In a drive to protect what it calls the “Last Frontier of Open Space,” the Aspetuck Land Trust announced on Monday, Nov. 27, that it has completed the purchase of 38 acres of forest land in Weston off Wampum Hill Road for $367,000. The land will now be protected from development forever, according to the announcement.
The 38-acre property in Weston has a history going back to the Colonial era. Since then, the property has been owned by only two families — the Sturges and Belknap families. The land was originally granted to the Sturges family by the English monarchy. The property was purchased in 1927 from Sturges family heirs by Chauncey Belknap, an attorney from New York City, looking for a getaway home in Connecticut.
The $367,000 acquisition from the Belknap family expands Aspetuck Land Trust’s existing 86-acre Honey Hill Preserve, which spans the towns of Weston and Wilton.
The Aspetuck Land Trust (ALT) was founded in 1966 and is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the preservation and conservation of open space, including farm and forest land.
Since its start, ALT has acquired 149 properties — more than 1,800 acres — primarily in Weston, Easton, Fairfield, and Westport, to be maintained in a natural state in perpetuity.
“This block of land is a key component in our effort to conserve 410 acres in one of the last undeveloped interior forest blocks in Weston and Wilton. It is the last frontier of open space in our area,” said David Brant, executive director of ALT.
To purchase the land, ALT used its own funds in addition to a $200,000 grant from Audubon Connecticut and $50,000 from the William C. Bullitt Foundation. ALT also has a pending grant request with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, which might provide up to 60% of the value of the property. Under the state’s recently approved budget, however, $5 million was cut from Connecticut’s open space grant program in each of the next two years.
“The reality is that in the present political environment, financial resources for land conservation from both state and federal government sources are getting extremely tight. ALT and its 1,000-plus members, plus new supporters we hope to find in business and industry, will need to step up if we are to be able to save the diminishing open space beauty of Connecticut,” said Don Hyman of Fairfield, newly elected president of ALT.
Yale University Environmental Law and Policy Professor Dan Esty, former commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection from 2011 to 2014, who spoke at a recent ALT-sponsored lecture, underscored this point.
“In the past, land trusts might not have been in the front seat but there’s no one there driving this effort now. It is up to land trusts like Aspetuck to drive the bus and get where we need to go,“ said Esty.
On its preserved properties, ALT provides passive recreation and educational opportunities for people to learn about and enjoy nature, while preserving the flora and fauna and rural characteristics of local communities. ALT currently maintains 45 trailed nature preserves. More than 1,000 individual members support the organization through annual membership contributions. For more information visit aspetucklandtrust.org/.