In 1962, American biologist Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, sounding an alarm on the devastating ecological consequences of chemical pesticides. Silent Spring roused a groundswell of environmental activism, leading to the founding of a federal-level bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency, in 1970.
In a small colonial-era town in southwestern Connecticut, five likeminded residents were keeping watchful eyes as the border towns of Fairfield County morphed into New York City’s tony backyard, a leafy quasi-sixth metropolitan borough. Seeking the pastoral comforts and seclusion then prized, corporate headquarters would soon follow, notably General Electric in 1974. The commuter shed was ebbing its way northward, development pressures would mount.
The five took preemptive action, establishing the Redding Land Trust in 1965 as a safeguard against suburban encroachment and the withering homogenization of cul-de-sac development. Their mission was understood as stewardship:
“protect[ing] Redding’s woods, meadows, wetlands, and vistas for the benefit of our town’s residents and visitors, our wildlife and natural resources, and for future generations.”
Their distinct and visionary understanding was that stewardship of the land is not a goal, but a method — a method of community that is humble, aspirational, and future-minded.
“Their distinct and visionary understanding was that stewardship of the land is not a goal, but a method — a method of community that is humble, aspirational, and future-minded.”
To date, the Trust maintains more than 60 miles of trails and protects more than 1700 acres in a town of just over 20,000 acres total.
Nearly forty years after incorporation of the Trust, in a letter to the editor of the town’s now-defunct local newspaper, one of the five founding members would appeal to this guiding principle of stewardship connecting community and land to stave off another development threat, regrettably in vain:
“…self-reliant Georgetown/Redding. Our town was settled by those whose values are rooted in small-town community service and a connection with the land and its history.”
Worldwide, communities struggle as local economies falter, populations age, and weather extremes of a changing climate present new risks and uncertainties.
Now, as then, a small town inspiring stewardship can lead the way.