We are proud to celebrate and feature our winners for our annual Excellence in Conservation Awards. In making these awards, CLCC seeks to recognize organizations and individuals who have made a substantive contribution to the ongoing success of land conservation in our state and projects that may serve as a guide to or be replicable by other land trusts and conservation organizations in Connecticut.
Excellence in Community Engagement Award
Avalonia Land Conservancy
Making trails accessible to all
The Avalonia Land Conservancy receives the Excellence in Community Engagement Award for its work towards creating trails that are accessible to people with disabilities. This project is part of a comprehensive accessibility initiative that attends not just to the physical environment but to issues related to communication and organizational policy. Their accessibility work is part of a general effort to connect with other marginalized and underserved groups.
Passed in early 2022, Avalonia’s Accessibility for Peoples with Disabilities Statement, notes that individuals with disabilities may find many trails to be inaccessible. However, Avalonia is actively working to change this, and state that “an effort is underway, however, to examine all properties for accessibility potential and begin the process of providing, when feasible and affordable, increased access through creation of new trails and modifications of existing ones.” The statement encourages people of different disabilities to be involved in this initiative.
Built entirely by Avalonia volunteers, this 106-ft. bridge at Cedar Wood Preserve crosses a vernal pool and will have accessible ramps at both ends.
Avalonia board member Elanah Sherman is providing guidance on this project. Elanah is a longtime Disability Rights Activist and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) educator, and has provided ADA training for nonprofits, libraries, and agencies throughout the State. She is a trusted and well-respected advocate for people with disabilities.
To further these efforts, Avalonia is looking to raise funds for the Cedar Wood Preserve accessibility project. If funded, the preserve will become the first trail in the Avalonia Land Conservancy to have accessible trails. The Cedar Wood Preserve is located in Norwich, CT, in a designated distressed community where land trust parcels are rare. The flat terrain is amenable to accessibility modifications and can be accessed by public paratransit and has an accessible parking space. The opening of the Cedar Woods Preserve was recently covered in The Day newspaper, where the accessibility project was introduced.
At a dedication at the Copps Brook Preserve with Joy Valenti, sign language interpreter, and Walker Holmes, Associate Vice-President and CT State Director at Trust for Public Land.
The Avalonia Land Conservancy is committed to collaborating with disability-related organizations, including the South East Connecticut Center for the Blind, Disabilities Network of Eastern Connecticut, the Arc of New London County, and the Norwich Commission on Persons with Disabilities. Outreach has commenced to invite participation by people in the neurodivergent community.
Avalonia has further demonstrated a commitment to accessibility by making all of their documents available in alternative format, upon request. One general document has been converted into Braille for immediate distribution, and sign language interpretation will be available at future programs, upon request. Funding is also being sought to increase the accessibility of the website.
The mission of the Avalonia Land Conservancy is to preserve natural habitats in southeastern Connecticut by acquiring and protecting lands, and communicating the value of these resources. Avalonia also recognizes the importance of creating trails that are accessible to everyone, and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the natural world.
Special Award for Excellence in Conservation
Aerial view of the Lower Connecticut River Valley.
Connecticut River Gateway Commission
Celebrating 50 years of supporting the Lower Connecticut River Valley
The Connecticut River Gateway Commission was established in 1973 by state law to safeguard the scenic, historic and ecological resources of the lower river valley. This year, 2023, marks the Gateway Commission’s 50th anniversary.
In 1973, the General Assembly called on the Commission to promulgate minimum standards for the regulation of property use along the river’s “Conservation Zone”. This 21,500 acre conservation zone includes the river estuary, its tributaries and their shorelines, and the land that extends to the ridgeline overlooking the river.
Today, the eight towns of Chester, Deep River, East Haddam, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Old Lyme and Old Saybrook comprise the commission, along with the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) and representatives from the regional Council of Governments are also members.
These towns have each established a Conservation Zone within their respective town boundaries, and have adopted Commission standards regulating land coverage, frontage, setback, design and building height and more. Together, these regulations aim to protect the natural or traditional riverway scene while permitting constructive development and property use.
The Commission’s legislative mandate specifically focuses as well on the preservation of ecologically important land within the conservation zone. Over its history, the commission has partnered with land trusts, towns, nonprofits and landowners in this effort.
Carl Fortuna (Old Saybrook First Selectman), Tim Griswold (Old Lyme First Selectman), Harold Thompson (Old Lyme Planning Commission Chair), Charlene Janecek (Chester First Selectwoman), Suzanne Thompson (CT River Gateway Commission Chair), and Irene Haines (East Haddam First Selectwoman)
Since its creation, the Commission has helped to preserve more than 1,000 acres of land within all 8 towns, either via fee ownership or through conservation easements. These properties range from the Elizabeth B. Karter Watch Rock Preserve in Old Lyme, located near the mouth of the river, to the Brainerd Quarry Preserve in Haddam Neck.
In this, its anniversary year, the Commission has voted to provide financial support to the Old Saybrook Land Trust for its acquisition of Ayers Point and to the Haddam Land Trust to acquire a 16-acre parcel.
The Connecticut River Gateway Commission is committed to working with its land trust and town partners in the lower river valley to achieve this goal and preserve the area’s natural and scenic beauty.
Katchen Coley Award for Excellence in Conservation
The 2023 Katchen Coley Award for Excellence in Conservation is awarded to Madeline McClave, current president of the New Hartford Land Trust. Having served in this role since 2009, Madeline has led the land trust in conserving 406 acres through 16 different fee and easement transactions. This represents more than half of the land trusts 722 total acres - and that number will continue to grow with two more significant projects in the works!
