Take a Hike

Take a Hike

Is the world too much with us, late and soon, as William Wordsworth posited in verse more than 200 years ago? Do you want to get away?

Here’s an idea: join your local land trust and take a hike.

Virtually every Connecticut town and city has one of these nonprofit organizations. There are 130 statewide, some covering more than one town, and the vast majority manage conservation sanctuaries with hiking trails. Leave your cell phone at home. Make like Huck Finn and light out for the territories.

While small and locally run, these nonprofits in aggregate have a profound impact on the quality of life here. They preserve and protect more than one in every 20 acres in Connecticut, more than the federal government does, and they are adding new parcels every year. They have some 70,000 members and offer the public 500 miles of hiking trails leading to spectacular natural places.

The Connecticut Land Conservation Council (CLCC) is the umbrella organization that supports local trusts by offering educational programs and conferences and by lobbying the governor and the Connecticut General Assembly on environmental issues. To find your local land trust visit its website: https://ctconservation.org/find-a-land-trust/

One important issue that the CLCC keeps reminding our leaders about is the fact that Connecticut lags behind all other New England states in both the percentage of land conserved and funding for acquiring new acreage. In 1997, the legislature established a goal of preserving 21 percent of our land base by 2023: 10 percent by the state itself and 11 percent by other entities such as land trusts and municipalities. So far land trusts have contributed 215,000 acres to that goal, nearly one third of the way to the target.

But the state is a long way from reaching its stated objective. At current rates of funding and acquisition it will take decades more.

So why is protecting land worthwhile? Undeveloped conservation land promotes cleaner air and water and helps mitigate the impacts of climate change. It also increases the value of surrounding property and can make a town a more attractive place to live and work. It can drive tourism, too.

Two years ago in East Haddam, where I live, Getaway, a national vacation rental firm, opened an 86-acre compound with 45 small cabins that offer clients an affordable place to get away from it all—in a town that is replete with open spaces and bucolic charm. The new enterprise has increased the town’s tax base, and each week attracts hundreds of people who patronize local businesses.

Finally, preserving land helps the other creatures we share the planet with. While our numbers are rising relentlessly, many species are declining here and around the world. We just passed 8 billion and are expected to reach 10 billion this century.

The East Haddam Land Trust, of which I am a member, is a prime reason why my town is a great place to live or visit. It preserves more than 700 acres—in 19 preserves, most with hiking trails open to all. Its 300-plus volunteers manage these properties and blaze the hiking trails. The group also offers regular programming and outdoor activities as well as an annual scholarship and photo contest. It’s a fun group. My wife is on the board.

Supporting environmental nonprofits is more important than ever as the state’s commitment to its environment wanes year after year. Since 2013 the staff of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has been nearly cut in half. This year the DEEP’s budget allots $10 million for Open Space and Land Acquisition Grants, down $5 million from last year. This funding supports land trusts in their efforts to protect more land. The CLCC has been lobbying for $30 million a year.

Land trust have evolved over the decades. Initially, there was little effort put into making preserves open to the public. Today, the mission is to make the environment accessible to all, whether visitors are handicapped or live in urban or suburban areas. Gather New Haven is an ambitious land trust that not only manages six hikeable preserves but also engages adults and youth in educational and recreation activities such as urban gardening, farm stands, and a summer sailing camp.

Connecticut has a proud environmental heritage. The late Richard Goodwin, one of the founders of the East Haddam Land Trust in 1979, was also a founding member and president of The Nature Conservancy, today an international conservation nonprofit whose holdings are more than three times the size of New England. The Goodwin Trail snakes 14 miles from East Haddam to East Lyme.

Despite being one of the most densely populated states, Connecticut is still roughly two thirds forest land. But less than a quarter of those wooded acres is under conservation. By contrast more than one quarter of Connecticut is developed.

So, if you’re world weary of late, find your hiking boots and hit the trail. Otherwise, as Wordsworth put it, In “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”