A 14-acre parcel of land that was once the center of an ugly, multi-year battle over a proposed commercial development now represents an oasis of peace and nature accessible to the public not far from the geographic center of Wilton.
The Wilton Land Conservation Trust, the organization behind preserving the property at 183 Ridgefield Rd. as open space, has begun taking steps to make the location its own epicenter. The site, like other Land Trust locations open to the public, will be a place for people to appreciate nature and enjoy a host of small educational programs such as guest speakers and guided trail walks.
Land Trust executive director David McCarthy, credits the organization’s active board, as well as the cumulative effort of volunteers, the community, and like-minded philanthropists, for the preservation of the land there.
In March of 2020, the Wilton Land Conservation Trust purchased 183 Ridgefield Rd. with the financial support of WLCT’s friends and members, and the award of an Open Space Acquisition Grant from the State of Connecticut.
“We saved hope — hope that conservation in lower Fairfield County is still possible in today’s age.” He explains that his role at 183 is to ensure the ecosystem remains thriving, intact, and healthy.
McCarthy said the mission of the trust is to “protect Wilton’s natural, scenic, and historical landscapes with conservation, stewardship, and education,” all of which will be reflected at 183.
Right now, 183 is closed to the general public because it is an active construction site. The Daniel Offutt Barn, a small antique structure donated last June by the Daniel Offutt Estate in Weston (together with the funds to relocate it) will be the first structure on the property and used for storage. In the future, the WLCT will seek approval to use the barn for small educational programs centered around agriculture and nature planned for the 183 preserve.
Already there have been organized events at 183, including a Chestnut Tree Planting on May 22, as an effort toward ensuring the survival of the threatened species. Ten chestnut trees were planted on the property, and roughly 10 will be planted annually to reach 100.
Aside from the recent planting event, McCarthy said that gardening on the site will most likely be minimal. He envisions the park to be similar to a national park where visitors “become one with nature.”
As for future events, McCarthy said he is teaming up with the Wilton Historical Society to create an educational program to plant yellow flax, an endangered species, on the property. The plan is for a handful of kids to help plant, water, tend, harvest, and process the flax to eventually weave colonial textiles.
Additional ideas for 183 include a trail, informational kiosks, and a small area for visitors to park vehicles.
While 183 is not yet open to the general public, there will be additional community work days and stewardship days that will need volunteer participation.
While there is not yet a concrete date for when the site will be open to visitors, McCarthy promised it will be something the community will enjoy once it does.
“183 is a place for the Wilton community to stand on an actual endangered landscape and feel timeless,” McCarthy says.