Middletown, RI. – May 10, 2022 – Aquidneck Land Trust (“ALT”) has awarded ten grants totaling $12,427 to local community and neighborhood groups through its annual grant program, the Merritt Neighborhood Fund. Grant awards ranged from $465 to $2,000.

Established in 1999 to honor the late Peter M. Merritt, the organization’s president emeritus, the Fund supports projects that strengthen community identity and character, and which model the ethic of land conservation and stewardship through community volunteerism. It has awarded grants each year since its founding, distributing over $159,000 in total. A committee of ALT volunteers and board members determines the awards.

“We love to see the creative and thoughtful projects that neighborhood groups and small non-profits propose each year,” said Chuck Allott, ALT Executive Director. “For 23 years, our modest grants have had an outsized impact on beautifying our community and installing gardens, landscaping, and other public enhancements. This year’s awardees continue the Merritt Fund tradition of connecting people to nature and improving the island for everyone.”

Awards were given to the following applicants:

  • Aquidneck Community Table: repairs to Great Friends Garden
  • Common Fence Point Improvement Association: rain garden
  • God’s Community Garden: aerobic compost bin and herb garden
  • Island Youth Lacrosse: trees for recreational fields
  • John Clarke Senior Living: raised garden beds
  • Newport Boys & Girls Club: creation of an edible garden
  • Newport Mental Health: pollinator garden and ADA garden
  • Newport Tree Conservancy: 25 trees at Miantonomi Park
  • Norman Bird Sanctuary: improvements to Mabel’s Garden
  • Old Fort Road pocket park: replace invasive plants with native species

Information on the 2023 Merritt Neighborhood Awards will be announced in February 2023.

Middletown, RI. – April 20, 2022 – Aquidneck Land Trust (“ALT”) has announced the conservation of 8.64 acres of farmland in Middletown. The property has frontage on East Main Road and is also visible looking north from Oliphant Lane, making it part of a scenic view corridor from East Main Road. It has USDA prime farmland soil and is within the drinking supply watershed.

The land trust purchased the land from the Berry Family, who had previously leased it to Rhode Island Nurseries for farming. It has lain fallow for several years but ALT plans to resume leasing it as farmland in the future. The farm abuts other agricultural land on its southwest side, with residential areas to its north and west.

“We are very grateful to the Berry family for working with ALT to permanently conserve this important property,” said Chuck Allott, Executive Director of ALT. “Like most land on Aquidneck Island, this property is zoned for residential development. Thanks to the Barry family’s commitment to conservation, it is now protected in perpetuity and will remain open space and farmland.”

Middletown, RI. – April 14, 2022 – Aquidneck Land Trust (“ALT”) has announced that three new board members have been appointed to its board of trustees. Two of the trustees, Stephen B. Huttler and Liz Taber Kobylak, were appointed at the organization’s annual meeting, held February 3, 2022. The third trustee, Sandra Craig, was appointed in March 2022.

Stephen Huttler is a senior partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP in Washington, D.C. He is a native of Middletown and lives there with his wife, Jennie. Huttler is a member of the board of trustees of The Preservation Society of Newport County and the Touro Synagogue Foundation. He is vice chairman of the board of Newport Classical.

Liz Taber Kobylak, a licensed real estate broker and a native Newporter, is a technology consultant and partner with Envision Business Consultants LLC. She is a member of the Newport Garden Club and lives in Middletown with her husband, Joe Kobylak.

Sandra Craig is a retired attorney who is active in conservation, education, and the arts. She is a native New Yorker and lives seasonally in Middletown with her husband, Grenville. Sandra is a trustee of the American University in Paris, the Photography Collection Preservation Project, and St. Stephen’s School in Rome. She was past board chair of the Newport Art Museum.

Middletown, RI. – March 23, 2022 – ALT announces the conservation of a 14.73-acre Middletown property located on Green End Avenue between Vaucluse and Howland Avenues. The property, now known as Green End Preserve, features upland meadow habitat and prime soils on half of its area. The uplands roll down to a large wetland area surrounding a portion of Little Creek, a 3-mile stream that empties into the Sakonnet River. Green End Preserve is contiguous to other ALT-conserved land and is part of a scenic viewscape from Green End Avenue. Its upland and wetland riparian area provide habitat for foraging and nesting by birds, amphibians, insects, and mammals.

