Ridgefield’s accumulation of more than 5,000 acres of open space land is probably the Conservation Commission’s most significant legacy, although the effort had begun before the commission’s creation in 1962.
Here’s a timeline of open space events, begun from research by former Commissioner Terry McManus:
1963 — Open Space Conservation Fund established, and its first donation is $25 from the Caudatowa Garden Club;
1963 — Town receives one of the first donations, 12 acres at Kiah’s Brook Refuge, north of Barlow Mountain School (now joined with the Titicus Preserve and totaling 53 acres);
1963 – Francis D. Martin urges town to buy Camp Adventure, 100 acres on Route 7 with 700 feet of shoreline on Great Pond. The town ignores him. Forty years later, most of the tract is Laurelwood, Ridgefield Crossings and the Toll Brothers housing, but the town gained most of the shoreline land as open space through the zoning approval;
1963 — State takes title to Pierrepont State Park, 312 acres, in a bequest from Seth Low Pierrepont. He stipulated that hunting not be allowed;
1964 — First purchase with money from the Open Space Conservation Fund is 8.85 acres of swamp on the west side of Limestone Road;
1964 – E.P. Luquer offers town 75 acres off Barlow Mountain Road for a school or conservation purposes. The town buys the property. Today, it holds Scotland and Barlow Mountain schools, plus open space.
1967 — Town purchases Hemlock Hills and Lake Windwing open space parcels in Ridgebury, which today (including a later gift from Dr. Daniel Liebowitz) total 421 acres;
1967 — Levy Park, 45 acres off Barrack Hill Road, is donated by Richard Salomon in memory of his aunt and uncle B.E. and Regina S. Levy;
1967 — Peterson Gorge, 16 acres near Ridgebury School, is purchased through collaboration of The Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Commission, the Richardson estate and the Lewis Fund.
1969 — First parcel of what is now Pine Mountain Open Space, today totaling 368 acres in Ridgebury, is purchased;
1969 — The first 34 acres of what is today the 63-acre Florida Refuge is purchased;
1973 — Ridgebury Slope, 14 acres adjoining Peterson Gorge, are purchased with grants from the State Open Space Acquisition Fund and the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation;
1973 — Larry Aldrich donates nine acres off New Road to enlarge his 1958 land donation of Aldrich Park to 37 acres. Acquisitions have since brought it to 65 acres.
1977 – The Community Gardens program begins with 53 plots on Prospect Ridge. Later, affordable housing takes the spot, and the new location gets 27 plots, still going strong today.
1979 — West Mountain Refuge, now 55 acres, is formed, combining 27 acres donated by and purchased from Jean Donald Reed with 28 acres previously purchased as the site for a seventh elementary school, which voters rejected;
1982 — 31 acres off Bobby’s Court are bought from/donated by Lewis Finch, with another three acres acquired in 1985 to make the 34-acre Bobby’s Court Open Space.
1983 — 60 acres off Mountain Road are purchased from/donated by Fred Orrico, with another 11 acres there added in 1987 to the Pine Mountain Open Space, which today is 368 acres.
1990 — Weir Farm National Historic Site is created, some 57 acres of federally purchased lands, adjacent to the town’s 29-acre Nod Hill Refuge and 19 acres of state land there, as well as the Weir Preserve open space in Wilton.
1996 — Larry Aldrich donates $50,000 to the Open Space Conservation Fund as part of his 90th birthday celebration.
1998 — Camp Catoonah, 42 acres originally donated to the Girl Scouts by Ernest and Esther Sturges, is given to the town by the scouts; it’s now Sturges Park;
2001 — Bennett’s Pond open space, the town’s largest at 458 acres, is acquired by the town from developer Eureka V LLC through eminent domain, and sold to the state in 2002 to become Bennett’s Pond State Park;
2002 — 43 acres of the former McKeon Farm is purchased by a combination of private donors, the Conservation Commission and the state.
2012 — The Liebowitz-Knapp Sanctuary, 26 acres off Bennett’s Farm Road, adjoining the 386-acre Pierrepont State Park, is donated by the heirs of Bettina Knapp, who had a home across the street.