The New Hartford Land Trust board writes “Although Madeline would describe the successes of NHLT as the result of teamwork, she truly is the dynamo behind our advancements. Her diverse talents – grant writing, fundraising, and recruiting volunteers, to name a few - combine to create the conservation hero she is. She has a passion for land preservation.” Madeline’s commitment to “fight the good fight” for land preservation is clear.
Recently, since 2020, Madeline has led efforts to protect the Alfred Sabolcik’s farm (Crockett (27.64 acres), Hines (31.4 acres), and Goldstein/Schmidt (2.3 acres), and successfully placed a conservation easement on the Taylor property (16.9 acres). Another 32-acre parcel was acquired on West Hill; a critical piece of property on Jones Mountain that contains part of the public trail system was acquired. Even in the darkest days of the pandemic, Madeline orchestrated Zoom and socially-distanced outdoor meetings to help move the projects forward.
Madeline’s energy and ability to connect with the right people at the right time have also led to the success of numerous land stewardship projects. Perhaps the finest example was at the 109-acre Alfred Sabolcik property, where Madeline connected with several students and Scouts to complete service projects including constructing a wooden bridge, creating a trail system with interpretive signs, and the restoration of grassland habitat. She also coordinated volunteers to help with the removal of more than 40 junk cars, tires, large equipment, and various household appliances on the site.
Lookout At Jones Mountain Open Space Preserve in New Hartford
Volunteers are often greeted by the sight of Madeline on her vintage Ford tractor barreling enthusiastically towards the work at hand. Spring through fall, with the land trusts’ conservation committee, Madeline coordinates weekly work parties for various town and land trust properties, with a particular focus on fighting such invasives as mugwort, Japanese knotweed, garlic mustard, etc. The past two years she has organized Lady Beetle releases for several town or land trust properties, to fight the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid.
The New Hartford Land Trust has also benefited from Madeline’s fundraising and grant writing skills. Prior to her NHLT presidency, Madeline spearheaded a campaign to raise (in eight weeks!) the remaining $123,000 needed to enable the trust’s purchase of the 158-acre Jones Mountain Land.
She was also instrumental in raising funds for the Town’s preservation of the Butler Farm and Helen Butler Riverfront Trail for which NHLT holds the conservation easement on the riverfront part. In conjunction with monies from CT Farmland Trust and CT Dept of Agriculture, the $50,000 she led in raising was a significant aid in preserving these 96.5 acres.
Madeline’s accomplishments with the New Hartford Land Trust are significant. What sets her apart is best described by Anne C. Hall, PhD, New Hartford Town Historian, NHLT Land Conservation Committee member, and former NHLT board member:
"In that first meeting [with Madeline], I learned two things about Madeline: she had an incredible commitment to land preservation and, even more importantly, a boundless and awesome interest in people. Madeline's record in supporting land conservation in New Hartford and in Connecticut speaks for itself. But, it is her concern for people that makes that record possible. We cannot preserve land unless people remain intimately associated with the land; and that connection is always at the forefront of Madeline's work…I have always held Madeline as a gold standard for the sort of passionate devotion that makes people want to support land preservation."
Excellence in Conservation Organization Award
Wilcox Family Homestead with Holcomb Farm Fields
Granby Land Trust
The Granby Land Trust received the Excellence in Conservation Organization Award for their work on two significant conservation projects, both involving strategic partnerships and collaboration.
In 2021 Granby Land Trust worked closely with Granby’s Salmon Brook Historical Society to preserve the historic 45-acre Wilcox Farm complex in West Granby. Completed at a cost of $300,000, the 45-acre project contains woodlands, a wetland area, a stretch of the Wild and Scenic River-designated West Branch of the Salmon Brook and a prime agricultural field still in active use. As part of the project arrangement, the land trust conveyed two acres, containing the historic homestead and a barn, to the historical society. The historical society has taken on the ongoing stewardship of those buildings, while the land trust maintains the responsibility of stewarding the surrounding land.
In 2022, Granby Land Trust led an even larger preservation effort to protect the undeveloped portions of the abutting 315-acre Holcomb Farm. For many years, Holcolmb farm has served as a locus for community activity, thanks to involvement of the Friends of the Holcomb Farm. A self-sustaining CSA, award winning “Tree Trail” and various event spaces have helped to build and sustain public interest and appreciation for the land.
Operationally, the Holcomb Farm is thriving, but there always has been a tension about its long-term stability and protection. Changes in town leadership led to renewed discussion about ways to assure the protection of the farm’s undeveloped areas, while also providing a financial cushion for the farm.
A working group consisting of representatives of Granby Land Trust, Friends of the Holcomb Farm and the Town spent almost 6 months drafting a conservation easement to preserve the property, in perpetuity, for agricultural, educational, hiking, and other passive recreational uses. A second working group prepared a lease between the Town and Friends of the Holcomb Farm for the CSA fields and other portions of the Holcomb Farm that are to be managed by the Friends. Finally, with funds donated by others and a contribution from its own endowment fund, GLT donated $500,000 to the Town to create a Holcomb Farm Stewardship Fund. When these items finally came to a vote of the Board of Selectmen, they were unanimously approved.
Rick Orluk, land trust President, led these two important efforts, and worked with Mark Fiorentinon and Jenny Emery on an almost daily basis, along with members of the land trust board and representatives from partner organizations.
Wilcox Family Homestead and Barn
Both of these now-preserved farms are located in the federally designated West Granby Historical District, and build upon prior conservation efforts in the region at the McLean Game Refuge, Enders State Forest, and other Granby Land Trust properties. These properties abut one another and, in spite of their separate ownerships, constitute a single, contiguous landscape that has been assembled over many decades.