Newport homebuilder Mark Horan purchased the property in 2019 with plans to build between four and seven homes there. ALT approached Horan in 2020, eventually reaching a deal to purchase the property from him and conserve it in perpetuity. “We appreciate Mr. Horan’s willingness to work with us to protect this important Aquidneck Island property,” said Charles Allott, ALT Executive Director. “Thanks to generous donations from ALT supporters, we’ve added nearly 15 acres of high conservation value land to the growing list of conserved properties on the island.”

ALT has conserved 90 properties totaling 2,706 acres since 1990, with a focus on farmland, forestland, fields, wildlife habitat, and conservation within Aquidneck Island’s drinking supply watersheds and along ponds, rivers, and creeks. The organization also prioritizes land used for recreational purposes; it has conserved 13 miles of free walking trails on the island and numerous public access properties.

Middletown, RI. – February 15, 2022 – ALT is now accepting applications for grants from the Merritt Neighborhood Fund, an endowed fund which seeks to support the preservation of small parks, community gardens, and other natural spaces on Aquidneck Island. Established in 1999 to honor the late Peter M. Merritt, the organization’s president emeritus, the Fund supports projects that strengthen community identity and character, and which model the ethic of land conservation and stewardship through community volunteerism. Grants typically range from $250 to $2,500.

“Merritt grants help our community to improve and beautify many of the special shared places on our island,” said Chuck Allott, Executive Director of ALT. “The fund supports projects that enrich the lives of residents and help us all feel closer to nature. Collectively, the impact of these projects is tremendous and reflects our desire to connect people to the land around them.”

The projects funded last year were: Aquidneck Community Table (improvements to the Food Forest); Bike Newport (solar water pump at community gardens); Newport Boys & Girls Club (restoration of exterior landscaping); Butts Hill Fort Restoration/Portsmouth Historical Society (removal of vegetation at historic site); Daffodillion (daffodil bulbs); Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District (garden beds at Portsmouth Aginnovation); God’s Community Garden (garden supplies and improvements); Norman Bird Sanctuary (vegetable garden improvements); Newport Tree Conservancy (plant 30 trees at Miantonomi Park); The Pennfield School (raised bed gardens for the outdoor classroom); Portsmouth Garden Club (improvements to three public gardens); St. John the Evangelist Church (landscaping); Town of Middletown (bike racks for public beaches). The grants totaled $18,000 in 2021.

Applications for 2022 Merritt Neighborhood Fund grants may be found on the ALT website (https://ailt.org/our-work/merritt-fund/). Applications must be received by Monday, April 4, 2022. Award decisions will be announced in mid-May.

Middletown, RI – February 10, 2022 – ALT has announced 25 student winners in the 2021 ALT Art & Writing Contest, held annually to promote the importance and value of a healthy environment. Students at Aquidneck Island schools were invited to enter artwork of their favorite local vista, or written work in prose or poetry form describing the same. The winners were announced at the land trust’s annual meeting on February 3, which is available to view on the ALT website.

“These wonderful entries express the appreciation that the next generation has for the beauty of Aquidneck Island,” said Chuck Allott, Executive Director. “They recognize the importance that open space has in their day-to-day lives, and it reminds all of us how special our island home is.”

Art entries were judged by a panel that included Norah Dietrich, Executive Director of the Newport Art Museum; Erik Greenburg, Director of Museums at the Newport Restoration Foundation; Susan Woythaler, artist and musician; and Jonathan Gewirz, ALT board member. Written entries were judged by Annie Sherman Luke, writer; Katherine Gagliano, Amplify Marketing; Beezie Bickford, St. George’s School; and Jonathan Gewirz, ALT board member. The contest was underwritten by a grant from local design/build firm Sixteen on Center.

