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The History of the Land Trust Movement in Old Saybrook

Written in 2007

The forerunner of today's Old Saybrook Land Trust began in 1969, although references to the idea go back to 1967. The first written record of a meeting is in a hand written note by Dick Tietjen dated 1/15/70 and refers to "the gift of land being announced by the Saybrook Land Conservancy" for a local paper. The group appears to have been called the Saybrook Land Conservancy, Inc.

The Saybrook Land Conservancy's first president was William Sihler of 48 Fenwood Grove Road. A 1971 record of the Executive Committee of the Saybrook Land Conservancy records the following people present: Sihler, Chapin, Tietjen, Valentine. Another undated correspondence has Mr. Valentine reporting on the new IRS regulations that govern the tax advantages of new non-profits, citing that the Land Trust would not be eligible for a 50% tax advantage for donors "until it has been in existence for four years, that is May 1972." According to this, the Conservancy would have started in 1968.

Although there is reference to the need to publish their financial statement in a "newspaper having wide circulation in this area, as proof of our public nature", there is no paper evidence of incorporation for the initial land trust. According to the President, William Sihler, "Gifts to trusts themselves are tax deductible to the extent provided by the law and the qualification of the land trust, and therefore afford a measure of tax relief". "The trust, Sihler explained, can act as a private recipient and manager of open space to be held in trust to the advantage of 'both the town and to the individual who offers his land to the conservancy.'"

The Trust appears to have continued to conduct meetings, secured "adequate [insurance] coverage for our present level of operations" from Marcolini & McKenna, and makes reference in a Nov 30th 1971 letter to land trust members to a "twelve-man Board of Directors." In hand-written notes from former selectwoman Barbara Maynard in 2006, she refers to "12 Charter members, 18 individuals, 35 family" members of the Saybrook Land Conservancy founded in 1969.

Early Land Acquisition

The gift of land referred to in the 1970 note from Dick Tietjen refers to a piece of marshland donated, by Quit-Claim deed, by Richard Drudi, Jr. and Richard T. O'Connell, both of Old Saybrook, to the Saybrook Land Conservancy. The records include the quitclaim deed and warranty deed for the Meadowwood property, for lot #17. This marshland is referred to in several places as "less than one acre," .3 acre, and 3.20 acres.

Also in the records there is a Connecticut Warranty Deed Vol 153 Page 303 from Lawrence S. Scofield to Saybrook Land Conservancy, Inc. A map of the property donated to the Land Conservancy is entitled: "Final Subdivision Plan Ferry Point Estates Land of Lawrence S. Scofield Ferry Point Area Old Saybrook, Conn. Dec. 23, 1963. Revised May 20, 1969." This paperwork was signed on November 30th, 1972 by James D. Reardon, Eva-Marie Currier and Lawrence S. Scofield. This property is .95 acres.


A March 16, 1978 letter on town of Old Saybrook stationary, from the then first selectwoman, Barbara Maynard, to an inquiry made by Miss Pat Scanlon states that "I understand that [the land trust] is in limbo at the moment because there is not active leadership. Steve Calhoun, who was the President, moved; Kathy Marchant was Secretary and Jim Barnes was Vice President. Mrs. Ivy Nordlund, as treasurer, has been handling any mail that comes in and has paid insurance. It appears there is just enough interest from their saving account to pay insurance but they have not had a meeting since 1973 [a five year hiatus since this letter was written, in 1978].

Similar to the creation of the 1997 Old Saybrook Land Trust, the town of Old Saybrook Conservation Commission took a reactivating role for the Land Trust by sponsoring a meeting hosted by then Commission members Elsie Bakewell and Bob London. Paul Jacobsen, Mary Lou Rosner and Bob London volunteered to act as a temporary board of directors to facilitate the "process of incorporating."

A January 1988 newspaper clipping refers to the reactivated, 46-member Old Saybrook Land Trust, a "private, non-profit group." The Trust's secretary, Kathy Honer, "said the original trust had not formerly disbanded but became inactive because of lack of interest." This article states: "Board members include Bob London, president; Kathy Van Utt, vice president; Elsie Ives-Bakewell, treasurer; and John Bradin, Paul Jacobsen, Roger Goodnow, Ivy Nordlund, Audrey Goodhue, Mildred Ploszay, David Hurdis, Joann North and Kim Meadows, directors." Further notes from the files refer to "short-term projects" of this Land Trust to approve (by membership votes) by-laws and tax-exemption status.

A Connecticut Secretary of State, Corporate Record statement in the files ("This data is for information purposes only. Certification can only be obtained through the office of the Connecticut Secretary of State"), lists the "Old Saybrook Land Trust, Inc. as a "domestic, non-stock corporation" with the status "dissolved". This is the only "official" reference in the files to the former Land Trust's incorporation. This information states the "date of incorporation/qualification" as 09/26/1985, suggesting this is the file for the second Land Trust, not the original group formed in 1969. This information also acknowledges the change in name from the Saybrook Land Conservancy to the Old Saybrook Land Trust. The Registered agent on this record is Robert H. London, with the registered office as his (former) residence at 49 Woodland Drive in Old Saybrook.

