CORNWALL — The Cornwall Conservation Trust (CCT) held its 25th annual meeting Nov. 17 at Town Hall. It attracted a crowd that was not shy about expressing its support for conservation efforts, as well as somewhat differing views.
President Barton Jones opened the meeting by reading the CCT mission statement and thanking the volunteer board members and volunteers for work the past year. Highlights were the Farm to Table fundraiser and a new improved website, www.cornwallconservationtrust.org, and a Facebook page to “like.”
CCT entered into a purchase agreement with the Colley family for an 85-acre parcel at the end of Cherry Hill Road. It includes forest and open fields with long views. Grants have been applied for, and if received, private fundraising will follow.
Efforts to work more closely with town government included bringing Cornwall Conservation Commission member Pat Mulberry onto the CCT board to coordinate work by both and to define conservation priorities.
“We expect to have a lot of cross-fertilization between the two bodies,” Jones said, getting a laugh from the audience.
He also noted a “very readable” geological history of Cornwall, “The Land and People of Cornwall,” produced by Joseph Markow for the conservation commission. The book is free with a CCT membership.
David Dolinsky talked a bit about how the idea for a land trust began with the Cornwall Association, and the small group that began meeting in his kitchen 26 years ago to talk about conservation. Recently, while cleaning out some 40 years of files in his home, he found an early CCT file that he could not easily pull out. Inside, in a red pouch, was the long-forgotten corporate seal.
“I passed the torch but I guess I didn’t pass the seal,” Dolinsky said, handing it over to Jones.
“A big step forward” was the hiring of Conservation Director Harry White, whom CCT shares with the land trusts in Sharon and Salisbury. White has degrees in biology and forestry and environmental studies.
He was invited to speak on conservation in Cornwall, and did so in interesting detail. He talked about the value of the knowledge and connections of a local land trust, as opposed to those that are regionalized. Much of their work involves planting the seed of an idea with landowners about the benefits of easements and donations. He sees an attitude here not of rich people wanting to protect their own backyards, but of community members wanting to protect Cornwall because it is “an awesome place.”
“People stay here. People come here because it’s so amazing. Everyone wants to protect it. There is a great socioeconomic spectrum on the trust board, unlike other towns, and they remain very active.”
He talked about land stewardship, and not just conserving but managing land and considering other protected land as part of a bigger plan.
A map of Cornwall’s conservation areas shows a pattern of parcels that forms a circle of sorts inside a bigger circle of state forests. He challenged CCT and the town to look at the “big gap” in the middle and decide where development should be allowed, and what should be preserved.
Town resident Ezra Mager commented that the town is dying economically and worried that what was being created here is a “paradise for gray-haired people.
“We already have 1,300 protected acres. I ask that you tread lightly because there is damn little left to build houses on. If we don’t have families building houses here, the whole area will suffer.”
Jones agreed, saying they are considering how their efforts tie in with developing a vital community people want to move to.
White, a Colebrook resident, said he would love to move here, but cannot afford to.
“It’s a problem across New England. You have to figure out how you envision your town. Do you want a spring factory again in the middle of a town center? If not, what is going to make the town viable?”
A slate of 16 members of the board of directors, mostly re-elections, was unanimously approved. Their goals for the coming year will include the purchase and preservation of the Cooley property for farming and forest, improving trails and wildlife habitats on existing properties and buying a large portion of the Trinity Conference Center property.
“We’ve just approached Trinity Church and don’t know what they’ll say,” Jones said.
The retreat facility along the Housatonic River is on a 436-acre parcel that soars up to frontage on Dibble Hill Road. It is adjacent to conservation land donated to the trust by news anchor Tom Brokaw. Most of what CCT would like to buy is either too wet or too steep to develop, Jones said. The hope is to preserve the larger part of an environmentally important piece of land and consider allowing higher impact uses for the already developed portion.