Art winners in the kindergarten through grade four category are Gabrielle Silvia, first place (Melville Elementary School), Cohen Clarkson, second place (All Saints Academy), Noah Adams, third place (Hathaway Elementary School). Honorable mentions were awarded to Caitrin McCoy (Melville Elementary School) and Zoe Kutsaftis (All Saints Academy.) Winners in the grade five through grade eight category are Hannah Lee, first place (The Pennfield School), Allison Schlesinger, second place (Portsmouth Middle School), and Willow Foregger, third place (The Pennfield School). Honorable mentions were awarded to Brody Cimaglia (The Pennfield School), and Timothée Delaveau (Gaudet Middle School). Winners in the grade nine through grade twelve category were all from Portsmouth High School: Grace Van Petten, first place, Clara Alcolea, second place, Tatum Horley, third place, and Zoe Vaspol, honorable mention.

Writing winners in the kindergarten through grade four category are all from Melville Elementary School: Linnea Ready, first place, Evelyn Munji, second place, Mia Gilling, third place, Abrahm Aubuchon, honorable mention, and Liam DeArruda, honorable mention. Winners in the grade five through eight category are Daisy Bistline (The Pennfield School), Adam Conheeny (The Pennfield School), and Mia Rocco (Portsmouth resident). Winners in the grade nine through grade twelve category are all from Middletown High School: Chloe Christy, first place, Margaret MacKechnie, second place, and Caitlin Brett, third place.

Winners receive cash prizes and a household membership to ALT. The schools of each first-place winner receive a grant to support their environmental science curricula. “We are very grateful to Sixteen on Center for their generosity and commitment to environmental education,” said Allott. “We also appreciate the support of parents and teachers, who understand the importance of protecting the island’s natural beauty and unique environment.”

Middletown, RI. – January 7, 2022 – ALT announces that it has completed its campaign to conserve a 7.56-acre section of historic Glen Farm. The property, located on Glen Farm Road in Portsmouth, has significant conservation values and could have been subdivided into as many as eight house lots. Over 260 individuals, businesses, and foundations contributed $472,000 to permanently conserve the land, which had been part of the 500-acre Taylor estate in the late nineteenth century. A grant of $200,000 from the State of Rhode Island’s open space bond program, approved by state voters as part of the green economy bond, provided key funding.

The property is a prime parcel of farmland, currently used for grazing Glen Farm Stables horses. In addition to its use as pasture, it provides wildlife habitat and is contiguous to a creek that drains into the Sakonnet River, 500 feet north of Sandy Point Beach. Conserving the land will protect the creek and the beach from pollutants common to developed land, such as fertilizers and pesticides. The site is surrounded by a mix of protected and unprotected farmland, parks, trails and forestland, and is part of an iconic view corridor from East Main Road to the Sakonnet River. A short walking path around the perimeter of the pasture is expected to open in late 2022 after ALT has completed necessary infrastructure.

“This property is part of a treasured and historic landscape,” said Chuck Allott, ALT’s Executive Director. “We are very grateful to the owners for their commitment to conservation and to all those who contributed to this important campaign.”

“The area around The Glen is special to our family and we are pleased that we could help protect it,” said Steve Johnson, one of the owners. Johnson and his wife, Irene, daughter Meredith Spitalnik, and son-in-law Jason Spitalnik, worked with ALT to save the land, selling the development rights at a significant discount to ensure its protection. Both couples live in Portsmouth. “The open spaces around Glen Manor are quite special and need to be preserved,” said Jason Spitalnik. “Meredith and I are glad we can be a part of making that happen, with ALT’s help.”

Middletown, RI. – December 16, 2021 – ALT announces that its campaign to purchase and conserve Rego Farmland is complete. The 12-acre Portsmouth farm, located on East Main Road approximately .5 miles north of Glen Road, is now protected from development in perpetuity. The property is an active hayfield with 100% prime soil, which ALT will continue to lease for farming.

“We sold this property to ALT so that it would remain farmland, which is disappearing on Aquidneck Island,” said Marilee Ottilige, whose family has owned the land for two generations. “No land, no food,” she stated, stressing the importance of protecting local agriculture. “ALT was pleasant to work with and we very happy to know that this farm has been permanently protected,” said Ottilige.

Rego Farmland is one of two properties in the current land campaign; the second property, Jones Preserve, is a 15.38-acre site situated within a 92-acre tract of forestland. ALT has approximately $10,000 left to raise to conserve the Jones property, which, aside from one new residence site, will be managed as a combination of wildlife habitat and farmland protected under a conservation easement. Both properties are situated along ALT’s Sakonnet Greenway habitat corridor, an area that includes 40 properties already protected by ALT. The corridor covers nearly 2000 acres of conserved land on the east side of Aquidneck Island, 1,365 of which was conserved by ALT.

