Few private organizations have had as big an impact on Westport's way of life as the Westport Land Conservation Trust. Now, with 50 years of saving one sliver of open space at a time under its belt, …
Few private organizations have had as big an impact on Westport's way of life as the Westport Land Conservation Trust. Now, with 50 years of saving one sliver of open space at a time under its belt, its mission is as vital as it ever was.
"We're blessed with a community here that believes in maintaining its character," Ross Moran, the trust's executive director, said recently. "It's such a unique place and people have realized that for a lot longer than the 50 years we've been around."
Since its formation in 1972 by a small group of concerned citizens, the trust has grown from a small all-volunteer organization to a large non-profit with a small paid staff and an army of volunteers, many of whom branch out across town every Tuesday to keep the trust's various trails clean and clear. The organization is well-supported and has a deep well of experts that help with all manner of legal and other matters as they work to protect properties.
Despite real estate pressure from all sides, the trust has been extraordinarily successful and its efforts have helped more than 5,000 acres of land across town since its founding.
Protected and saved properties range from showcases like the trust's new offices and open space trails at Westport Woods Conservation Park on Adamsville Road, to smaller parcels that seldom see foot traffic, and in total the trust stewards more than 15 miles of walking trails.
Not all of the land is passive. More than 2,000 acres of farm land owned by farming families have been preserved as working farms, thanks to agricultural restrictions supported by the trust and aided by the town and private organizations and foundations. Keeping Westport's farming heritage intact is one of the most vital parts of the trust's mission, Moran said, and to date the trust has purchased and resold five farms to local families; a sixth, Berry Hill Farm, is in the works.
"Folks have always recognized the fact that Westport is a very special place," Moran said. "Not only its character, but there are significant resources here. With all of the real estate pressure in the South Coast, it's sort of amazing that we still have working farm operations. They're vitally important."
An evolving mission
Still, not all land can be saved, despite the efforts of the trust and others. Moran arrived at the trust about five years ago after a stint with the Trustees of the Reservations, and it quickly became evident that as available land dwindled, one of the next steps for the organization would be education.
That emerging arm got a huge boost six years ago when the trust launched a five-year capital campaign to preserve more than 1,000 acres, and in 2018 acquired its offices at Westport Woods. Formerly a religious camp owned by the Diocese of Fall River, Westport Woods now serves not only as offices, but hosts regular groups of nature lovers young and old, who learn about the area's ecology, natural resources and how to protect them. More than 2,000 visitors were counted last year, and Moran believes that number will grow as it expands its Children's Garden, develops its Learning Center and builds an all-persons trail through the woodland area.
As it celebrates its 50th anniversary, the trust is launching a three-part "Community Connections Plan" to utilize Westport Woods Conservation Park as the foundation for that connection, create nature-based education programs and events across town, and partner with other like-minded organizations to facilitate their programs on trust property. Moran said the trust must raise $1 million to establish an endowment for the program, and has secured a $500,000 matching grant from an anonymous foundation, to help.
Once underway, the effort will also include scheduled pop-up tent events at key properties during school vacation weeks and the summer, where families can visit a property, learn about nature and take a walk. There is a plan for a fall festival to celebrate the town's farming community, free Westport Woods family programs including story time and open times at the Learning Center, school programs, and more, many of them designed for the youth.
Children, he said, are the future and are integral to the trust's evolving mission.
"We would like to be a launching point" for them, he said. ""Everyone loves the town for what it is and wants to see it preserved in one way or another. While there's still land to preserve, in the next 50 years there will be a point where there's not anything left. That's why we want to create the next generation of stewards, and inspire them to protect it."
The trust will hold its annual meeting Thursday night at Westport Woods, and Moran said he hopes to bring the town up to speed on its current efforts and what's needed. How can you help? In an e-mail to the Shorelines, Moran said there are a few ways:
* Donate – "Each year as the trust grows, your support becomes more and more crucial. Whether it is focused on the preservation of critical resources or to support the day-to-day operating of the organization, your gift is a direct investment in the health of all who live in our community.
* Volunteer – "WLCT offers a variety of opportunities to get more deeply involved. Bring your expertise to a board committee, serve on our Tuesday Trail Team, support the office or help educate our many visitors through our connection programs
* Spread the word – "WLCT has served the community of Westport for 50 years, but with new neighbors arriving and a growing organization, there is always an opportunity to share why the mission is so important to the health and well-being of Westporters.
* Visit – "Get outside and explore! Visit and traverse the over 15 miles of trails, children’s discovery garden, fishing holes, fields and much more. There is so much to do on the land in town and WLCT offers a variety of experiences!
Editor's note: Thursday's annual meeting runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Visit the trust's website at www.westportlandtrust.org.