2017 Excellence in Conservation Awards

Excellence in Conservation Organization Award

Chester Land Trust for the Constance Baker Motley Preserve Project

The 2016 acquisition by the Chester Land Trust of an open space parcel to be designated as the Judge Constance Baker Motley Preserve is a case study of a small town land trust successfully undertaking a community based project with the support of the historical society, local Boy Scout troop, the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments and the Connecticut Land Conservation Council.

Early in 2016, the Chester Land Trust became aware of a sale listing a 6 acre parcel on Cedar Lake Road. A pie shaped parcel with road frontage surrounded by the Cockaponsett State Forest, the property is adjacent to the headwaters of Pattaconk Brook, which meanders through Chester to its outlet in Chester Cove and the Connecticut River.

The property was being offered by the estate of Judge Constance Baker Motley. Judge Motley, a part of the Chester community for over 40 years, enjoyed an illustrious career with the NAACP where she was the lead attorney in Supreme Court cases resulting in historic civil rights advances.  She was the first African American woman elected to the New York State Senate and President of Manhattan Borough, and in 1965 she was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to serve as to the first African American woman federal court judge.

The Trust’s acquisition proposal was presented to the executor of Judge Motley’s estate, who agreed to take the property off the market for a 6 month period to give the Trust the opportunity to raise funds for the purchase. The Trust was able to take advantage of technical and fund-raising assistance provided through the Connecticut Land Conservation Council’s Land Trust Advancement Initiative. A combination of public meetings, direct mailings, press coverage and personal contact by Board members were undertaken in a concentrated 60 day October/November period, and the Trust was successful in raising the necessary funds in time for the November 28 closing. Dedication of the Judge Constance Baker Motley Preserve is scheduled as a community event in June 2017.

In its 30 year history, the Trust had never purchased property; all of its preserves and easements were acquired through donation.  This project marked a big step forward for the all-volunteer Chester Land Trust and, with their success, several lessons were learned, including:

  • A good project and hard work can result in a positive outcome.
  • The involvement of other organizations including the historical society and boy scouts drew the support of community members who otherwise might not have contributed.
  • A supportive seller made the project possible.
  • The technical assistance provided to the Trust gave the knowledge and confidence to carry out a successful fund raising campaign when none had ever been sponsored before.

Congratulations, CLT, for sharing your story and inspiring land trusts, big and small, to continue to work hard, pursue important conservation opportunities, and make a difference in your community.

Richard H. Goodwin Trail Committee

The Richard H. Goodwin Trail Committee is a collaborative group comprised of representatives from the Towns of East Lyme, Lyme, Salem and East Haddam, working in partnership with the three Land Trusts of Lyme, Salem and East Haddam and with Department of Energy and Environmental Protection staff and The Nature Conservancy. The Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Coordinating Committee (ERWSCC) provides Trail Committee coordination.

Sheer Outdoor Brilliance

Sheer outdoor brilliance, is an apt description by journalist Peter Marteka, (The Hartford Courant), of the Richard H. Goodwin Trail which officially opened in the summer of 2016. The first segment of the Richard H. Goodwin Trail is fourteen miles long, winding through a combination of eight separate land parcels (seven preserved parcels and one private parcel) through the towns of East Lyme, Salem, Lyme and East Haddam.

The idea began several years ago during a review of regional open space mapping that encompassed the four towns. It became clear that with some negotiations for trail access, it would be possible to connect the four towns together with a trail. The trail traverses over state, municipal, land trust and private parcels. Ranging from easy to moderately difficult, the fourteen mile trail crosses over both the East and West Branch of the Eightmile River, a number of smaller tributaries, by vernal pools and skirts numerous swamps and marshes. While the forest has reestablished over much of the landscape that was cleared around the turn of the 20th century, there are still some impressive stone walls and old foundations as a reminder that you are in the woods of New England.

Seeing this four town trail to fruition was only possible through the coordinated efforts of multiple groups and many, many volunteer hours. While volunteers provided much of the local expertise and people power, funds were necessary for the purchase of materials for parking areas, repair of eroded areas on old forest roads, signage, mapping and a new deck for a bridge. Cash funding has come from multiple sources including the State of Connecticut Recreational Trail Grant Program, Town of East Haddam, East Haddam Land Trust and the National Park Service.

Honoring Dr. Richard Goodwin – a champion of conservation

The namesake of the trail, Dr. Richard Goodwin, was a champion of conservation. A founding member of The Nature Conservancy, he served two terms as president of the organization, and was a leader of the Conservancy’s Connecticut Chapter for 50 years. Dr. Goodwin and his wife, Esther, made their home in East Haddam and donated their own land in 1960 to establish the Burnham Brook preserve and they encouraged neighbors to do the same, leading to the protection of more than 1,000 acres that fall within the Eightmile River Watershed and borders Devil’s Hopyard State Park.  He was the founder and former president of the East Haddam Land Trust.

