In the last couple of months, every aspect of our lives has been changed by the coronavirus. One bright spot that has come from this has been the discovery, or re-discovery, of the wonderful conservation properties of the Westerly Land Trust. Walking the scenic trails with birds singing and the sunshine on your face, you reconnect with nature and yourself.
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Today, as I’m holding onto their leashes, my beagles, Winston and Lucy, run down the blue trail, whizzing around rocks and roots at the Dr. John Champlin Glacier Park. This 134-acre park has a dramatic landscape with kettle ponds and kame ridges, dotted by giant erratic boulders left over from the last ice age. The foliage on the oak trees in the forest is just starting to bloom. This park is just one of the many beautiful properties belonging to the Westerly Land Trust. For me, the walk is a chance to unwind from the day, get some fresh air and exercise, and appreciate nature.
The Westerly Land Trust has 27 miles of trails open to the public ranging from easy to moderately difficult. Depending on my mood and the weather, I’ll sometimes take my small pack to the Wahaneeta Preserve, sometimes to Grills Preserve or River Wood, and early mornings finds us at the Avondale Farm Preserve. There are so many properties and trails to choose from that our walks never get old. Lately, I’ve noticed a lot more people using the trails. So what’s going on?
“We were blown away by how many people began accessing the land trust properties and using our Trails App when the state parks and beaches were closed,” said Jennifer Fusco, Director of the Westerly Land Trust. “If there is a silver lining, people found the Westerly Land Trust because they just needed to get out of their houses or get the kids out of the house. They realized that we have this resource and that the land trust is providing all of this to the public free of charge. We want to make sure that people know that this land is for everybody.”
The Westerly Land Trust’s newest property open to the public is The Eleanor F. and Edward W. Barlow Nature Preserve. This 80-acre parcel of forest, wetlands, and farmland was acquired by the land trust in 2018 and will become their new headquarters.
There are two trail systems on the property that are separated by extensive wetlands. The blue trail overlooks the hayfield and farm, and many of the large trees are marked with their species. The red and yellow trails are down the road on the east side of the property adjacent to the state-owned 111-acre Newton Swamp Management Area. There is a small parking area on the side of the road by the swamp. This trail is more biodiverse with lots of wildlife, large hardwood trees, a pine grove, and beautiful views of the marsh. Of the two trails, this is my favorite.
“The WLT trails are lovingly maintained by our weekly CCC, which stands for Coffee and Clearing Club. They meet on Tuesdays and get their
marching orders for trail and property maintenance. We have several people but are always looking to welcome more to the group,” Jennifer said.
I asked Jennifer about the challenges and opportunities for the land trust.
“While we are so pleased to see more people discovering our properties, we know we will always have to fight apathy. People think: ‘this is saved forever and is always going to be here, it’s already been conserved. Somebody’s doing this, and I don’t have to do my part.’ We hope that people appreciate the trails, appreciate the properties, and appreciate the
conservation and then do their own part in their own way, whether that’s recycling or trying to fight climate change, or preserving the land they care about for the next generation,” Jennifer said. “That’s always going to be a challenge and an opportunity, and we have to fight to be resilient. Not just resilient ecologically, but resilient as humans. This is a wakeup call that we are a very, very small piece of the puzzle and these are challenges that we all will face.”
During this stressful time, people are starting to realize how important open spaces are to our wellbeing. Jennifer is hopeful.
“As a society, this whole healthcare crisis has taught us we all have a part to play in healing. We have to reimagine everything from our daily lives to the running of this organization. The constant is that you look outside and nature is doing its thing. Nature is not stopping because of this, but it’s making all of us hit pause. It’s making us all stop in our tracks and reexamine what’s important; I think that’s a good thing.”
Remember, before you head into the woods for nature’s cure, download the Westerly Land Trust’s Trails App. It’s great fun for the kids to use the GPS and a phone to navigate the trails. The Trails App’s Passport Program is a fun, competitive way to track your hikes at the preserves by scanning QR codes along the way with your phone. Each of eight preserves has three QR signs along the trails. Scan all the QR codes, and you win a unique Passport Program t-shirt. Hope to see you out there!