Al and Helen Wilke Donate 39-Acre Conservation Easement to Granby Land Trust
If you are lucky enough to be invited to walk the trails on Al and Helen Wilke’s property, you will begin to understand just how much they love the land upon which they live. The Wilkes have made their entire 45-acre property a labor of love, with groomed trails and sturdy bridges and log benches that beckon you to sit and look and listen and enjoy the beautiful, peaceful world around you. Near the house are manicured gardens, man-made ponds, fenced horse pastures, and a tidy little barn. From there, trails branch out in every direction, carrying you out through cool woodlands, across a babbling stream, over knolls and into valleys, and then, along the western side of the property, down a steep hillside to the crisp, clean, cool waters of Moosehorn Brook. The trails are kept neat and are marked with carved signs reading names like, “Old Log Road,” “Keesha Trail” and “Laurel Trail.”
The Granby Land Trust is very pleased to report that the Wilkes have donated a conservation easement upon 39-acres of this property to the Land Trust, so that this land will always be kept in its beautiful, natural state, free of development. This conservation easement is a legal agreement that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. The Wilkes will continue to own and use their land, and they can sell it or pass it on to heirs, but they have given up some of the rights associated with the land (such as the right to build additional structures); and future owners also will be bound by the easement’s terms.
Al and Helen came to Granby more-or-less by chance, in 1988. They were living in Wisconsin when Al received a job offer in Hartford. They told their Connecticut realtor that they were looking to buy a house that was rural, with room for their four horses, and space for a riding ring. (Their daughter, Michelle, was The Wilke Easement is located within a block of protected open space in West Granby that includes Connecticut State Forest, the McLean Game Refuge, Granby Land Trust fee properties and easements and Town of Granby open space. The easement is part of an undeveloped wildlife corridor that extends along Moosehorn Brook from Tunxis State Forest to the McLean Game Refuge. The easement’s relatively mature woodland provides quality habitat for a suite of birds and other wildlife, including forest-interior nesting birds. The protection of the steep hillsides along the western edge of the property also helps protect water quality within Moosehorn Brook and downstream water resources. The permanent protection of the easement is consistent with the Granby Plan of Conservation and Development (2007), which includes the goal to “Promote biodiversity; protect, preserve, promote, and create wildlife habitat and corridors; and preserve natural vegetation for its scenic value and for its value as a food source for wildlife.”a competitive equestrian.) “The market was on fire in Connecticut,” says Helen, and properties were pricey (especially compared to the Midwest) and very hard to come by. After an extensive, frustrating search through Simsbury, Avon, and Farmington, the Wilkes heard about a large piece of property out in the country – a property that was not even on the market yet – a property that was somewhat hilly and rocky, but that had some level areas – one where they could build a house and barn, and another that was large enough for a riding ring. The Wilkes didn’t waste any time. They bought the property and within the year, they had built a beautiful house – and of course a barn and riding ring – on the property.
Since then, the Wilkes have taken pains to turn the property into a beautiful oasis; a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the world.
“We have spent 25 years walking this property,” says Helen, “and every day, I’ve said a little prayer that we could keep it like it is, and protect all the critters that live here. It’s wonderful to be able to preserve something for the future.”
“Our hope now,” adds Al, “is that other neighbors will do the same. We have the beginnings of a fantastic wildlife corridor here. Small pieces can add up to an impressive block of protected land. Unfortunately, once you lose the land you can never replace it. Nature is an asset that Connecticut needs to preserve. I so respect and appreciate what other Granby residents have done before us, through gifts of land and conservation easements. It’s inspiring.”
Indeed, a number of the Wilkes’ friends and neighbors have donated conservation easements on their land to the Granby Land Trust over the last 20 years, including Dave and Sandy Schupp, Walter and Millie Rugland, Steve and Bett Conland, Sam and Sally Paul, and, just this year, Bill and Jane Ann Pease. Their generosity has helped put the Land Trust in the position it is in today, with 1,100 acres of land owned outright and 900 acres held in conservation easements.
“The Granby Land Trust has a phenomenal reputation and an excellent board and an impressive stewardship program,” says Al. “Helen and I knew it was an organization we could entrust with this easement.” (Interestingly, Helen served on the board of the Granby Land Trust, as secretary, in the mid- 1990s. So she knew firsthand about the work of the GLT!)
Now retired, the Wilkes have decided to stay in Granby and enjoy their land. Most days, they don their hiking boots or snowshoes, depending upon the conditions, and take their dogs out for long walks on the property.
Why not retire somewhere with warm winters or in the mountains or on the shore? “We love Granby,” says Al. “We are an hour from the shore, an hour-and-a-half from the hills of Vermont, two hours from New York City, and two hours from Boston. Bradley International Airport is 20 minutes away, and it takes just three hours to drive to JFK International Airport and Newark. We can get anywhere easily, yet we live here, in this beautiful, rural spot, on a quiet country road, where we can’t see another house from ours. We could’ve retired anywhere, but we wanted to stay here.”
“Besides,” says Helen, “This is where our deepest roots are. We have never lived in once place this long. We have met many wonderful friends in Granby. We love it here.”