Darien Land Trust to celebrate 65th anniversary

DARIEN — As the Darien Land Trust celebrates its 65th anniversary, residents are invited to join the group for its celebratory events.

Before World War II, Darien was a farm town with large swaths of pastured stretches uninterrupted, according to Christiaan Brakman, trustee and chairman of the 65th anniversary committee.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the building boom began. Thanks to the Interstate-95 and rail commuting, Darien became one of the most attractive, prosperous towns in New England, widely known for its green open spaces and waterfront land, Brakman said.

By the early 1960’s, 65 percent of the town had been developed, raising concerns about the pace of development, sowing the seeds for the Land Trust’s formation, he said.

The inspiration behind the founding of the Darien Land Trust was a $5,000 anonymous donation in 1956, according to the Land Trust website. Four years later, in 1960, it was incorporated as Darien Parklands Association, Inc. and in 1969, changed its name to Land Trust of Darien, Inc. — “Darien Land Trust” — which it remains today.

In 1972, a gift of 14.1 acres of woodland was made by Dunlap & Associates, which became the first property “01” Dunlap Woods, according to the Darien Land Trust website.

And in 1973, the Darien Land Trust received 501(3)(c) IRS incorporated non-profit status, which allows contributions to be tax deductible for income and estate taxes.

In the 1990’s, the Land Trust recognized the need to raise its outreach and public persona and for ease of communications called it the Darien Land Trust.

To celebrate the Land Trust’s 65th anniversary, residents are invited to two challenges.

First, the Trails Challenge takes visitors to three of its preserves with walking trails: Olson Woods, the Trails at Cherry Lawn and Dunlap Woods. The Trails Challenge, from May 15 to July 31, is to visit all three sites.

Participants must register through a QR code posted at each property to be entered into a prize drawing. Winners will be announced on the Land Trust’s website and social media on Aug. 2, including the grand prize winner of an iPhone12.

Participants are invited to post photos on social media using #darienlandtrust65.

“Now more than ever we have all come to appreciate spending time outside,” Land Trust Trustee Elizabeth Mathus said.

“In designing the Trails Challenge, we wanted residents to visit properties right here in town that they might not know exist. After the pandemic, finding a new trail is like winning the lottery,” Mathus said.

In the fall, the Land Trust is holding a 10K Running Challenge.

Participants can run through scenic back roads past beautiful preserved properties, including Mather Meadows and Waterbury Field.

The challenge kicks off at Rocktoberfest on Oct. 2 and continues until the end of the month. Runners can scan a QR code at Highland Farm, and after finishing be eligible for prizes to be announced on the Darien Land Trust website and social media.

Since its inception, according to Brakman, the DLT Board established policies including Good Neighbor and Land and Deer Management, and granted public access to those areas with parking and trails, such as Dunlap Woods.

The Darien Land Trust has now expanded to nearly 220 acres of land - preserving meadows, woodland, wetlands, marshland and other undeveloped parcels in town. This preservation effort is supported by a total membership of between 450-550 residents of the Town of Darien.

The Land Trust has evolved into an active organization with a board of trustees that works to improve the conservation values of permanently preserved meadows, woodlands, wetlands and tidal marshes that were acquired through donations, conservation easements and property sales, according to Brakman.

The environmental value of the land is enhanced when ecosystems are restored and maintained with abundant native trees and plants that attract pollinators, including birds, bees and butterflies.

“Protecting open space supports property values and preserves our town’s character by sustaining beautiful outdoor areas for all residents to enjoy,” Brakman said.

“These include the well-maintained woodland trails featured in our Trails Challenge. After a year in which many of us ventured outdoors, we encourage you to retain those habits and come enjoy some of Darien’s open spaces you may have never seen,” he said.

May 15 marks the start of the Trails Challenge and the 65th anniversary video series, which highlights landmark achievements and the leaders in town whose vision made possible the preservation of land in Darien.

The majority of of Land Trust properties are too wet or fragile for pedestrian access, but the three large parcels with hiking trails open to the public: Dunlap Woods, Cherry Lawn, and Olson Woods.

To learn more about the Land Trust 65th anniversary celebrations, visit darienlandtrust.org.