Land Trust to celebrate 50 years; Guitar tells how it all began

By Mary Anne Guitar, February, 2015

The Redding Land Trust began in 1965 with Sam Hill’s idea to encourage the formation of a private land-save organization which could accept gift of land and manage these tracts for public pleasure.

Mr. Hill was the first chairman of the Conservation Commission and he had laid out an ambitious open space plan for the town. However, he also realized that the town could not afford to buy all the open space needed to preserve Redding’s unique natural resources.

In the spring of 1965, Mr. Hill sprang his idea of a local land trust on the town fathers. Then, he started looking around for volunteers to start one. To his surprise, those who offered to help had improbably credentials for the job. Jo Polseno was an illustrator, Bill Miller, a historian, Helene O’Neill wrote a column for The Redding Pilot, June Gordon had been a dancer, and I was a free-lance writer.

The five of us who took on the task of researching and, finally, incorporating a local land-trust cared about the town and conservation but we were not deeply involved in town affairs. Perhaps it was just as well because we had high expectations and no fear that we couldn’t succeed. All through the summer of ’65, we met at Ms. Gordon’s house and, with the help of a young lawyer, Walther Andrew, drew up the incorporation papers and bylaws. It was slow going and I grew used to the weekly call from Mr. Hill, which invariable began, “Well, Mary Anne….”.

Finally, we were ready to apply to the state for a certificate of incorporation. Once that was granted we were legally empowered to start a Land Trust and we did in March 1966 with our organizational meeting. We sent a town-wide mailing which read in part: “We, the incorporators listed below, invite you to help conserve the natural beauty in Redding before it is too late. Join the Redding Land Trust and help maintain rolling hills, wild-flower bogs, bird sanctuaries, streams and ponds. Support the land trust and help keep the unusual range of animal and plant life presently enriching our town,”

The response was gratifying. Christ Church Parish Hall was filled with well wishers, new members and volunteers. We elected Ben Deming the first president of the Land Trust and our first Board of Trustees included Ben, William Cram, Dr. Theodore Dayton, Michael Erlanger, Robert Knapp, Alan Stackpole, and the five incorporators.

We were solvent, more so than we had dreamed. One day I opened the mail and a $1,000 check was dropped off from a member who, to this day, wants to remain anonymous. This windfall enabled us to put together and print a handsome mailing piece, which was created by Gordon Page, a retired advertising copywriter, and artist Arthur Shilstone. The captivating title — “How the Redding Land Trust, Inc. Can Help You Protect Your Home Town Investment” — brought many inquiries from prospective donors of land.

We had already received our first gift — the Mikklesen 4-acre gift off Wayside Lane. Then, just in time for Redding’s Bicentennial in 1980, the Brinkerhoff family gave the Trust 50 spectacular acres off Beeholm Road. It was followed by other gifts from Cressey, Wyman and Bakeland to create some 100 acres of field and forest.

Stuart Udall, then Secretary of the Interior, wrote to congratulate the Trust: “Those of us at the federal level who are fighting the battle to acquire land and to save it from the seeming inexorable march of the bulldozer and concrete mixer obviously cannot do the whole job. The real work, and most meaningful in the long run to the citizen where he lives, must be done at the local level by people with imagination and vision.”