A Brief History of the Colchester Land Trust
By Lisa Hageman
The Colchester Land Trust (CLT) was started in 2002 by a group of concerned citizens who came together to discuss the rapid development of the town and the options available to landowners for preservation of their lands. At this time, there was not a land trust that was dedicated to Colchester so along with Jenny Contois, the first Selectman at that time, one was started! The first formal meeting was held at the home of Lisa Hageman on December 4, 2002. The citizens present were Lisa Hageman, Laura Butterfield, Cindy Praisner, Marlene Hageman, Dan Hageman, Joan Hageman and John Henley. That meeting was focused on establishing a mission statement and starting outreach in the community.
During 2003, we applied for and received tax exempt status from the State of CT on 7/21/2003, filed for federal 501 (c) 3 tax exempt status with the federal government, had a logo designed by Deb Toal, secured a pro bono lawyer named Rob Avena, and developed a mission statement and by-laws. Our first Board of Directors was: Lisa Hageman - President, Ceil Bogush - Vice-President, Cindy Praisner - Treasurer, Joan Hageman - Secretary, and Chuck Toal - Grant Coordinator.
2003 Founding Members: Robert Avena: Legal Counsel, Laura Butterfield: Field Specialist, Leslie Curtis: Landowner Contact, Barry Ford: Communications Director, Dan Hageman: Field Specialist, John Henley: Webmaster, and Elizabeth MacAlister: Landowner Contact.
In 2004 CLT became a federal non profit 501 (c) 3 which enabled us to provide potential tax deductions to land donors and supporting members. We completed our first town-wide mailing funded by a grant awarded to CLT by the New England Grassroots Foundation. The grant was written by Chuck Toal. Chuck started making presentations to numerous businesses and local civic organizations throughout the town.
In January of 2005 the first Colchester Land Trust website designed by Barry Ford went live and has been a source of constant compliments to our organization! In April the Board of Directors voted to adopt the Land Trust Alliance’s Standards and Practices. CLT obtained a booth and started making presentations at many Town Green events such as the Tag Sale on the Green, the Historical Society Craft Sale, Memorial Day Parade, and Pumpkins and Pooches. This type of community outreach has been one of CLT’s greatest means of meeting citizens and important landowners in Colchester. At our annual meeting in June, Barry Ford, John Henley, Laura Evans and Liz McAllister were all voted onto the Board of Directors for three year terms. Leslie Curtis assumed the position of Vice President midterm, replacing Ceil Bogush. In October, CLT arranged for Attorney Fritz Gahagan to speak to the land trust and local landowners about preserving family lands. In August, we received a $20,000 grant from the Bafflin Foundation for open space acquisition. The grant was written by Chuck Toal.
In April, CLT toured the Cato Corner Farm with Liz MacAlister and Elisabeth Moore from CT Farmland Trust. Liz McAlister planned to donate a conservation easement on 40 acres of the farm that are not in the Federal Grasslands Reserve program. There are discussions about CLT being a secondary or local steward for this easement with CT Farmland Trust. In June of 2006 CLT accepted the donation of a 4-acre parcel on McDonald Road from Mr. David Drew. This parcel proves to be a valuable asset when being approved for a loan. The trust spent countless hours reviewing the Town of Colchester’s Open Space Plan and provided input to the town on major areas of importance. At the annual meeting in June the following officers were elected: Lisa Hageman President, Leslie Curtis, Vice-President, Cindy Praisner, Treasurer, and John Trussler, Secretary. Will and Helene Hochholzer were also nominated and voted in as directors for a three-year term. This brought the total number of board members to 11. Joan Hageman was recognized with a gift from the trust for her many years of devotion as the secretary for the organization. In July 2006, the trust decided if the State of CT did not move forward on the 18-acre Chet Reneson parcel on Bull Hill Road, the trust would place a non-refundable deposit on the property until the next state grant rounds.
In January the trust entered into an agreement with Chet Reneson to purchase 18 acres of land (known as Gateway) for $190,000. The trust placed a 10% deposit with 6 months to raise funds. The Board of Directors collectively pledged $30,000 towards the purchase. The first Fine Art of Living auction and reception took place at the Cragin Memorial Library and netted $8,500 for the land acquisition fund. The trust received a $10,000 anonymous challenge grant to match monies from new members and donors. Local high school senior Dawn Hathaway chose Gateway as her environmental club project and she went door to door in the Bull Hill area raising money and awareness! CLT applied for and received a $125,000 loan from the Norcross Foundation with 12 months to pay back the 0% loan. Cathy Shea and local runner Sue Rzewuski organized the first annual Salmon River Run. The race was a huge hit and raised over $2,000 the first year. In August Leslie and Tim Curtis presented the idea for the first Colchester Phonebook. In October, CLT co-sponsored a stone wall presentation with the Colchester Historical Society and Marty Podskoch started the Discover Colchester series of hikes throughout the town. The October 7th hike at Cato Corner farm attracted 150 people from throughout the area. The fundraising committee met for the first time with Pete Dane leading the committee. On December 30, 2007 local landowner Toney Palakewitz donated a conservation easement on his 62 acres on River Road, enabling him to take advantage of easement tax incentives expiring on December 31st. With the help of CLT, the Town of Colchester received an Agricultural Viability Grant and planned to hire a local consultant to inventory the farms in Colchester. The trust was an integral part of the entire grant process. Will and Helene Hochholzer started working with local scout Kevin McCormick who chose the baseline documentation for the Palakewitz easement as his eagle scout project.
