Trusting The Land To Hands To Be Trusted

It is not hot news that Connecticut's farmlands and woodlots have for some time been disappearing and the land is being put to other uses.

However, there is still considerable acreage uncorrupted by development in the state. In Litchfield County, much of this natural land is protected by land trusts.

The president of Torrington's Heritage Land Preservation Trust is Earl Skokan, 41, who lives on Brass Mill Dam Road on property that has been in his family for many decades. His father, Victor, who died at 91 some three weeks ago, was one of the founders of the land trust and a staunch conservationist.

``I really got into it in 1989 when my father's health started to go down,'' Skokan said. ``Gosh, we really lost some history when he died. His grandfather had been a bugler in the Civil War. He used to tell stories his grandfather had told him.''

Skokan is a big man, wide and well-spoken. He loves to ``walk the properties,'' and he told a story about following bobcat tracks through the snow on the coldest day of the year.

He is thoroughly committed to environmental improvement, the land trust and the wetlands commission, on which he also serves. He and wife, Denise, have a daughter, Rachel, 15.

Skokan doesn't exactly farm his property, he said, but, ``We've got some goats and chickens. The goats are great for controlling underbrush. Weeds and thorns are a happy meal for them. You could say my dad was also a `family farmer.' We had Guernseys [cows] and chickens and we never had a tractor.''

When Skokan was a boy, Tess and William L. Shirer were neighbors. Shirer wrote ``The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,'' and other definitive historical works. Tess Shirer donated 20 acres to the land trust in 1971.

Most of the Heritage land comes from donations or from developers who deed 10 per cent of their property to the trust in return for the rights to build.

Skokan described the trust as ``a nonprofit organization dedicated to the purpose of preserving land in its natural state in perpetuity.''

While most of its acreage lies within the boundaries of Torrington, the trust also looks after tracts in New Hartford, Winchester, Watertown, Harwinton and Litchfield.

Vice President Tom Mettling supplied a list of tracts. The largest is 90 acres off Torringford Street across from Hayden Hill Road, the smallest a half-acre plot on Fourstory Lane in Torrington's southwest side. Another sizable parcel, 69 acres, sits off University Drive and plots of 46 and 27 acres abut Park Pond in Winchester.

The trust also has an easement (right of way) on 63 acres off Marsh Road in Litchfield, a beautifully natural place. But most of the land tracts are smaller.

``Surrounding towns have formed their own land trusts,'' Skokan said. ``But we maintain the properties we had in those towns before their land trusts came to be.''

The Heritage board of directors consists of 17 people of various interests and occupations, including retirees, Skokan said.

Irving Mills, 91, of Torrington is one of these. ``They made me a lifetime member,'' Mills says, ``because I never miss a meeting.'' Like Victor Skokan, he helped found the trust. ``Preservation of the land is important, not just for Litchfield County but for the world,'' he said.

Skokan said, ``We're getting something done and I think we're going to strike a good balance here.

``Personally, I've never seen a piece of property I didn't like. It's four years since I became president of the land trust and I'm certainly not going to mind one bit having that in my obituary.''

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Copyright 2020 Heritage Land Preservation Trust / Torrington CT