CLCC and The Last Green Valley (TLGV), together with land trusts in Eastern Connecticut, worked to advance regional conversations around climate, equity, and social justice. Given their grassroots nature, their community ties, and with the abundant public spaces they protect, land trusts are well poised to address these issues. CLCC and TLGV are interested in ensuring that land trusts are primed to partner with other organizations and effectively communicate and engage with their communities.
In this final year of a three-year program, CLCC and TLGV helped to foster connections between local and regional land trusts, community organizations, and the towns they serve.
CREATING A SAFE SPACE FOR CHALLENGING CONVERSATIONS
This Advancement Initiative consisted of four facilitated dialogue sessions and resource sharing with participants to enhance their understanding of issues that surround equitable land access, diversity, inclusion, and environmental justice. Discussion topics included board diversity, staying relevant, community engagement, equitable access, varied experiences in nature, the history of land ownership and the taking of Indigenous land, and collaboration and partnership.
Despite some initial hesitancy around these challenging discussion topics, there was noticeable growth from the participants in their personal and organizational exploration of these topics. Participants developed the skills to have uncomfortable conversations and begin to move out of their comfort zone. Additionally, the land trusts began to examine their programming and organizational structures through many of the lenses we provided for them, including varied experiences on the land, historical perspectives on the land, and means to attract younger audiences and families.
The journey towards allyship is never ending – we are optimistic about these foundational steps, and look forward to working alongside these land trusts in their continued growth.
MOVING THE NEEDLE FORWARD
Committing to a shared vision for the region, participants sought to find overlapping interests, discuss natural resource use, land stewardship, and community involvement.
Following their discussions and brainstorming sessions, land trusts were eligible to apply for a small implementation grant that would allow them to begin taking steps towards equity and inclusion within their organizations.
Wyndham Land Trust dedicated and installed a memorial stone commemorating enslaved African Americans believed to be buried at the Higginbotham Cemetery in unmarked graves. Located in WLT’s Nightingale Forest Preserve, this discovery was made in partnership with the Pomfret Historical Society, through ongoing research with original documents, African American genealogy, and gravestone restoration. CLCC is pleased to have supported this project through this Advancement Initiative, and to have helped shed light on the history and honor the individuals buried on this land.
Northern Connecticut Land Trust created The Nipmuck Woods Adventure Path. This 0.7-mile path is designed to attract and engage different community groups as well as visitors of different ages and interests. With educational materials, signs, and activities supporting the path, NCLT worked to increase accessibility to active outdoor opportunities and educational experiences. Specific improvements include signage about the Nipmuck tribe, information about geology and glaciation, and interactive display about regional history as told by tree rings, and much more. Promotional materials, including educational materials on the science and history of the area, are being organized for display in the local libraries to enhance and publicize the Path for all ages and interests to enjoy.
A REGIONAL APPROACH
The second portion of this Advancement Initiative focused on uses of GIS and how data layers can inform social and biological needs. Participating land trusts explored community-based projects that could help connect them connect with diverse constituencies and identified the GIS data layers that could better inform collaborative, interdisciplinary projects. Examples included
- Transportation and public transit data allowed participants to better visualize how public transit can connect people to the land trust trails, and how limited transit options limit property usership.
- Distance from key features, such as the walking distance from a school, highlighted how strategic conservation can increase visitorship to land trust properties.
- Maps of grocery store and farmers market locations highlighted food deserts and equity issues within food systems.
As a starting point, the group agreed to set a goal of protecting new properties that are within walking distance of schools. This is one way of making their work more accessible to children in their communities, and would have a tremendous impact on community conservation if implemented regionally.
CLCC is grateful to the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut for supporting this Advancement Initiative with a three-year grant. We would also like to thank the participating organizations whose active and thoughtful participation made this program a success.