Wyndham Land Trust Launches Fundraising Drive to Protect its Birthplace

In 1975, Virginia “Jimmie” Booth, the owner of Hillandale Farm and the Golden Lamb restaurant in Brooklyn, looked across the iconic stone walls and hay fields of her farm to the woods that lined the property. She was struck by the beauty of the landscape and thought to herself: “We should start a land trust.”

Today, the Wyndham Land Trust has an extraordinary opportunity to protect much of the woods that inspired Booth almost 50 years ago. In April of this year The Conservation Fund acquired 320 acres of woodlands on the old Hillandale Farm and created an option to purchase agreement that gives the Land Trust until March, 2025 to purchase the property. In response to this challenge, the Land Trust is kicking off a 10-month fundraising drive to raise $635,000 to acquire what it has christened “The Hillandale Woods.”

“The property sits at the historic core of the Wyndham Land Trust,” said President Mike St Lawrence, “and we knew we wanted to protect it from development. However, we already have two big projects moving forward in 2024, and we just didn’t have the financial resources to close the deal this year.
“We are grateful to The Conservation Fund for stepping in and providing us this opportunity to acquire the property. Unfortunately, we have a relatively short timeline to raise the necessary funds. This substantial property is ideally suited for high-end housing development, and The Conservation Fund’s mission does not include long-term ownership and management of property.

“We’re working hard to raise the money. Because State and Federal grant programs take more than one year to complete, we’re applying for grants from a number of foundations. However, we will need the financial support of the people in the Quiet Corner to reach our goal.”

“It’s an ecologically important piece of property to preserve,” confirmed Andy Rzeznikiewicz, the land manager for the Land Trust and Connecticut Audubon. “It has extensive wetlands that feed into Bush Hill Pond, but the frontage along Bush Hill Road makes it vulnerable to development.

“It’s adjacent to our Booth Preserve, a Wolf Den Land Trust preserve, and several properties that are protected by conservation easements. They all link up to connect with Natchaug State Forest and create a large forested block that supports nesting birds like Scarlet Tanagers, Pileated Woodpeckers, and Ovenbirds.

“It’s been on our radar for years, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect this land in perpetuity. There are already trails on the property, and once we own the land, the trails will be open to the public.”

The Wyndham Land Trust now protects 51 preserves covering over 6000 acres in the Quiet Corner and will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2025. What better way to celebrate the formation of the Land Trust than to purchase the property it was founded on!

Family Partners with Wyndham Land Trust to Expand Nightingale Forest

A remote section of unbroken forest in the Quiet Corner has been protected from development thanks to the acquisition of a large piece of land by the Wyndham Land Trust.

The Wyndham Land Trust recently acquired 364 acres in Pomfret from the Townshend family. The land—the largest single acquisition by the land trust in its 46-year history—includes a large scenic wetland with open water, marshlands, shrub swamp, and forested swamp that form the headwaters of Nightingale Brook. The woodlands that surround the wetlands support important forest-nesting birds such as Canada Warbler and Black-throated Blue Warbler.
The property sits in a remote corner of Pomfret that borders Eastford to the west and Woodstock to the north. The Wyndham Land Trust is actively working to protect this area of extensive woodlands and has christened it the ‘Nightingale Forest.’ Their Nightingale Forest now covers 1,120 acres of protected land, of which almost 800 were donated by or purchased from the Townshend family.

Harry and Deb Townshend 2012
The late Henry “Harry” Townshend, the patriarch of the prominent Townshend family in New Haven, was responsible for creating the core of this valuable habitat. Harry, looking for a place where he could enjoy his passion for hunting and fishing, purchased almost 1200 acres in Pomfret in the late-1950s.

The Pomfret land soon became a cornerstone of the lives of Harry Townshend and his wife Deb, and their five children spent many happy hours exploring the woods. The family kept horses and rode on the extensive trail system that was created to support dog field trials.

“Dad loved the outdoors which offered him fields, forests, mountains, streams and lakes to satisfy his hobbies of hunting, fishing, and field trials,” said Nancy Townshend Vess. “But I think the biggest reason he liked the outdoors was the solitude it brought him. The properties he bought in Pomfret were all places of solitude.”
“We children grew up surrounded by nature,” continued Nancy. “Each of us has an appreciation of the natural world as a result of this upbringing. I do believe the Wyndham Land Trust is an organization that will help the Pomfret community balance man against nature. I'm glad we were able to work with the land trust to maintain that balance.”
“I’m happy to give this Pomfret land over to the protection of the Wyndham Land Trust and for the enjoyment of the public,” said Sharon Townshend. “Nature has been a source of renewal, healing, adventure, and art ideas for me; and I’m glad I can now enjoy this land as a member of the public.”
“I once asked Dad if he believed there was a ‘God,’ said Hervey Townshend. “His answer was ‘no not in the common belief.’ But he said ‘if there was a God, his spirit would live in the woods among the trees, in nature, and in all the animals.’ Nature was Dad’s God. Walking in the forest was entering a spiritual place to be treated with respect. We would often walk together, stopping occasionally to listen to the silence of the woods.”

“This new property contains an excellent network of trails,” said Penny Foisey, land trust treasurer and president of the Pomfret Horse & Trails Association. “The forest here is pristine and open. It reflects the careful planning of Mr. Townshend with many of his original field trial markers still there for the observant to find.”
The land trust plans to mark the trails and parking areas this summer, and information about public access to the property will be available on their web site.

Funding for the acquisition came from the State of Connecticut Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition grant program, the Bafflin Foundation, the Town of Pomfret, the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, the Summerhill Foundation, and from Wyndham Land Trust members and supporters.