On a surprisingly chilly, breezy, overcast day in a field on the former home of a glacier, a peppy crowd – some in sandals, some in fleece jackets, at least a few people in both – gathered to celebrate the Westerly Community Land Trust and its latest acquisition, Sunnyacres Preserve.
With only a few trees starting to bud, and daffodils looking blowsy, cars parked in lines in the field and attendees gathered near a microphone and tables with waiting cider and cake. What had started in 1987, according to founder Cynthia Lafferty, dressed optimistically for spring in a butter yellow sweater and sun hat, and went for ten years without any land, just a group of friends with a common vision, now has thirty pieces of land, in its thirtieth year.
As Ms. Lafferty reminisced, “Harvey [Perry] took over, and that was it. Harvey, Dick, [Holliday] and Bill McKendree, they worked so hard. [Working with] town hall, getting land, and then Kelly. How could we ever go ahead without Kelly? You are just something else, Kelly!” Kelly Presley, executive director of the Land Trust, was close at hand to take over the mic. She thanked Ellen Madison for selling the thirtieth piece of land, and also wished her a happy birthday.
The land – 18 acres total; about 12 acres of field and the rest woods – that had been in Ms. Madison’s family for four generations. After being the site for a glacier, Madison told the crowd, it was a temporary campsite for Native Americans, and thereafter was bought by Madison’s ancestors.
Ms. Madison had run Woody Hill Bed and Breakfast in the house adjacent to the new preserve until she retired. She displayed for the crowd some framed arrowheads which had been found in the field which, she said, were up to 8,000 years old. Ms. Madison will still live in her house next to the new preserve, her brother in a house on the other side. Her mother, who will turn 99 this August, was in the car for a bit, waiting out the cold. Ms. Madison said that all of her family were very supportive of the sale of land to the Trust.
The land trust keeps preserved land in its care for various purposes: open space for wildlife habitats; drinking water; passive recreation, such as hiking; and also agriculture. This particular space will be hayed this year. A listing of all the Trust’s spaces and uses can be found here:
After Ms. Madison and Ms. Presley spoke to the crowd, the new sign was unveiled, formally marking the area as a preserve.
Then all walked, including at least one baby stroller, one walker-user, and one cane-assisted walk, down the slight hill and into the center of the grassy field, where what had looked like brightly colored tulips to at least one attendee, turned out to be tiny flag markers stuck in the ground, so everyone would know where to stand in order to form a large number 30, to be photographed from above by Chris Walsh, drone photographer.
Soon enough after the group assembled in the correct numerical form, the sound of a swarm of insects rose and so did the drone from which the sound came. The device wavered in the wind, and the photographer asked the crowd to wave and say hello a few times in order to capture the best shot. The drone, hovering above and watching the crowd, the crowd watching and waving at the drone, got its share of pictures, seen from below by the photographer, and soon the crowd was free to head back up the hill to enjoy cake and sing Happy Birthday to Ellen Madison.
A chilly yet lively time was had by all, and a new preserve was christened for use for all, to be enjoyed and preserved until, as Ellen Madison suggested to the crowd, the next glacier comes through!