Having served on the board of directors for the Land Trust of Danbury prior to its merger with the New Fairfield Land Trust to form Candlewood Valley Regional Land Trust (CVRLT), Cheryl Rykowski has been involved with open space conservation for more than 20 years. She has served as Vice President of Candlewood Valley Regional Land Trust, and was elected as President in early 2019. We sat down with Cheryl to learn more about her, and what CVRLT has planned going forward.
How long have you been involved in open space conservation?
I was briefly involved in a land conversation group when I lived in Brewster, NY from 1998 to 2000 and then joined the Land Trust of Danbury in 2005 after meeting the then President, Bill Montgomery, at A Taste of Danbury event. He spoke so passionately and lovingly about the importance of open-space that I joined on-the-spot.
What brought you to today: serving as the President of CVRLT?
When I joined the former Land Trust of Danbury, it was as a Board member. My first year, I served as Board Secretary which helped me learn about the organization very quickly. I had the chance to work with veteran Board members as well as new Board members, like me. I also chaired the Gala committee (our premier fundraiser). We had such an enthusiastic and creative group working on the Gala. It was a lot of work but a LOT of fun too. I began stewarding two of our premier properties; the only two conservation easements that the Land Trust possesses. These properties are both on King Street in Danbury and were conserved by brothers; Roy and Dick Ruffles. I continue to steward the properties and have had the pleasure of an on-going dialog with two honest-to-goodness farmers. Their knowledge is priceless, and their conservation mindset is truly inspirational.
What do you see as a path forward for CVRLT?
We need to get more people involved. Increase our membership and get people out on the land. We do a very laudable thing, which helps the entire community, but we are a secret. I would venture to guess that 90%+ of the residents of Danbury and New Fairfield have no idea that so much land is conserved and how it benefits them. If we can get people involved and educate them, we can increase the amount of land we preserve.
What kind of challenges will land trusts face in the coming years?
While there are substantial tax benefits associated with donating land, it’s hard to compete with the amount of money that people can make selling usable land, especially in an expensive state like CT. It takes a very special person to conserve something for the greater good when they could benefit so richly themselves.
How do you see land trusts taking part in climate change awareness?
While it’s not our mission, specifically, to combat climate change, we are very aware of the criticality of the issue and how, largely, time has run out to change our global outcome. The more we can engage people in being on the land, the more we can talk about how to preserve not only what is in our own community but also the larger, global community.
CVRLT hosts a variety of hikes throughout the year. Tell us about those.
We have a terrific array of hikes both on our own properties and other local sites. For the third year, we retained a Forager who led a hike on our Komlo Preserve in New Fairfield. You’d be shocked at what you CAN eat right in your own back yard. We’re also hosting a children’s hike later this summer and a costumed Halloween hike in the fall. All the hikes are meant to connect people to the land so they can experience the benefits themselves.
What kinds of opportunities does CVRLT have for someone who wants to get involved?
We welcome anyone who loves nature. If you like to blaze trails, or are handy with a saw, we can always use help upkeeping trails. If you know how to throw a party, we can use your help with our Gala. If you like hiking and walking, every property needs a steward who can make a visit or two each year and ensure that the property is safe from encroachment and kept in its natural glory.
How can we get kids more involved with conservation and just getting outside?
Visit a CVRLT property! Kids love to do anything in nature. They jump in our ponds, chase butterflies, pick flowers, crawl over logs or spot birds. You don’t need to travel far or buy special equipment. When you’re hiking or walking, tell your kids about the importance of habitat for wildlife and clean water for fish. It’s about exposure and consistent messages. If they are hiking a few times a month, they’ll only want to live in a world where they can do that no matter where they make their home.
For more information on Candlewood Valley Regional Land Trust, visit www.candlewoodvalleyrlt.org.