The second segment of the Richard H. Goodwin Trail is heading northward with a planned connection to Burnham Brook Preserve. Land preservation in Connecticut continues to face challenges whether it is for public and political support, or funding of acquisitions, or both. When cases for acquisition are being made, they typically include the value of the parcel for habitat preservation, greenway development, source water protection, access to other resources and many also have a recreational component. This project demonstrates that new opportunities can emerge many years after the original acquisition. These opportunities are only possible today, because land was preserved in the past. The Richard H. Goodwin Trail addresses a growing interest in outdoor experiences that are more challenging and allow hours of nature immersion. This type of a trail attracts the attention of new groups of outdoor enthusiasts that also have a vote and may offer new opportunities for fundraising. It can serve as a platform to build a stronger and more diverse case in support for future land preservation.

Katchen Coley Award for Excellence in Land Conservation

Vikki Reski

Vikki’s ability to establish strategic alliances and to work collaboratively has led to significant accomplishments, including the conservation of three farms, a grassland, and wildlife habitat and corridors; the resurrection of the Wintonbury Land Trust; and the establishment of relationships with town government, other organizations, and individuals which will build organizational capacity well into the future.  

Beginning in 2009, Vikki led a multi-year effort to transform Wintonbury Land Trust (WLT) into a dynamic and vibrant organization. Serving in whatever role is most needed for the land trust (Secretary, then Treasurer, and now Stewardship Chair), Vikki has created initiatives to attract new members, recruited and organized stewards for Land Trust properties, procured funding, identified land for future acquisition, and took proactive steps to build relationships with landowners who might be interested in conserving land.

A registered architect and landscape architect, Vikki has coordinated several complex conservation projects that took years to consummate, requiring patience, creativity and the ability to collaborate with numerous parties. Vikki wrote or co-authored eleven grants on multiple projects which raised $1,131,200, assisted with the private fundraising, and then managed the very complicated closings as primary land trust liaison to counsel.

Hawk Hill Farm and Lisa Lane Farm – Conservation Success Stories

Vikki was instrumental in protecting two critical farms in Bloomfield. Part of a 250-acre agricultural and wildlife corridor, the 45-acre Hawk Hill Farm, includes valuable wetlands and flood plain habitat, 23 acres of prime farmland, and provides an opportunity, thanks to Vikki’s vision, to complete critical trail linkages from the town's urban center to Pennwood State Park. Protected by both open space and agricultural easements, Hawk Hill Farm is now leased to a young female farmer whose herd of Highland cattle have served as the catalyst for over $60,000 in private donations to restore the historically significant barn.

A 10-acre farm located in the most densely populated part of Bloomfield, the Lisa Lane Farm was conserved with conservation easements by WLT in collaboration with the town of Bloomfield, DEEP, and the USDA-NRCS. The land is leased by a farmer whose specialty is growing produce for the area's West Indian community. Lisa Lane serves as an experiential classroom for kids of all ages to learn about conservation and agriculture, and provides a place for neighbors to gather, plant and harvest food for themselves and their community.  The land is also surrounded by a wooded buffer, offers neighborhood access to walking trails, and provides quality wildlife habitat adjacent to the town of Windsor's Meadow Brook Wildlife Corridor.
Community Leader and Tireless Advocate for Conservation and Smart Growth

Given its proximity to Hartford and West Hartford, Bloomfield has experienced significant developmental pressure over the years, making land conservation an economic and political challenge. Serving on multiple town committees since 1991, Vikki’s community service includes participation on the Bloomfield’s Conservation, Energy and Environment Committee; working with the town to map priority areas for preservation; and helping to update the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, including securing an Ag Viability Grant to enable the town to host public forums.

Educational and Outreach Activities

Vikki has done an outstanding job in making connections with traditional and non-traditional community partners -- thinking outside the box on what can and should be accomplished for the betterment of the land trust and the community. She is currently a board member at Auerfarm, a non-profit organization in Bloomfield, whose mission is to connect people, agriculture and the environment through education and recreation, and a founding member of Ironwood Community Partners, Inc., a public interest design firm focused on community development through cultural and energy sustainability.

Taking conservation projects from vision to reality requires courage, dedication and hard work. Vikki’s commitment and leadership have raised the level of community support for conservation and will have a lasting impact on the landscape and the quality of life in central Connecticut.

Harry White

Harry White has been a passionate force in land conservation in Northwestern Connecticut and beyond for 20 years. He has made a lasting and meaningful impact on our landscape, working on projects protecting over 15,000 acres of the region’s forests, wetlands, and farms as well as many miles of ridgelines and rivers.

A longtime resident of Colebrook, Harry’s interest in the natural world began at an early age, expanded through years of backpacking and rock and ice climbing, and continued in his pursuit of ecology as a Summa Cum Laude undergraduate and graduate student. He earned his Master of Forestry degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies with specializations in forest ecosystem health, stream ecology, preserved areas management, and restoration ecology.  

Harry currently serves as the Conservation Director and Ecologist for three area land trusts - the Cornwall Conservation Trust, the Salisbury Association Land Trust, and the Sharon Land Trust.  As such, he personifies a key regional conservation goal, that of shared services for land trusts, enabling smaller land trusts to share the benefits of highly skilled professional support. In addition, he is the Consulting Ecologist for Northeast Wilderness Trust where he works on large-block forever-wild acquisition and stewardship projects from the Adirondacks to the Great North Woods of Maine on preserves of over 15,000 acres.

