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 and enhance community resources. Specific programs include the preservation of open space, rehabilitation and redevelopment of established neighborhoods, and the creation of education and recreation opportunities for the public.
The Land 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 Westerly Land Trust aims to protect and strengthen that reputation.
The Westerly Land Trust was incorporated in 1987 in Rhode Island as a private non-profit conservation corporation. The land trust received tax-exempt status in March 1988 by the Internal Revenue Service under Code Section 501(c)3.
For several years, the original group of all-volunteer founding members, including Cynthia Lafferty, Jonathan Eckel, Harvey Perry, Calvert Groton, Theodore Goodchild, David Panciera and Clement Griscom, worked on various vital land conservation projects in the Town of Westerly.
Then in 1998, Westerly Land Trust successfully acquired its first property with the purchase of more than 50 acres which would become the Avondale Farm Preserve. It was a complex sales transaction requiring support from many individuals, foundations, and the State of Rhode Island, as well as a mortgage loan. The Avondale Farm project generated support from many in the community, earning WLT credibility with state agencies, foundations, and individuals.
From 1998 to the present, land holdings have grown to 32 properties totaling over 1,700 acres, including eight preserves featuring frontage along the Pawcatuck River. WLT’s largest preserves are its 550-acre Grills Preserve and 482-acre Crandall Family Preserve. Crandall Family Preserve encompasses the Town of Westerly’s Crandall water wellhead, thus WLT plays a critical role in protecting the Town’s drinking water supply. In addition, the land trust has created a robust suite of programs, including our education initiative working with grades K-8 to provide environmental education opportunities.
In 2004, the Board of Directors voted to expand the Westerly Land Trust’s mission to include an Urban Initiative, focused on redevelopment and enhancement of culturally significant commercial properties in areas of historic significance to the Town. The “smart growth” concept reflects the other side of the coin of land conservation. A vibrant downtown offering attractive options to live, dine, and shop reduces development pressure on precious open space.
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.
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.
Since 2016, the Westerly Land Trust has prioritized environmental education as a critical objective. With the inception of the Environmental Literacy Pilot Program, WLT began partnering with local educational organizations to create science-based curriculum focused on welcoming students onto our properties and offering hands on learning experiences in nature. Our curriculum is gauged towards K-8 students, primarily serving southwestern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut.
In addition to engaging K-8 students, WLT produces programming designed for all different age groups, including weekly guided hikes (and paddles in the summer), monthly all-ages hikes, birding events, and educational seminars and discussions. All genders, races, ethnicities are welcomed and encouraged to attend all programing. WLT is honing its ability to deliver quality, enriching, hands-on, outdoor education.
The Westerly Land Trust staff and board of directors continue to build upon land holdings and simultaneously strive to fulfill its commitment to meet all standards of Land Trust Accreditation as set by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. In February of 2017, the Westerly Land Trust was awarded national accreditation, making it one of only six accredited land trusts in Rhode Island at the time. Accreditation is not a one-time action, but a tool to foster continuous improvement; therefore, participating land trusts repeat the process every five years to ensure growth and development of the organizations. So in 2022, the Westerly Land Trust renewed its accreditation, proving once again that, as a part of a network of more than 450 accredited land trusts across the nation, we are committed to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust in conservation work.
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.