In January, CLT received $20,000 from the Bafflin Foundation for the Gateway Property. Along with membership drives, and other donations big and small, as well as a $90,000 Open Space grant from the State of CT DEP, CLT raised over $190,000 to purchase the Gateway Property. Chuck Toal continued to organize the Board to start incorporating the LTA Standards and Practices in earnest. A Standards and Practices committee was formed which included Chuck Toal, Andy George, and Will Hochholzer. These same three board members worked with Environmental Sciences teacher Joe Hage and forty-three Bacon Academy students to work on the Gateway Property. The second annual Salmon River road race drew 130 entrants and the Fine Art of Living had another successful year. CLT achieved 100% board member participation in LTA’s Board Member Challenge. We were the first Connecticut land trust to be recognized and one of thirteen in the nation. In May the Town of Colchester entered the Salmon River Watershed Conservation Pact and donated $5,000 to this regional project. Several members of CLT attended the kickoff ceremony on the banks of the Salmon River. In June, Joe Hage, Bacon Academy Environmental Sciences teacher, and Kevin McCormick, Eagle Scout, were presented awards of recognition from the trust at the annual meeting. In November, CLT was awarded a grant from the Connecticut Conservation Council for $3,000 to conduct a formal Organizational Assessment. The Board chose consultant Myles Alderman to guide them through the assessment which resulted in a two-year comprehensive work plan to focus on the Standards and Practices most important to our growth and needs as an organization. This continued our process with national accreditation as our goal. In December, the second annual Colchester Phonebook was produced by Tim and Leslie Curtis and distributed to every Colchester citizen.
Maureen Howley contacted the trust after inheriting land from her aunt on McDonald Road. Ms. Howley found several CLT landowner letters folded into the deed of the property which prompted her to call the trust. The property was appraised and a bargain sale price of $182,500 was negotiated by the trust. The trust joined forces with the Town of Colchester since the property borders the Ruby Cohen Woodlands, a 117-acre protected park in town. The trust received two subdivision set asides in 2009: a 25-acre wooded parcel on Usher Swamp Road and a 14 acre parcel on Bulkeley Hill Road. The Usher Swamp parcel provided another “real life educational experience” as a group of Bacon Academy students worked on the land providing an inventory of tree species to the trust. In February, the trust sponsored a focus group meeting for farmers led by board members Helene Hochholzer and Cindy Praisner. Over forty farmers attended the meeting with a goal of prioritizing the findings of the town’s agricultural viability study. CLT supported the Town of Colchester’s first land use summit led by First Selectman Linda Hodge. Over 60 members of the community participated in the study and the land trust gave a short presentation on the Right to Farm ordinance and its importance to our farming community. At the June annual meeting, volunteers Gary Riddell and Sue Rzewuski were recognized by the trust for their commitment to the organization. In August, CLT made a commitment to support the Land Trust Alliance’s Conservation Insurance Defense plan, and was the first CT land trust to do so. In October, the Town of Colchester approved the purchase of the Howley Property now known as the Ruby II parcel. The land trust committed to donating $42,500 towards the purchase price of $182,500. At this same town meeting, the Right to Farm ordinance passed. CLT was awarded a $20,000 grant from Bafflin Foundation to be used toward the Ruby II parcel. Chuck Toal wrote this grant, which was the third $20,000 grant awarded to CLT by Bafflin. By year’s end the trust had also received over $7600 from its membership drive which also included fundraising for the Ruby II parcel.
In 2010 CLT finished fundraising for the Ruby II and paid off our loan to the Bafflin Foundation. We were able to secure $5,000 in donations from new sources which enabled us to receive an anonymous matching donation from a generous supporter of the trust, and received many donations both large and small! As part of our fundraising campaign, CLT hosted a reception at a local restaurant named Hung Won. Kevin Case from the Land Trust Alliance addressed sixty five supporting members of our community and gave a great overview of land conservation not only locally but across the nation. The Fine Art of Living Art and Wine auction celebrated its 5th year of success in raising $5,000 towards land acquisition. The 5th annual Salmon River run saw 250 participants and raised $4,500. Tim and Leslie Curtis coordinated and published another Colchester phone book which has become a staple in many homes. Our Discover Colchester hikes continue to attract citizens from around the region. In June, CLT elected a new slate of officers: Andy George as President, Vice-President Chuck Toal, Cathy Shea as Treasurer and Michele McCormick as Secretary. We also added our first farmer to the Board, Chris Borque, from White Birch Farm and are fortunate to have Colchester resident Penni Rochette assist us with our financial reporting. This year’s CLT grant was given to college student Sarah Gambolati in recognition of her assistance with the CLT Board Manual. The Board of Directors continues to work diligently on the Standards and Practices from the Land Trust Alliance. Completion of the standards and practices will enable the trust to apply for national accreditation through LTA. A generous grant was received from Land Trust Alliance to hire a consultant to develop a comprehensive three to five year Strategic Plan. CLT chose Henrietta Jordan from Trailmarker Associates to guide us in the process. Kip Kolesinskas, State Soil Scientist from the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) office in Tolland met with CLT to discuss the services they might provide to the land trust. Kip recommended that Colchester designate some soils as “soils of local importance”. This designation could help secure certain grants to protect our precious farmlands and work to designate the soils could be done at no cost for the Town of Colchester.
