Despite fighting an uphill battle against mother nature and a lack of funding, one Darien resident has been able to transform a wild tract of land into a veritable nature preserve.

Chris Filmer, member of the Friends of Selleck's Woods and a steward for the Darien Land Trust, spends the majority of his time performing the routine maintenance that is required on the trails and bridges that weave throughout Selleck's Woods. However, getting the woods to the point where people could enjoy them was no easy task.

"The town bought the property back in the `60s and it was 28 acres" Filmer said. "They just left it and when the land trust came along, for about 10 years, not a lot happened."

Because the area wasn't being maintained by the town or the land trust, people would go into the woods and use it as a playground, Filmer said.

"This place was a mess," Filmer said shaking his head. "There was no respect for the land."

Filmer's disgust for the way the area was treated was in reference to the fact that people would ride their ATV's around and tear area up.

As the land continued to exist, largely unused, proposals to turn the property into senior housing were entertained, Filmer said. However, at the time when senior housing was looking like a good fit for the area, the Friends of Selleck's Woods was formed, Filmer explained.

"At the time, I was on the RTM," Filmer said. "I came here and had a look, but first I had to find out where it was," Filmer said laughing.

Filmer described his first impressions of Selleck's Woods as being a "diamond in the rough." His first moments spent at the woods were a bit overwhelming as it was hard to effectively gauge what was there.

"Some Friends of Selleck's Woods were neighbors and they asked me to join," Filmer said about getting involved with the organization. "It's been about 15 or 16 years."

One of the major victories for maintaining the natural state of Selleck's Woods was getting the Department of Transporation to put up a fence along I-95.

Even though having a major highway bordering the property was an issue, getting the property to the point where it could be enjoyed by the town was a seemingly monumental task.

"Green briars were an issue," Filmer said. "You had to hack through them like you were in the Amazon."

Today, the green briars are mostly non-existent, although Filmer did identify a few areas where patches of the plant still existed. Filmer said he took years to combat all of the invasive species.

In order to unearth the diamond that Filmer saw in Selleck's Woods, a group of volunteers had to be assembled before significant work could be done.

"We got volunteers and we made signs and trails," Filmer said. "We also built bridges but then vandals would rip them up."

One of Filmer's favorite bridges is a bridge that he refers to as "the wishing bridge." When Filmer brings groups of students into the woods, he tells them to stand on the bridge and make a wish -- noting that many of the students will shut their eyes and can be seen actually making a wish.

Acts of vandalism weren't enough to dampen Filmer's spirits as he and other volunteers continue to maintain Selleck's Woods to the highest standards.

"When we started we had about $142 to our name," Filmer said. "Since then, we have about 200 members and fund raise between $3,000 to $4,000 a year."

One of the challenges Filmer deals with, besides finding the funds for the necessary maintenance, is the amount of work that it takes to keep Selleck's Woods in good order.

"The March storms did serious damage," Filmer said. Much of the damage was tree related, but as Filmer explained, the cost of removing even a single tree can be as much as $2,000.

When walking along the extensive trail system that winds its way throughout Selleck's Woods, Filmer's work can be seen -- although it may not always be obvious. Some of that work includes meticulously hand carved birds and animals that are scattered amongst the trees or a small seat made from the stump of a tree.

DLT President Kaye Rabin was all praise for the work Filmer has done.

"He is an enormous asset to this community," Rabin said. "His efforts span the care and improvement of precious habitats to being a gifted teacher to children and adults alike on appreciating what is there for us."

Rabin also mentioned the value Filmer brings to the DLT board for his insights into preserving nature and fostering a sense of responsibility to nature.

Even though he is retired, Filmer can be found most days somewhere in Selleck's Woods working to improve the property to help enhance the experience of the people who are walking the trails.