A Brief History
For decades, Rhode Islanders have formed land trusts. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island protected their first property in 1923. In 1972 citizens in Little Compton and on Block Island formed the Sakonnet Preservation Association and Block Island Conservancy. Today, there are more than 45 land trusts in Rhode Island. Nineteen of these land trusts are affiliated with municipalities and were created by state legislation or municipal charter. While most of Rhode Island's land trusts are still entirely run as volunteer organizations, a dozen now have staff. Collectively, Rhode Island's land trusts (including Audubon Society) are now conserving hundreds of properties including more than 26,500 acres of natural areas, farmland, forest, and wildlife habitat. Many properties are open to the public and are traversed by hundreds of miles of walking trails.
In 1999, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) partnered with the leadership of the state’s land trusts to form a land trust "Advisory Committee" which became a forum where land trust leaders could network. The Committee organized a series of "how to" workshops and the first Rhode Island land trust conference.
In 2002 the Advisory Committee adopted a strategic plan with a mission statement, goals, and an action plan. It changed its name to the Rhode Island Land Trust Council but continued to operate as a project of TNC. In 2003, the Council adopted bylaws, established a Board of Directors nominated and elected by land trust leaders, and hired an Executive Director. In 2009, TNC ended their role as the RI Land Trust Council's sponsor and Third Sector New England (TSNE) MissionWorks became the Council's fiscal sponsor. Since then, the Council has legally operated as a project of TSNE MissionWorks. A Memorandum of Agreement assigns all responsibility for planning and implementing the Council's activities to the Council's board and staff.
Also in 2003, the Council formed a partnership with the RI Rivers Council – the statewide coalition of watershed organizations – to sponsor skills-building workshops for leaders of land trusts and watershed organizations. In 2004, the Land Trust Council & Rivers Council co-sponsored the first “Land & Water Conservation Summit” which was attended by more than 200 leaders of the state’s grassroots environmental organizations. Since 2004 the Council has worked with partners to host the Summit which provides a day each year when land trust leaders network with peers and attend "how to" workshops on all aspects of land and water conservation.
In 2004, the RI Land Trust Council coordinated and led a campaign for state legislation that placed a $70 million Open Space, Recreation, Bay and Watershed Protection Bond referendum on the November ballot. The Council led a broad grassroots coalition to promote voter support of the Bond referendum, and it passed with more than 70 % voter approval. The Council's advocacy for the 2004 land conservation bond started its role as a voice for the land trust community in state legislation and policy. Since then, the Council has initiated and promoted legislation and state policies to support land conservation and land trusts and defend land conservation accomplishments.
The Council has also worked to highlight land trust successes, draw positive public attention to land conservation, and encourage enjoyment of protected areas. The Council coordinates Land Trust Days annually in August and September when land trusts lead guided walks and host other activities that highlight the special places they are protecting. The Council partners with the Blueways Alliance to host the ExploreRI.org website which enables people to easily find information and trail maps for trails on land trust properties and other protected lands in Rhode Island. RIWalks is an initiative to encourage people to take walks on land trust properties and use land trust trails as a community resource for outdoor recreation and health.
Looking ahead to the next five to ten years, we look forward to continuing this important work in training, advocacy, fostering collaboration and community engagement.