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Conservation in Cornwall

CORNWALL —Advocating for continued efforts to preserve undeveloped land throughout the state, the Connecticut Land Conservation Council (CLCC) convened a Zoom meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 2, to give town and state officials a virtual aerial tour of the Trinity Preserve. 

That was followed by discussion of the future of land and habitat conservation.

Aiming to highlight conservation success stories around the state, CLCC Executive Director Amy Paterson guided the program, which began with an aerial tour by drone of the Cornwall terrain, sailing over the undulating tree canopy and showcasing protected lands. The tour included the Trinity Preserve, the Brokaw Preserve, Mohawk Mountain and the Housatonic State Forest.

In all, Paterson estimated that more than two miles of ridgeline and more than 1,000 acres have been preserved.

The Conservation Trust

Bart Jones, president of the Cornwall Conservation Trust (CCT), was instrumental in arranging the purchase of more than 370 acres from the Trinity Retreat Center in West Cornwall, contributing to the eventual creation of more than 3.3 miles of continuous hiking trail open to the public.

Jones reported that Cornwall has now preserved more than 600 acres through purchase, and that those efforts have involved multiple partners helping to make them a reality.

“It took years to achieve the success of the project,” Jones said, speaking of the Trinity Preserve acquisition. 

“We are accomplishing a great deal — but it is a collaborative effort,” he added.

Speaking of the ecological value, CCT member Harry White said, “This is not an ecological island.” Rather, he explained, the land is high-functioning with diversity. Parts of the land are remarkably remote, he pointed out, a boon for wildlife to live undisturbed.

Purchase agreements are likely to be supported by state funding, requiring local organizations to find matching funds.

The state funding picture

State Sen. Craig Miner (D-30) spoke of the significant effects of COVID-19 on state spending with what he described as little regard for revenue.  He projected, however, that the deficit at the end of 2020 will not be bad due to a “backfill” of federal dollars.

Miner noted recent trends toward real estate investment throughout the Northwest Corner. Since 2005, the state’s Community Investment Act (CIA) has provided funding for land preservation and affordable housing, he noted, adding that what has been done in the past 10 years has contributed toward “keeping Connecticut the way it was.”

State Rep. Maria Horn (D-64) conceded that there are many financial unknowns facing the state, although in 2019 the Legislature protected CIA funding, benefiting farms — particularly dairy farms, housing and land. Horn also pointed to increasing school enrollments in Region One and increases in land and home values throughout the area. 

“These people are moving here because of the environment,” Horn said. “That’s a generation committed to protecting the environmental attributes.” She saw that as a “healthy sign for the future.”

SustainableCT efforts

Cornwall resident Katherine Freygang, an active member of the town’s conservation commission and representing the SustainableCT program, reported on the ongoing actions of SustainableCT.

“Within conservation, we feel that SustainableCT has a good bead on environmental protection, enhancements of corridors and education,” Freygang said.

What it brings to us

Looking to the immediate future of advocacy planning, Horn urged the building of coalitions between urban and rural areas, keeping constituencies broad. Wild spaces are essential for social and emotional health, she said, as well as being key to the planet’s health and well-being.

And, particularly in the Northwest Corner, Horn said, the environment stands as an economic asset, supporting businesses and jobs. 

“We are not making a choice between jobs and the environment,” she said. “Protecting the environment is good for the economy, good for physical and emotional health, and the health of the planet under our responsible care.”

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