As published in East Haddam News, April 7, 2016:
Rob Smith receives award for land conservation work
East Haddam Land Trust Director Rob Smith is one of two recipients of the 2016 Katchen Coley Award for Excellence in Land Conservation. Presented March 19 by the Connecticut Land Conservation Council (CLCC), this annual award recognizes individuals exhibiting long-term commitment to land conservation.
“The Awards Committee was very impressed by the depth and duration of Rob's volunteer commitment to conservation and the multiple conservation organizations he has served over an extended period of time,” said Amy Blaymore Paterson, Esq., CLCC Executive Director.
As a youth, Smith started realizing the value of preserving land when the woods and open fields of his childhood disappeared to development. With a college Forestry degree in hand, he began his career with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) as a state park crew leader and patrolman. He advanced to park supervisor and, at various times, oversaw approximately 30 parks, including Hammonasset, Devil's Hopyard, and Rocky Neck State Parks, before retiring as Assistant Director of State Parks in 2007.
As Devil's Hopyard Supervisor, Smith facilitated the addition of about 130 acres to the Park, but also risked future career advancement by publically opposing, and effectively ending, DEEP's plans for logging there and in other state parks.
Smith joined East Haddam Land Trust (EHLT) in the early 1990s, and was first elected to its Board of Directors in 1996. He has remained a director for most of the last 20 years, and served a total of nine one-year terms as President. He leads hikes and preserve maintenance, has developed nearly every trail on EHLT preserves, represents EHLT to multiple regional conservation groups and, over the last decade, has handled the vast majority of EHLT's land acquisitions.
Understanding the value that preserved acreage brings to East Haddam, Smith strongly advocates for Town open-space funding and purchases. He is currently volunteer chair of the East Haddam Conservation Commission, which oversees the Town's open space parcels.
Smith's tenacity for connecting local, regional, and state conservation groups to improve public access to preserved parcels is evident in two recent projects: the Richard H. Goodwin Trail and the Eightmile River Footbridge
The late Richard H. Goodwin, a highly respected conservationist, believed that the public should have an opportunity for a true deep woods experience in our region. Smith conceptualized Goodwin's vision as a trail, over ten miles long, running through contiguous preserved tracts in adjoining towns. He garnered support through the Eightmile River Management group and the Land Trusts and Towns of East Haddam, Lyme, and Salem, and collaborated to link the trail to one proposed from Nehantic State Forest to East Lyme.
While overseeing Goodwin Trail development, Smith also discovered that a missing footbridge over the Eightmile River, washed out in the June 1982 floods, prevented the connection of the trail from Route 82 through East Haddam's Chapal Farm Open Space. To remedy this, Smith procured funding from the Town of East Haddam, the Eightmile River Wild and Scenic Coordinating Committee, and EHLT for engineering and supplies for a new footbridge. He then supervised construction of the 75-foot span over the Eightmile River (see a construction video below), doing much of the hands-on work himself.
Smith's tenacity, and ability to attract volunteer helpers, allowed the footbridge to open for public use on January 1, 2016. The Richard H. Goodwin Trail officially opens later this year.
In announcing the award, CLCC's Amy Paterson said, “True to Katchen's legacy, Rob truly serves as a model of what one committed individual can do to make a difference locally and statewide.”