family matriarch Helen Wike Humeston, who speaks eloquently about her love of her family's land, was the driving force behind preserving the property.  Her three great-grandchildren are the 7th generation to live on the farm.

Preserving Wike Brothers Farm secured a key property within a growing and significant conservation area, reflecting a diversity of landscapes and conservation values.  Adjacent to the farm are three properties totaling 458 acres owned by the Sharon Land Trust on top of Red Mountain.  The Housatonic State Forest, Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and Miles Wildlife Sanctuary are within a half mile of the property, as is another 500-acre farm, of which 150 acres are protected by the state’s Farmland Preservation Program. Finally, there are over 4,000 acres of protected property within a two-mile radius of the farm, consisting of state, non-profit and privately owned land.

Creating a Balance between Nature and Agriculture

The land exemplifies a balance between active working lands and conservation of key wildlife habitat.  The farm is located on the eastern slope of Red Mountain, a prominent feature in the state’s western highlands.  The preserved property provides prime habitat for the state endangered Timber Rattlesnake, one of only two designated areas in the state, and potential habitat for the state and federally threatened Bog Turtle.

Public Access

The protection of the farm provides a key linkage in land available for public access. This summer, Sharon Land Trust will unveil a new 2.7-acre hiking trail traversing the ridgeline of Red Mountain, made possible, in part, due to the preservation of the farm on the western side of White Hollow Road.  The property also contributes to open space linkages along the Housatonic Riverbelt Greenway, identified by the Highlands Coalition as one of the “Critical Treasures of Connecticut’s Highlands”.

A Public-Private Collaborative Success Story

Funding for the protection of the farm was made possible through the collaboration of multiple partners, including conservation committed owners who sold the easements at a bargain, the Connecticut Farmland Trust, the Sharon Land Trust, the CT Department of Agriculture, the USDA-NRCS, and the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.  Every partner played a critical role.

Simsbury Land Trust & the Town of Simsbury for the George Hall Farm, Simsbury, CT

Years in the making, through a combination of remarkable creativity and collaboration, the protection of George Hall Farm, the town’s last unprotected family farm, was finally achieved in fall of 2014. Shortly thereafter, owner George Hall went to his rest secure in the knowledge that the farm bearing his name would be forever farmed.

Simsbury’s Last Unprotected Farm

For years, the Simsbury Land Trust shared George Hall’s long held hope to see his farm protected, but it did not have the resources to fund a development rights purchase.  USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) funding, which had been an indispensable aid in the land trust’s prior farm transactions, was not available because, at eleven acres, the farm was too small. Hence the need for creativity.

Thinking Outside the Box

To supplement his own fields, George had for years leased 39-acres of town-owned farmland. Located in a floodplain with alluvial soils, the site provided limited options for town use but excellent potential for farming – and through George’s practices the land was certified as organic.  Thinking outside the box, and facilitated by the Simsbury Land Trust, the George Hall Farm purchased the town land, thus adding enough acreage to his holdings to qualify for NRCS funding, and paving the way for a successful purchase of the development rights. 

Open-Minded Collaboration

The transaction would not have been possible without the open-minded collaboration of the leadership of the town of Simsbury.  Selling town-owned land is never easy.  However, through the ownership of the development rights by the land trust, buttressed by an easement in favor of the NRCS, municipal leaders and citizens were assured that the land to be conveyed by the town would always be farmed, and that the George Hall Farm would always be protected.  The icing on the cake?  The town was able to set aside the net proceeds of the sale of its land for other town open space purposes.

Providing Connections with the Land

In addition to providing the public with locally grown, organic food through its CSA program and as a fixture at the Simsbury Farmer’s Market, the  George Hall Farm has for years hosted interns who have gone on to propagate its organic farming values.  Protection of the farm has also enabled the Simsbury Land Trust to establish a new trail around the edge of the farm fields, connecting to the land trust’s Wagner Woods property and the Great Pond State Forest. 

Katchen Coley Award for Excellence in Land Conservation

Bill Arnold, President, Kent Land Trust

Like many land trust leaders, and in particular leaders of all-volunteer trusts, Bill’s dedication and time commitment is unflagging; his leadership guides countless conservationists.

Building Organizational Capacity

Bill joined Kent Land Trust (KLT) as its Treasurer in 2004, immediately making a measureable imprint by formalizing financial systems and other business procedures. In 2006, Bill also began his tenure as board member and Chairman of the Finance Committee for Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust.  KLT President since 2010,Bill has been instrumental in building a diverse and participatory board, a vast list of volunteers, and an increasingly effective organization.

Cultivating Local and Regional Collaboration

Under Bill’s leadership, KLT has established itself as central to the Town of Kent’s efforts to protect defined character areas, and has catalyzed Kent’s conservation movement by supporting Marble Valley Farm/CSA, sponsoring Kent’s Community Garden, and hosting the annual Community Conservation Picnic. KLT has become a leader among peer organizations, providing technical assistance to individual trusts, and collaborating in groups including the Litchfield Hills Greenprint, Small Area Land Trusts (SALT), and the Aspetuck Pomperaug River Partnership.

Achieving Accreditation

Bill led KLT in achieving land trust accreditation; in August 2010 KLT became the second land trust in Connecticut to reach this distinction.

The East Kent Hamlet Nature Preserve – An Exemplary Project with a Lasting Legacy

Bill’s work to complete the acquisition of KLT’s recently opened East Kent Hamlet Nature Preserve, a 253+ acre former Girl Scout camp, and the remediation and restoration work associated therewith, are an inspiration and in and of itself worthy of CLCC’s recognition of excellence.  At the opening

celebration for the Preserve last August, Kent’s First Selectman Bruce Adams called his grandsons to join him at the podium, reminding those present that the purpose of protecting the property was so its children could grow up exploring, learning and continuing to benefit from the resources conserved there.

The Kent Land Trust is exceedingly grateful to Bill Arnold and believes that were it not for his careful attention and devotion to this project, it could not have proceeded the way it did. His efforts, commitment and accomplishments in land conservation are an inspiration to land trusts in Connecticut.

Boardman (Barney) Kathan,Treasurer, Prospect Land Trust (Honorable Mention)

Throughout the years, Barney has been fiercely devoted to land conservation and other public service initiatives.

A life dedicated to public service

For almost 68 years, the last 23 as a volunteer, Barney has provided leadership in churches and organizations throughout the country as a youth director, pastor and administrator.  In Prospect, his commitment to public service included volunteer work for a multitude of organizations and initiatives including the Region 16 Board of Education, Prospect Public Library, Prospect Bicentennial Commission, and was the founder and first chairman of the National council on Religion and Public Education. 

A passion for conservation

Barney took the initiative in organizing the Prospect Land Trust (PLT) in 1994 by inviting Prospect residents and members of the Cheshire Land Trust into his living room.  He has been a PLT officer through most of the 21 years, serving as Treasurer for the last thirteen.  Under Barney’s leadership, PLT has guided hikes as part of Connecticut Trails Day, co-hosted CLCC Regional Land Trust Board Summits, attended conferences and workshops, and otherwise worked to strengthen the organization’s capacity and conservation impact in the town of Prospect.

Walking the walk – Preserving Kathan Woods

In 1936, Barney’s mother bought 136 acres of land in Prospect with money she borrowed from her own mother. A couple of years later, she bought another 40 acres.  Decades later, Barney ensured a large portion of his mother’s investment would remain open space for generations to enjoy for many years to come by donating 82 acres of his family’s land to the Prospect Land Trust. Through his donation of Kathan Woods, PLT’s largest holding, the Prospect community is assured that this beautiful and historically significant area will be protected forever.