Teacher, Volunteer and Innovator

Harry is eager to share his expertise, and he generously offers project-related support for any local area land trust which seeks his help. He has assisted the Colebrook, Goshen, Kent, Litchfield, Naromi, Norfolk, Roxbury, Norfolk and Warren Land Trusts, Steep Rock Association, Housatonic Valley Association, Great Mountain Forest, Lake Waramaug Task Force, Northwest Conservation District, and the Connecticut DEEP.

Harry’s pioneering use of drones and model aircraft has helped to monitor difficult and delicate preserve areas. Harry is one of the country’s first ecologists to use this technology for monitoring and to provide aerial photography and GIS mapping of conservation lands, providing a more efficient way to access and evaluate less accessible parcels of land.

Conservation Ethic

Harry pioneered the creation of Forever Wild areas in Connecticut, helping to protect more than 2000 acres of untouched wilderness. Using peer-reviewed science as the basis for this paradigm, Harry has convinced many land donors of the wisdom and vision of the Forever Wild approach, resulting in many Forever Wild easements and land preserves in Connecticut. He is a fierce defender of old forests and big trees, and has engaged in citizen advocacy to protect both from the ravages of regulators and bureaucrats.

Harry was instrumental in protecting habitat of the bog turtle, a federal endangered species that is in decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation. He has also worked to advance the protection of other important wildlife species including bobolink, meadowlark, ovenbird, American kestrel, timber rattlesnake, copperhead snake, spotted salamander, bobcat, mink, and otter, among others.

Land Trust Organizational Development

During years of exponential growth at Weantinoge Heritage, Harry worked for limited pay, and contributed many additional hours, to implement an organizational plan to facilitate its increased legal, financial and management obligations. Harry worked tirelessly to advocate and seek contributions for the creation of full-time executive director and stewardship positions at Weantinoge to support its dedicated volunteer base.

 “Harry is the most committed conservationist I know. I had the pleasure of working with him for 14 years [at Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust] witnessing over and over his fierce and steadfast allegiance to his mission to protect land and its native animal and plant environments.” Tom McGowan, Former Executive Director, Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust

Harry has been instrumental in improving the ability of Cornwall Conservation Trust to conserve and manage land. His excellent work in evaluating and helping CCT describe the conservation values in properties like our 300-acre Trinity Forest resulted in a state open space grant of over $400,000. He has been an innovator in mapping and monitoring techniques including introducing the possibility of drones and model aircraft to more efficiently keep track of our easements.” Barton Jones, President, Cornwall Conservation Trust

Harry helped the [Colebrook Land] Conservancy frame policies and make the presentations and arguments necessary to achieve beneficial outcomes for conservation. His compelling presentation on how to foster protection for [the Sandy Brook Natural Area Preserve Management Plan] enabled the Conservancy to gain support for the Plan from the Town of Colebrook and its residents. Harry’s ecological assessment of the importance of preserving the Corliss 100 helped persuade donors to contribute to the acquisition of this 100-acre wilderness near Corliss Mountain with significantly diverse habitat, including several species under threat in Connecticut.” Linda Raciborski, President, Colebrook Land Conservancy

The ease from which Harry moves from the bog to the board room, along with his passionate-yet-professional approach makes him a unique character in conservation and a deserving recipient of the Katchen Coley Award for Excellence in Conservation.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Alicia is an unflappable leader, skilled in diplomacy, and unwavering in her dedication and compassion. Throughout her time with the Trust for Public Land, she became known as an even-keeled problem-solver, a staunch advocate, an astute negotiator, and a trusted friend.  

Alicia Sullivan’s career in conservation began in 1998 at the Trust for Public Land (TPL). Over the next 18 years she came to embody land conservation in Connecticut. In the list of land conservation roles, Alicia has done it all. She joined TPL as an intern and quickly climbed the project manager ranks, took a turn as State Philanthropy Director, and finally settled in as Connecticut’s state director. Along the way, Alicia became a force in conservation across the state, le

nding her expertise to local land trusts and park committees and holding a leadership role with the Connecticut Land Conservation Council.

Today, many would call her a foremost expert in the state of Connecticut in conservation policy, funding, and deal-making. No doubt, many conservation professionals in Connecticut have uttered the phrase, “What Would Alicia Do?”

The land she has protected and the parks she has created will serve millions of residents and visitors across the region. Over a period of 18 years, Alicia’s hard work and determination helped to conserve 6,074 acres in Connecticut. Many of these acres were iconic projects, big and small, that have become treasured destinations within Connecticut’s open space portfolio. And many were bears to successfully conserve, projects that wouldn’t have happened without Alicia’s grit, optimism, and expertise.

In both categories (iconic and bear-like), The Preserve, Coogan Farm, Griswold Airport, Weir Farm, Mather Meadows, Oswegatchie Hills, and Peach Island come to mind. Alicia has left her footprint on the land, and her work will make people healthier and happier for generations to come.