Excellence in Conservation Organization Award
Shelton Conservation Commission & its Trails Committee - Shelton Lakes Recreation Path and Greenway; 1992-2012
The Shelton Lakes Recreation Path (“Rec Path”), completed this past August, 2012, is a four-mile long handicapped-accessible, multi-use trail connecting the town centers of Shelton and Huntington Center through a new 450+ acre open space corridor called the Shelton Lakes Greenway.
The Greenway includes 11 miles of interconnecting trails (including the Paugussett “Blue Dot” Trail), three reservoirs, the Eklund Native Species Garden, and a dog park. The Greenway links Shelton’s Housatonic River Greenway and Far Mill River Greenway for maximum ecological and recreational benefits. The project is the culmination of decades of planning and work, made possible by the widespread community support and commitment of countless advocates and volunteers.
In 1992, the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path and Greenway were proposed and included in Shelton’s 1993 Open Space Plan in response to the imminent sale of surplus water company land. Two dozen private properties had to be acquired over twenty years to create the 450-acre greenway. Although the membership of Shelton’s Conservation Commission changed over time, its relentless advocacy for the Greenway and the Rec Path did not waver. Initially, the focus was on building support and purchasing open space. The last ten years focused on obtaining grants (13, totaling $428,177) and building the Rec Path.
As an advisory body, the Commission needed to persuade City leaders, land use boards, civic groups, the Shelton Land Trust, and residents to support the greenway. Public outreach expanded from meetings and newspaper articles to a 1995 Shelton Trails website, a 2006 Conservation website, and a Trails Committee blog and Conservation Facebook page in 2009.
The Rec Path was constructed in increments as funding became available, and was temporarily surfaced in crushed stone. Later, paving plans were abandoned when preferences for the stone surface became clear. Volunteers completed much of the path, including design, permitting, bridge construction, clearing, and some grading. As a result, construction costs averaged just $151,000 a mile, about 15% of typical multiuse path costs. The Rec Path had its grand opening in October 2012, to widespread community enthusiasm.
Excellence in Conservation Individual Award
Mary Anne Guitar
Mary Anne Guitar is one of Connecticut’s pioneers in the conservation of open space. In 1965, she founded the Redding Land Trust (RLT) with other conservation-minded leaders. A writer and editor who wrote Property Power: How to Keep the Bulldozer, the Highwaymen and the Power Lines Away from Your Door, Mary Anne has spent a lifetime motivating the Redding community to become passionate preservers of open space. Some gave large tracts of land; others showed their support with contributions to the Land Trust that funded the purchase of properties.
Elected First Selectman of Redding in 1977, the first woman to win that office in Fairfield County, Mary Anne ran on the theme of “Keep Redding Clean and Green,” a town motto to this day. During her 12 years as First Selectman, Mary Anne promoted cooperation with conservation groups such as The Nature Conservancy, to share the cost of saving and protecting open space. Encouraged by Mary Anne, the Redding Conservation Commission adopted a mandate requiring all developers of property of 10 acres or more to set aside 10% of their land for open space. Throughout her career, Mary Anne’s environmental activism has dovetailed with her political involvement. She was appointed head of Connecticut’s Siting Council by then Governor Ella Grasso, a job that involved overseeing the placement of power lines within the State’s fiercely independent local townships. Elected to Redding’s Board of Finance in 1989, she worked for twelve years to keep property taxes low and the bulldozers away.
The first president of the Redding Land Trust and again president today, Mary Anne, along with her board of trustees, worked hard for the Trust’s 2011 accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance. Mary Anne Guitar, whose 90th birthday was celebrated last year, is a Redding institution. Mention her name to anyone in town and the first thing that will come to mind is open space. When recently asked the most rewarding aspect of her involvement with the Redding Land Trust, Mary Anne proclaims: “Having those who knew the rural Redding of years ago come back to town and marvel that it hasn’t changed a bit.”
In 1970, shortly after Joshua’s Tract Conservation and Historic Trust was founded, Madge Manfred and her husband John became members. John’s work with the Trust quickly ensnared Madge, who brought her remarkable skills in communication and organization. John remarks, “Madge was not a trained environmentalist, but she saw the big picture from Day One, the critical need for an entity like Joshua’s Trust, and she saw where she could contribute”.
Madge began by creating a newsletter (which she edited for 20 years) to reach out to the community. From there, she chaired various committees and then became president. From 2005-2007, she guided the Trust through a period of growth and increasing visibility. She set and met a goal of doubling membership and energized an ongoing strategic planning process. As president, Madge observed that as a largely volunteer organization, it was difficult to maintain consistent policies and practices. Madge recommended joining the Land Trust Alliance to learn about “best practices” nationwide. A logical next step was to persuade the Board that land trust accreditation was the way to enhance Joshua’s Trust’s practices.
Accreditation was an adventure. The Trust succeeded, and celebrated, and at the same time took recognition of the requirement for legal defense funds. Though the challenge was daunting, Madge convinced the entire Board and launched the Legacy Project –with Madge as chairman - to raise funds for a broad range of needs including acquisition, stewardship, and staff expansion to engage more potential donors. To date, the Legacy Campaign has secured $550,000 in the quiet phase, and is now moving to a region-wide appeal.
Madge Manfred has been involved in each phase of the Trust’s growth and evolution over 42 years. She is always looking to the successful future of Joshua’s Trust. It is in no small part due to Madge’s efforts and vision that Joshua’s Trust today presents a replicable model for ways to regionalize conservation, offering efficiencies and effectiveness in a time of shrinking resources and growing development pressures.