Projects of the second Old Saybrook Land Trust include trails work and bridge repair with the Boy Scouts at the Town Park, and reference to "land acquisition surrounding the park (Lyons and Gleason property)." This Land Trust also remained interested in the town's coastal areas, recording priorities that include "map of coastal areas" and the suggestion that the Land Trust "attempt to get as much marshland as possible donated." A Land Trust informational brochure refers to a number of goals, including the offer of "help arranging legal guarantees of scenic preservation, through easements or other measures", willingness to "acquire and manage, through gift or purchase, such valuable resources as field, forest and marsh", and involvement with Old Saybrook youth that included sponsorship of a student to the Thames Science Center Environmental Day Camp and an established "liaison with the Old Saybrook Junior High School students working in ecology."

The history section of the Connecticut Secretary of State, Corporate Record statement in the files suggests that the incorporation for the "second" Land Trust was filed 09/26/1985; the organization filed: 10/29/1985; the Notice of Dissolution as 05/29/1987; and was Dissolved by Forfeiture on 09/04/1987.

It was just about ten years later that the present day Old Saybrook Land Trust received notice from the Connecticut Secretary of State of its non-profit incorporation status: August, 1997. This incorporation forms the basis of the current Old Saybrook Land Trust, which celebrates its tenth year of incorporation in 2007.

Present Day Land Trust

Incorporation paperwork was filed by a small group of individuals responding to town inactivity regarding purchase of the 960 acre Lyon family property, offered to the town for 2.5 million dollars prior to 1997. These original members include: Jan Fenger, Judy Preston (president 1997 - 2002) Steve (and Terri) Kinney, Jennifer McCann, Rich Hanratty, Scott and Suellen (Kozey) McCuin, Bob Fish, Steve Kurlandsky, and Laurie Massa.

Again, a partnership with the Old Saybrook Conservation Commission provided the matching funds – the other half coming from the Rockfall Foundation – to incorporate. Early success came from private anonymous donors that provided a sizable challenge grant to the Land Trust, resulting in $50,000 of start up funds for the organization. An early objective of the Land Trust was acquisition of the Gleason brother's property, 320 acres abutting the Town Park and Lyon family property in the northwest part of town. The Land Trust secured a $370,000 state grant and a town referendum resulted in 1.6 million dollars to purchase what was named the "Great Cedars Conservation Area" because of old growth Atlantic white cedar on the property. A memorandum of understanding was created between the Land Trust, the town of Old Saybrook Park and Recreation department, and the Old Saybrook Conservation Commission to manage the Great Cedars property.

In 1999 – 2000, the Land Trust began efforts to reestablish a migratory corridor for fish to the Chalker Millpond, on the headwaters of the Oyster River. A $7,000 grant from the state and volunteer labor and materials resulted in a public dedication of the town's first fish ladder in 2000. Additional fish restoration work completed in 2007 resulted in a significant project to rebuild a private dam and install a steep-pass unit to enable fish passage on the Fishing Brook tributary of the Oyster River, leading to Crystal Lake in the town park. Five federal grants, totaling approximately $150,000 enabled this project.

Other projects of the current Old Saybrook Land Trust included a partnership with the Fort Saybrook Monument Park in 2000 for which the Land Trust secured a $135,000 state grant to add land to the park on the Connecticut River, north of the Dock and Dine restaurant. In 1999, Ivy Nordstrom Butler, a member of one of the earlier Land Trusts in Old Saybrook, donated acres encompassing the headwaters of Beamon Creek, a tidal marsh that feeds into South Cove. In 2001 the Old Saybrook Camping Association donated a small amount of acreage on Fishing Brook, abutting Great Cedars Conservation Area. In 2002, under leadership of the Land Trust's second president, Terri Kinney (2002 – 2005), the Trust acquired approximately ten acres of tidal marshland on North Cove. And in 2005, the Myers family donated a large parcel of marshland abutting South Cove.

In 2006, the Land Trust wrote a state grant that will fund marsh restoration efforts, through the control of the invasive plant Phragmites, throughout North and South Coves in the town. The state will conduct the work (totaling close to $250,000), while the Land Trust is acting as the local liaison to over 200 residents who own tidal marsh in these areas.

In 2007, after several years of fundraising efforts that included state grants, summer fundraising parties and membership appeals, the Old Saybrook Land Trust closed on the $400,000, 51 acre Fairbank Farm preserve, also abutting the town park and Great Cedars Conservation Area, within the Oyster River watershed. The Land Trust's third president, Bill Marston, oversaw the completion of this acquisition.