Aspetuck Land Trust grows with land purchase and merger

Photo of Katrina Koerting

Aspetuck Land Trust is growing due to a merger with the Monroe Land Trust and a grant to acquire more than 18 acres of open space in Easton.

The merger between the two trusts took effect Thursday, officially expanding the Aspetuck Land Trust’s land conservation work from the original Easton, Weston, Fairfield and Westport focus to now include Monroe.

“Our board is very excited to join with Aspetuck Land Trust,” said Barbara Thomas, a Monroe Land Trust board member. “We share the same values and commitment to land conservation.”

Adding Monroe brings 20 acres of conserved land spread throughout town, along with some money. The Aspetuck Land Trust, which was founded in 1966, will now own or manage more than 2,000 acres in the five towns and grow its membership to more than 1,700 people.

The two groups have been working on a merger for a couple of years. The Connecticut Land Conservation Council helped facilitate the final arrangement with funding from the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation.

Thomas said the decision to merge came about because the group recognized a need for a more regional approach to conservation.

“One of our prime reasons for wanting to merge with Aspetuck is that we know that plants and wildlife don’t recognize town borders, and a larger vision for preserving natural areas is necessary,” she said. “As a small land trust we struggled to acquire the resources needed to preserve land. We sought to become part of an organization that has more resources and is already making a significant impact in open space preservation.”

Monroe Land Trust was established about 10 years ago after Monroe Field and Woods was dormant for a number of years.

Under the merger, Thomas will join the Aspetuck Land Trust board and Monroe Land Trust members and volunteers will participate in Aspectuck’s committees and activities.

Bill Kraekel, Aspetuck Land Trust’s president, said the merger aligns with the trust’s holistic approach to conservation that extends beyond town lines.

“The Aspetuck Land Trust has always had a regional view of conservation,” he said. “Adding Monroe is a natural extension of our mission and programs.”

He noted Monroe has some beautiful undeveloped land, which is becoming rare in Fairfield County. He said the newly constituted Aspetuck Land Trust hopes to partner with landowners to preserve these areas forever for people to enjoy and to support the wildlife that depends on it.

“We believe that this merger enables us to protect more of the open spaces in our region that are so important to us and future generations,” Kraekel said.

Aspetuck Land Trust will also be able to protect more undeveloped land in Easton, because of a $188,000 grant. It was one of 29 grants, totaling more than $5.5 million, that Gov. Ned Lamont last month awarded to preserve nearly 3,000 acres throughout the state.

The money comes from the state’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Program.

It will be used to help purchase 18.7 acres at 18 South Park Ave. along the Mill River in Easton, which will be incorporated into the Warner Angler Preserve, more than quadrupling the current area.

The town is keeping the remainder of the 29-acre site, said David Brant, executive director for the Aspetuck Land Trust. He said the town and land trust have been working on the sale for at least five years. The trust is buying the property for $470,000.

Brant said they’re finalizing the purchase and expect to close in 2022.

The property includes 3,300 feet of riverbank across from a riverbank already dedicated as open space for the town. This acquisition would allow public access for fishing, hiking and wildlife viewing. It sits just below the Easton Reservoir and is classified as Class 1 Wild Trout Management Area

There are populations of wild brook trout, wild brown trout, the eastern box turtle, wood turtle and sharp-shinned hawk in the area, according to a news release.

Open space is key for the state’s economic future, said Katie Dykes, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“These natural assets are valuable as we attract and retain residents who are increasingly looking for varied recreational opportunities where they work, play, and live,” she said. “No single entity can accomplish the critical goal of protecting our lands with significant conservation values now and for future generations. We need continued cooperation of land trusts, our towns and cities, and conservation-minded citizens to build upon existing and form new partnerships and new approaches to protecting open space.”