By Joanna Millstein
I grew up on a farm, and until I was eight or nine years old, I spent the entire day outdoors. This was a daily event for me, almost as much a part of my life as going to school. It was just a fact of life, you know, the way things were. I always took it for granted that other people lived that way, that they took comfort in the woods, in wildlife, and knowledge of the woods. It was much later in life that I realized that many people knew nothing about being out on the land. I had a house on Long Island where there was a big field behind the house. People came in and they began to develop it, much to my dismay. This really destroyed the Hamptons for me as farmland got split up into subdivisions. When we came up to Northwest Connecticut, we bought a farm, and after an incident regarding more developers we realized that even up here in such a rural area many people have no interest in conserving open space. That really drove me into land conservation and the idea that unless we begin to acquire land and preserve it, it will soon be torn up and built upon.
I knew nothing about land trusts before this experience. Anne Bass introduced me to Weantinoge and I ran with it. Because I began to fight development in New Milford (along with many board members of Weantinoge), I was invited along with six others to join the board. It was a very transformational experience.
I’ve worked to rebuild the board and secure the Trust’s finances and set up the path for future development work. I’ve guided us through the process of hiring Catherine Rawson, our executive director, along with our hiring of two new stewards. Restructuring and re-crafting the way Weantinoge operates has been very important to me because I, along with our board and staff, realize that our land protection work must last forever.
As I said, we are obligated to care for the Trust’s lands and easements forever. That means that we have to have a strong, healthy organization now and in the future. I was given the opportunity to take the helm as president and I accepted. It’s been a lot of work but our progress has been remarkable.How do you think the trust is making progress and becoming more well-known in the community?
We continue to actively acquire land, which is the true essence of the Trust. In addition, we have greatly enhanced our stewardship capacity and methodologies. That said, we need to enhance our communications and relationships with individuals, communities, and other land trusts while we continue to do our core work of acquisitions and stewardship. Our new executive director understands that need and will lead the effort to tell our story to a broader audience.
Do you think it is important that Weantinoge becomes a Land Trust Alliance-accredited land trust?
Absolutely. We are committed to LTA accreditation and are engaged in the long process of preparing our application. It’s a huge project and challenge as we have almost 400 parcels of land that we need to review and document to accreditation requirements. Most properties were acquired before accreditation was just an idea. What is a quick project for small, young trusts is a daunting task for us, but we are deep in the process now and our stewardship staff has been augmented to prepare us for accreditation.
What would you like to see the trust accomplish in the near future? Long term?
I would like to build a long-term capital base and create an endowment. Weantinoge needs an even stronger board of up to 15 people, committed to being a working board that contributes energy to the mission. We need to develop an advisory board that provides input from various people in the communities wherein we work. And we need appropriate outreach to gain a larger regional presence that will bring new opportunities for acquisitions, stewardship, and development.