Owls take flight at Wilton preserve during conservation talk

Eight elected officials and two owls joined the Aspetuck Land Trust and the Connecticut Land Conservation Council on July 11 at the Belknap estate to celebrate land conservation success stories.

Among the stories was the 38-acre Belknap acquisition, which increased Aspetuck Land Trust’s Honey Hill Preserve in Weston and Wilton to 119 acres.

During the event, Dara Reid of Weston-based Wildlife in Crisis released two barred owls in a meadow on the Belknap estate. Her organization nursed the owls back to health after they had been injured in a car accident several months ago.

After a brief flight, both birds settled in a Norway spruce the family planted on the grounds 90 years ago following its use as a living Christmas tree at the estate.

Aspetuck Land Trust purchased the Belknap parcel, which is partially in Wilton and partially in Weston, for $380,000 in 2017 with help from a $165,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environment Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Program (OSWLA) — funded by the state Community Investment Act — and other local investments.

The 38-acre Belknap property is a key parcel in Aspetuck Land Trust’s efforts to protect more than 700 acres of forest on the Weston/Wilton border. Known as the “Weston-Wilton Forest Block,” the goal for this forest area is to preserve 289 acres in a block of unprotected land in central Fairfield County.

Attending the event were State Sen. Will Haskell (D-26), State Rep. Laura Devlin (R-134), State Rep. Joseph Gresko (D-121), State Rep. Ann Hughes (D-135), State Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey (D-133), State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-136), Weston First Selectman Christopher Spaulding, and State Sen. George Logan (R-17) who was attending on behalf of Aquarion Water Company where he is director of environmental management and governmental affairs.

“It was great to see these officials supporting the importance of conserving open spaces for public use and for protection of our natural environment,” said David Brant, executive director of the Aspetuck Land Trust. “Their leadership in land conservation demonstrates a strong visionary commitment to current and future generations. In fact, we currently have a grant pending with the OSWLA Program for an 85-acre adjacent parcel to the Belknap property. It's an exciting initiative to protect this large undeveloped forest block, the last frontier of open space in our area.”

Amy Patterson, executive director of the Connecticut Land Conservation Council in Middletown, spoke about the collaborative efforts of land trusts that her organization supports throughout the state. “Connecticut is one of the leaders across the nation with many community-based land trusts such as Aspetuck Land Trust working together to conserve land in its natural state,” she said.