WESTERLY — Kelly Presley, Sheila Terranova Beattie and Allen Leadbetter, dressed warmly in the chilly November air, stood deep in the woods off Dunn’s Corners-Bradford Road Wednesday morning, surveying the land at the Wahaneeta Preserve.
The preserve, a 72-acre parcel of land, was once known as Camp Wahaneeta and belonged to the Girl Scouts of Rhode Island. Primarily made up of wooded wetlands, the property includes a stream, a pond and the former Girl Scout lodge. In 2012, the property was purchased by the Westerly Land Trust, a not-for-profit corporation that today owns roughly 1,600 acres in Westerly, vast swaths of forests, grasslands, agricultural fields and wetlands, the majority of which are available for public recreation.
“We’ve come a long way in thirty years,” said Presley, the land trust’s executive director. “A long way from a group of people sitting around a kitchen table.”
”This is a big year for us,” added Presley.
The land trust, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, will celebrate the milestone Sunday with a day-long Harvest Festival and 5K road race at the Avondale Farm Preserve, another of the organization’s 30 properties.
From the original group of all-volunteer founding members — Cynthia Lafferty, Jonathan Eckel, Harvey Perry, Calvert Groton, Theodore Goodchild, David Panciera and Clement Griscom — the land trust now has a full staff with headquarters inside one of their properties — the Industrial Trust Bank Building on High Street — and roughly 1,000 members.
“Sheila has orchestrated a lot of it,” said Presley, with a friendly nod toward Terranova. “Along with Harvey Perry, who had such foresight.”
Beattie, a longtime member of the board who is currently serving as president, has been active in recruitment efforts over the years and super-involved with the land trust’s Coffee and Clearing Club. Known as the “CCC” by land trust members, the club is made up of volunteers who meet every Tuesday for coffee, then drive to one of the land trust properties to clear and maintain the trails. Leadbetter, who is also a CCC member, currently serves as the vice-president of the land trust’s board of trustees.
”These two are prominent members of the CCC,” said Presley, pointing to her walking partners.
As the trio walked around the Wahaneeta Preserve discussing the land trust and its properties, they pointed out landmarks and highlights of the former Girl Scout camp.
“It was completely overgrown when we acquired the property,” said Beattie, noting the amount of work the members of the Coffee and Clearing Club completed on the land.
“We totally restored the pavilion,” said Leadbetter, “and the two-seater outhouse … and the flagpole.”
“The flagpole inspired a lot of discussion with the CCC,” said Beattie with a smile, as she walked inside the lodge, a small wooden structure originally built in the 1940s and updated after the 2012 purchase. “We’ll hold our annual meeting in here later this month.”
”And we’ll make a fire and serve hot cider,” added Leadbetter.
“I was happy to see the notice of our latest acquisition announced today,” added Leadbetter, noting that 13 additional acres of property next to the Sunnyacres Preserve on South Woody Hill Road, recently purchased from a member of the Perkins family, had been mentioned in the morning newspaper.
The newly secured parcel, Presley said, comprises forest and wooded wetland that extends from Route 1 northward to the stream that forms the southern boundary of Sunnyacres Preserve.
“All for the benefit of our great town and its people,” she added.
The land trust, whose mission is to “conserve open space, revitalize culturally significant properties, and provide environmental programs for the enduring benefit of our community,” also owns six urban properties in downtown Westerly, including the historic United Theater, Montgomery Ward, and Industrial Trust buildings, which are being renovated for new uses, Presely said.
“Riverwood is one of our most beautiful properties,” said Leadbetter about the 148 acres of woodland, rocky ridges and freshwater wetlands adjacent to the Pawcatuck River and the Boy Scout Camp off Boy Scout Drive. The property was acquired as a donation from the Nature Conservancy in 2002, he said, and sits between the Pawcatuck River and the Amtrak railroad tracks.
In addition to the urban properties, Wahaneeta, Sunnyacres, and Riverwood, the land trust owns the 6-acre Anderson Preserve along the Pawcatuck River on Potter Hill Road, the 25-acre Beriah Lewis Farm Preserve, the 18-acre Colonel Willie Cove Preserve in Watch Hill, the 38-acre Crandall Family Preserve, the 134-acre Dr. John Champlin Glacier Park, the 7½-acre Dr. Lewis Pond Preserve, the 14-acre Flora Whitely Preserve, the 482-acre Grills Preserve, the 9-plus-acre Haggerty Family Preserve, the 3.5-acre Hawke Wood, the 30-acre Hence Conservation Easement, the 1.5-acre Haversham Preserve, the 13.73- acre Mastuxet Brook Greenway North, the 6.3-acre Mastuxet Brook Greenway South, the Moorehouse Farm Preserve, the 30.3-acre Pine Hollow Preserve, the Quaker Burial Ground, the Thomas Hill Tract, Wildwood, and the 42-acre Winnapaug Farm Preserve.
Presley said members are excited about Sunday’s harvest festival, the activities, the participants and the road race.
“We’re having hay rides too,” said Presley.
“And we made natural playscapes for children,” added Beattie.
“We’re also excited about creating long-term sustainability for the land trust,” Presley said, noting the successful alliance she has forged with the Westerly Public Schools, which, she hopes, will nurture meaningful relationships with a whole new generation of nature-lovers.
“We are so fortunate in this town to have so many good nonprofits,” said Beattie. “Westerly really is a special place.”
For more information about the land trust, its properties, its mission and its membership, visit westerlylandtrust.org.