Groton Open Space gets due credit for preserving our world

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” observed anthropologist Margaret Mead.

This quote has a prominent spot on the Groton Open Space Association website. Association founder Sidney Van Zandt also uses it in a new video describing the volunteer organization’s mission and work. Indeed, the words are particularly apt.

The small, all-volunteer group has worked for 50 years to preserve land in southeastern Connecticut. It has succeeded in ensuring some much-loved local parcels remain in their natural states and accessible to the public. The fruits of their efforts include Haley Farm, Bluff Point, the Merritt Family Forest and the Avery Farm. Some 2,000 acres of land in the region is now permanently preserved because of the group’s work.

While the association may be familiar locally, it has now also earned national recognition among conservation groups. Thursday night the Washington D.C.-based Land Trust Alliance awarded it the 2017 National Land Trust Excellence Award for an all-volunteer organization. The society presented Groton Open Space the award at its national land conservation conference in Denver.

“Everyone here is still talking about ‘the two feisty ladies,’” Groton Open Space Association president Joan Smith, who is attending the conference, said Friday, referring to herself and Van Zandt, who both accepted the award. “It was refreshing for them to see we’ve accomplished so much without a big staff. They were so impressed that we can go toe to toe with the big guys.”

By their very nature, volunteer organizations can be difficult to sustain long term. Often, volunteers rally around a single cause and disperse soon after they succeed or fail. The open space association began as a group seeking to save the Haley Farm — a gorgeous swath of waterfront property in Groton. After that success, however, the volunteers continued to work.

They still do, seeking properties to preserve, acting collaboratively with other like-minded groups, and reaching well beyond their core volunteers through educational programming for children and events such as narrated hikes for adults.

These feisty ladies show no signs of slowing down. The public is truly fortunate that they and those who work with them remain dedicated to this cause.


The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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