The Ridgefield Conservation Commission has been preserving open space for years. Read about them and a trail race that will support their efforts
If you’re out hiking a trail in Ridgefield, there’s a chance you could stumble across Dave Cronin. He may be clearing limbs, removing debris, or just surveying the scene to make sure there are no problems with the land. He spends countless hours roaming the open spaces of Ridgefield, he says, “keeping what open space we have as close to its natural habitat as possible.”
Cronin has been a member of the Ridgefield Conservation Commission (RCC) for about eight years and while he is known as one of the most hands-on members, he is certainly not alone.
In addition to eight other commissioners, there are some 50 rangers who volunteer their time to look after assigned open spaces throughout Ridgefield. Rangers check on the land and report any problems to the commission, who then takes the necessary action to fix them. Since the sizes of various parcels of open spaces range from less than an acre to over 400 acres, there could be one ranger assigned to them or as many as six. “Rangers often live close to their space. They take pride in it,” says Cronin.
The RCC maintains about 2,500 acres of open space. Forty open spaces have developed trails. “There is a lot of variety and history in these spaces,” says commissioner Terry McManus, who also serves as a ranger. “And there are a lot of hidden ones that people don’t even know about.”
As the RCC prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, Ridgefielders can truly appreciate the work of its founders. “It took strong people to have the vision,” says McManus.
Back in 1962, the town was concerned that with the population’s rapid growth—it doubled between 1950 and 60 and was expected to double again before 1970—the land would become too developed and Ridgefield’s character would suffer.
It was time to start planning for open space—vacant land, either publicly or privately owned, that is set aside for conservation or recreational purposes. The RCC manages existing open space in Ridgefield and also looks for opportunities to acquire more land. The latter is accomplished through donations of the land itself, monetary donations to help purchase land, or new developments that donate a percentage of undeveloped land. The RCC also works with the planning and zoning as well as the inland-wetlands board to review plans for development and make recommendations regarding the land.
Ridgefield’s goal of having 30 percent of its land as permanently protected open space is inching closer—in 2010, it was measured at 26 percent. “It’s an enormous amount of volunteer time,” says McManus. “It’s taken over 50 years.”
Sign up for the September 23 trail four-mile fund-raising trail run at triridgefield.com