Local Organizations and COVID-19: New Canaan Land Trust


For today’s Q&A with a local organization, we hear from Aaron Lefland, executive director of the New Canaan Land Trust. 

Here’s our exchange.

New Canaanite: The Land Trust closed and then reopened its walking trails. What has the feedback from trail-goers been since the reopening?

Aaron Lefland: Our members and visitors were very understanding about the trail closures, and like us, were happy to see the trails re-opened after the brief closure. Since the health crisis began, we’ve seen a significant uptick in visitation to all of our properties, and are thrilled that so many people are exploring the special places that the Land Trust has worked to protect. When I chat with folks out on the trail, everyone is incredibly grateful for our work to establish and maintain the trail systems. Many have even volunteered to help, and we’ve assembled a small volunteer trail crew. I think people get tired of being on Zoom and sending emails all day, so spending time walking in the woods or improving a trail is a way to hit the reset button and recharge.

We’ve also received a lot of great feedback about the sculptures on the New Canaan Sculpture Trail, most of which were installed after our re-opening. The sculptures add a whole new dimension to the preserves, and visitors have been raving about the installations. Many folks are also venturing to preserves that they haven’t visited before to see all of the sculptures, and discovering their new favorite Land Trust preserves in the process.

What is your sense of how compliant New Canaanites have been with respect to the guidelines issues for visiting Land Trust properties?

Our visitors have been great about social distancing and not overcrowding our preserves. Walkers generally move 6’ apart when they encounter other visitors, and at many times, might be the only one out there.

Unfortunately, enforcing our leash requirement continues to be a challenge, especially at the Watson-Symington Preserve where dogs were previously allowed to be off-leash during a portion of the day. As a dog owner, I completely understand the desire to let your dog run around unleashed, but doing so significantly increases the chances of a negative dog-dog, or dog-human interaction, which necessitates people coming within six feet of one another. It’s just not worth the risk. With Spencer’s Run being open again, we encourage folks to go there if they want to let their dogs run around off-leash. The Land Trust continues to require leashes at all of our preserves at all times.

Many nonprofit organizations are saying it’s looking like a difficult year, given that the economy has slowed down and the public safety restrictions have eliminated major spring fundraisers. How is the Land Trust doing?

It’s been a challenging few months, and we too are preparing for a lean year ahead. It’s hard to know exactly how fundraising will be impacted, but I know we are not alone in forecasting a reduction in charitable giving. That said, the Land Trust is a relatively small organization, which enables us to adapt and be flexible. We were able to transition many of our spring events into virtual ones. That includes our upcoming Summer Sculpture Soirée on June 19th, which celebrates the opening of the Sculpture Trail, and will help to raise funds to support summer internships and employment opportunities for local high school and college students.

It’s going to be an interesting year, and we’ll continue to develop new and creative ways to accomplish our mission. We are as committed as ever to safeguarding and caring for New Canaan’s special places.

What is your message to Land Trust supporters and the wider community?

I’d like our supporters and the New Canaan community to know that the Land Trust is here for you. While we are not a “front-line” organization, we are working to be part of the response to the current pandemic. Land is a tremendous resources, and as the guardians of nearly 400 acres of land, we are developing ways to use that resource for the benefit of our community. In addition to providing places for folks to get outside and recreate, and space for artists to share their work, we are also partnering with local businesses and developing opportunities for local high school and college students whose summer plans have been impacted by the health crisis. We’re living in a different world than we were 4 months ago, but land continues to be something that can bring us together and help us along this journey.

The Land Trust’s website contains information about its preserves, including directions and trail maps, and information about the installations on the New Canaan Sculpture Trail can be found here. Its virtual Summer Sculpture Soirée is designed to be a fun-filled cocktail hour with live entertainment, games, food, drinks, flash talks from some of the Sculpture Trail artists, and a celebrity toast. Tickets are $25, and available on the Land Trust website.

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