Mission & History
The Westerly Land Trust conserves open space, revitalizes culturally significant properties, and provides environmental programs for the enduring benefit of our community.
Statement of Purpose
The Westerly Land Trust, a not-for-profit corporation, operates throughout Westerly to conserve space and enhance community resources. Specific programs include the preservation of open space, rehabilitation and redevelopment of established neighborhoods, and establishment of education and recreation opportunities for the public. The Trust’s programs and activities are directed to the protection and enhancement of the environment, agriculture, and water resources as well as the community’s “sense of place.” Westerly is recognized as a place with special charm and attractions which are a source of pride to its residents and a magnet for tourists and new residents. The Trust aims to protect and strengthen that reputation.
The Westerly Land Trust was incorporated November 16, 1987 in Rhode Island as a private non-profit conservation corporation. The new organization was given tax-exempt status in March 1988 by the Internal Revenue Service under Code Section 501 C 3.
For several years, the volunteer Board of the Westerly Land Trust worked on various land conservation projects that did not bear fruit. By 1996, the organization had drifted into a state of dormancy.
Then, in 1997, a land acquisition opportunity arose that breathed life back into the Westerly Land Trust, and brought new people and creative energy into the organization. This first successful project resulted in the purchase of over 50 acres that became the Avondale Farm Preserve. It was a complex sales transaction requiring gifts from many individuals, grants from foundations and the State of Rhode Island, and a mortgage loan of $524,000 secured by previously approved building lots on the property. The property was purchased in September 1998. Five of the lots were sold to retire the debt, and the Preserve was officially established.
The Avondale Farm project generated support from people in Town, including people in the Watch Hill Community. It established the credibility of the organization with the State, the Nature Conservancy and several foundations. It also attracted additional energetic volunteers. The new people, financial support and credibility of the Westerly Land Trust resulting from this project enabled the organization to survive, grow and thrive. The Board of Directors began to think about acquiring additional conservation lands.
Between September 1998 and the end of 2012, conservation land holdings increased to 37 properties in 20 preserves totaling approximately 1550 acres, equal to 7% of the area of the Town of Westerly. The Westerly Land Trust also manages two properties totaling 100 acres for the Nature Conservancy. Through its strategic Pawcatuck River Corridor Initiative, the Westerly Land Trust secured properties amounting to 700 acres in eight Preserves that feature several miles of River frontage.
The Westerly Land Trust also initiated a strategic Landscape-Scale Conservation Area Project designed to preserve an interconnected mosaic of conservation lands on a large scale. It will establish a permanently protected greenway east from Route 78 to Charlestown and north to Chapman Pond, the Pawcatuck River, and the Woody Hill Management Area. Portions of this greenway are already connected with extensive conservation lands in the Towns of Hopkinton and Charlestown.
Currently, the Westerly Land Trust’s largest Preserves are its 550-acre Grills Preserve and 482-acre Crandall Swamp Preserve. Negotiations are underway seeking to purchase other special places in the Town to be protected for all the people of Westerly.
In 2004, the Board of Directors voted to expand the Westerly Land Trust’s mission to include an urban component focused on redevelopment and enhancement of commercial properties, particularly those in areas of historic significance to the Town. The “smart growth” concept of this effort is that it reflects the other side of the coin of land conservation. Stress upon open spaces with scenic, recreational and environmental importance will be diminished if the central parts of Westerly become more attractive, convenient, fun and more densely populated places where people want to live, work, shop and play. The Westerly Land Trust’s Urban Initiative is designed to achieve this result.
During 2004 and 2005, the Board of Directors recognized the extraordinary success and opportunities facing the Westerly Land Trust and entered into a strategic planning and organizational development process. This process is designed to build the capacity of the Land Trust to effectively manage its current properties and to take the organization into even greater accomplishments. The effort is ongoing as more people are invited to participate in the Land Trust and organizational infrastructure is built to manage the expanding programs designed to enhance and protect the quality of life in the Town of Westerly.
Since establishing the Urban Initiative, the Westerly Land Trust has worked in partnership with the Royce Family Fund to purchase and adaptively re-use commercial properties of interest in downtown Westerly. The Westerly Land Trust holds four properties on Main Street along the Pawcatuck River as well as the historic Industrial Trust building on High Street and the former United Theatre and Montgomery Ward buildings on Canal Street.
The Industrial Trust building is home to Westerly Land Trust offices and is used for nonprofit organization events, music performances and art exhibits. Two Main Street properties have been developed as a community ice-skating rink, which is managed in collaboration with the Ocean Community YMCA. Plans are being developed to revive the United Theatre and Montgomery Ward buildings as a performing arts, visual arts and film complex.
During 2011 and 2012, the Westerly Land Trust facilitated a “KeepSpace Westerly” community visioning project in collaboration with Rhode Island Housing. This process of envisioning the future of downtown Westerly resulted in specific projects creating the Westerly Regional Arts Partnership, the Westerly Revolving Fund, an urban community garden, the installation of bicycle racks and improvements to the facades of downtown businesses.
The Westerly Land Trust is a thriving, dynamic and effective organization that protects and enhances Westerly’s natural environment and sense of place. Its leaders are engaged in attracting the talent and resources necessary to sustain and expand the organization’s programs to effectively achieve its mission.