Colchester Land Trust Board members continue to be active members of the community. Andy George has been on the Conservation Commission since 2008. Will Hochholzer has been active with the Open Space Committee since 2009. Chuck Toal is a member of the Salmon River Watershed Project Steering Committee that was established by The Nature Conservancy. Leslie Curtis joined the newly formed Agricultural Commission. Discover Colchester hikes will continue under the guidance of Gary Walters who is has taken over for Marty Podskoch. A much needed volunteer coordinator position was filled by Danny Albert. The Salmon River Run attracted 285 runners , the Art and Wine Auction raised over $5,000 for open space acquisition., and the Colchester Phone Book was published again and distributed to all Colchester households. Will Hochholzer submitted a grant to the Natural Resources Conservation Service for management plans on two land trust properties: Whispering Winds (a 25 acre parcel on Usher Swamp Road) and our 15 acre parcel on Bulkeley Hill Road. The grant also included some invasive species removal and tree release on the Gateway Property. The trust was awarded a grant for $5,200 . Management plans are a requirement for the trust to participate in the Land Trust Alliance’s Defense fund as well as to qualify for national accreditation. The Board of Directors continues to work diligently on the Land Trust Alliance’s Standards and Practices under the guidance of Vice-President Chuck Toal.
In 2012, the land trust established a scholarship fund awarding $1,000 to a Bacon Academy Senior who has expressed an interest in pursuing a bachelor's degree or higher level of education in a field of science related to preservation of undeveloped land, natural resources and biological species and has demonstrated that interest through excellent academic performance and community service while attending Bacon. Abbey Tedford, Bacon Academy class of 2012, was the recipient of the Colchester Land Trust's 2012 scholarship. The, the Fine Art of Living Art and Wine Auction contributed $6,000 to our land acquisition fund, one of the best years yet. The very popular Salmon River Run, an annual event for the trust, attracted over 300 runners to the scenic 5.5 mile course. The race prides itself in the best post-race food in the area, and strives to be as environmentally friendly as possible. The Colchester Phone Book was sent to every household in Colchester again this year, and has become a handy resource for local numbers. The Board of Directors continued to work hard in preparation for applying for national accreditation from the Land Trust Alliance (LTA). We have also joined the TerraFirma Insurance Fund which was started by the Land Trust Alliance and is now its own entity. This insurance fund will help protect CLT in the event that we become involved in litigation with one of our properties. At the annual meeting in June, the trust welcomed Diana Giles to the Board. Will and Helene Hochholzer completed their third three year term on the Board and, although they chose not to hold positions on the Board, they will continue to assist the trust with landowner contact, forest stewardship, and providing expertise from years as local foresters.
National Accreditation through the Land Trust Alliance
continued to be a focus for 2013 with a subcommittee consisting of Chuck Toal,
Cathy Shea and Andy George coordinating the efforts. Funding was received from the Land Trust
Alliance that enabled us to receive 30 hours
of consulting time with Connie Manes, the Executive Director of the Kent Land
Trust and a true expert in the field.
This grant program is an effort by LTA to support small volunteer land
trusts in their efforts toward accreditation.
With the combined efforts of the accreditation subcommittee, the Board of
Directors and Connie Manes, we made huge strides in the accreditation paperwork
and entered the lottery in May. In June we were chosen as an applicant for
2014. The Trust funded three projects in the
Bacon academy science department, including the Sherman Brook bridge project,
the wildlife garden, and planting of a small apple orchard on the school
grounds. Teachers Joseph Hage, Christopher
Juhl, and Jill Levasseur provided the academic counseling for these projects
but the students did the work. These
projects were highlighted in our 2nd published Annual Report. In July, Board Member Cathy Shea began publishing a quarterly
electronic newsletter to communicate with CLT friends
and members. The trust held its annual
Salmon River Run in May attracting hundreds of local runners. John Barnowski assumed the leadership of the Discover
Colchester hikes replacing Gary Walter who did a fantastic job for several
years. The monthly hikes continue to
attract not only Colchester citizens but many from surrounding
communities. An Investment Recommendation subcommittee was formed as the
trust pursued more profitable options toward investing our funds. Local businessman Steve Marcoux began to
participate in monthly meetings, supporting Cathy Shea in the Treasurer
role and bringing a wealth of business knowledge to the trust. Lisa Hageman
volunteered to be the trust’s representative for the Salmon River Watershed
Project, replacing Chuck Toal. Chuck
served for many years as the representative and involved local girl scouts
in an annual river monitoring trip.