Levin land will remain forever wild

With protected residential property as the backdrop, the Wilton Conservation Land Trust last week announced 13 acres will be protected from future development through a conservation easement executed by the owners.

John and Roy Levin, sons of the late Alice Levin, who died in 2015, created the easement on their mother’s 12.9-acre home.

“We wanted to preserve it because that was the property Alice loved,” land trust vice president Craig Johnson said during a brief announcement at his home, which is also protected.

Of the easement, land trust executive director Donna Merrill said, “We are pulling together a vision for the future.” With a patchwork of land all over town, she said the land trust is creating “corridors of connectivity” to benefit people and wildlife.

“This is really a bookend for me,” John Levin said. He told gathered guests that after the process was started he and his wife Patricia Gallery visited Yellowstone National Park. He learned that any animal that wanders beyond the park’s 2.2 million acres may be killed.

“The boundaries we create for ourselves animals don’t understand,” he said. As colonies of bees and monarch butterflies collapse “we suffer the boundaries we’ve created.”

The Levins’ property will be protected as “forever wild,” he added. “We hope others will follow in our footsteps.”

That property was beloved by Alice Levin. At one time a member of the Wilton Garden Club, Deer Committee and Weir Preserve, she was passionate about the gardens surrounding her home, which were a lifelong project, according to her obituary.

She was also a founding contributor to the Wilton Center Tree Plan. On the occasion of her 85th birthday in 2008, Levin’s sons gave a gift of five trees in the town center.

The idea of creating the easement on the Levin property was really his mother’s idea, John Levin told The Bulletin, adding he and his brother effected it after she died.

He wanted to make clear what the easement involves. It does not create a park or open space that people may use. It is still private, residential property.

“We are taking the right to develop out the window,” he said. “The conservation easement creates beautiful protected space providing habitat for wildlife.”

The property is complemented by open space to the north and town land just to the south, creating a wildlife corridor.

While the appeal of creating a conservation easement can be a break on property taxes, Levin said he and his brother chose not to do that.

Beyond a possible tax break, he said there are a number of reasons to opt for a conservation easement, one being to create a “belt” of protection.

“If the town is looking to certain properties to create housing,” he said, “there may be others who can protect open areas around them.”

Land trust role

The conservation easement on the Levin property is a deed restriction that is owned by the Wilton Conservation Land Trust. While the Levins own the property now, the land trust is charged with enforcing the restrictions of the easement no matter who may own the property in the future.

Executive director Merrill emphasized the land trust is not part of the town government.

“We’re not necessarily understood as a private, charitable organization,” she told The Bulletin. “One hundred percent of our funding for the care of land comes from asking people in Wilton to become members.”

The land trust, which owns or holds conservation easements on more than 100 parcels, offers several levels of membership from small to large donations.

“We don’t have big fund-raising campaigns,” she said. “We are traditionally a low-key organization.”

The land trust is run by a volunteer board of trustees which welcomes new members and other volunteers who help primarily with trail maintenance. The trust is also in the process of forming a number of committees — land stewardship, land mapping, communications, etc. — which members who are not trustees may serve on.

“The soul of our town is in its natural beauty, its thriving forests, and connectivity to the people who live, work and play here,” Merrill said, adding that land preservation is all the more important now because of increased development pressures.

The land the trust protects is all beneficial to the community either for the views it offers, its historic significance, or environmental benefits such as protecting clean water.

“We are not an organization of owners of land that can be sold off later,” Merrill emphasized. “Everything given to us is protected in perpetuity.”

For membership or information on volunteering, visit wiltonlandtrust.org or email Donna.Merrill@wiltonlandtrust.org.