“Rego Farmland and Jones Preserve are two very important open spaces,” said Chuck Allott, ALT Executive Director. “We are very grateful to the island community for supporting our efforts to conserve them both. Hundreds of residents, foundations, and businesses have sent donations, proving how highly Islanders value these types of open space. We are grateful to the property owners for agreeing to conserve their land and we are thrilled to extend the acreage in the Sakonnet Greenway habitat corridor.”

Newport, RI. – December 2, 2021 – The SVF Foundation (SVF), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, announced today that it has completed its 20-year mission to cryo-preserve the genetics of rare and endangered domestic livestock breeds and granted a conservation easement to Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT) governing approximately 24 acres of land in conjunction with its sale of the property at 152 Harrison Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island. In addition, SVF said that Ocean Hour Farm will operate the property.

“The SVF Foundation’s goals have been attained,” said SVF Executive Director Peter Borden, “and it’s time to preserve the property and pass it on to a new steward.” Conservation easements are binding agreements between a landowner and a land trust that permanently restrict development to protect the land’s conservation values. The conservation easement is the primary tool that has been used by ALT to protect critical open space on Aquidneck Island. SVF will donate the proceeds of the property sale to the Hamilton Family Charitable Trust to be dedicated to charitable purposes on Aquidneck Island, thus continuing the Hamilton family’s commitment to the community.

Founded in 1999 by Mrs. Dorrance H. Hamilton, the SVF Foundation has been operating since 2002 on two historic properties. The first, considered the main campus, was most famously developed by Arthur Curtiss James in the early 1900s. In 1916, James added the Surprise Valley Farm, or what locals referred to as the “Swiss Village” because of its resemblance to the southern region of Switzerland. The second property, a nearby 11-acre site, was formerly part of Hammersmith Farm. The SVF’s 15 buildings on the site include animal facilities, a procedures laboratory, an infirmary, a cryo-room, offices, and residences.

“We are honored to build on the legacy of the SVF Foundation and serve as the next stewards of this unique and beautiful land. Our goals for the future include integrating regenerative agriculture practices, developing experiential education programs, and continuing a robust science program,” said Rob MacMillan, a representative of Ocean Hour Farm. Borden noted that early in his tenure, a large commercial hospital building was removed, restoring five acres of impervious cover to pasture and open space. “Mrs. Hamilton wanted to restore the historic exteriors of the Swiss Village, which were severely dilapidated at the time, while rehabilitating the interiors for a multitude of modern uses,” he said, adding that a 3,500 square foot post-and-beam barn was constructed for the housing of critically endangered livestock as well as the processing of genetic material. In April of 2003, SVF was awarded the Preservation Project Award by Rhode Island’s Historic Preservation & Heritage Commission.

Middletown, RI. – October 20, 2021 – On Wednesday, October 27th, the Aquidneck Land Trust’s Oakland Forest in Portsmouth will be formally inducted into the national Old-Growth Forest Network. Sarah RobbGrieco, Northeast Regional Manager for the Old-Growth Forest Network, will present a plaque to ALT Executive Director Chuck Allott to celebrate the dedication of the forest.

Oakland Forest includes a regionally ecologically unique old-growth American beech forest, with trees estimated to be between 200 and 300 years based on tree coring done in 2000. It was conserved by ALT with the support of the community in 2000. In addition to beech, the forest includes old growth tree forms of other species including white oak and red maple. The property was once part of a ‘gentleman’s farm’ owned by the Vanderbilt family in the 1800 and 1900s. There is a row of 100-year-old rhododendrons running through the forested part of the old estate. The property includes a short 0.6-mile loop trail that traverses a 10-acre meadow and 20 acres of the old-growth beech forest. More information on the trail rules and other ALT trails can be found on their website: www.ailt.org.

“The story of Oakland Forest is a true grassroots conservation success story and one of the first properties ALT worked to save over 20 years ago,” said ALT Conservation Director Alex Chuman. “Once slated for development into condominiums, ALT worked with the community to purchase the land to forever protect this unique resource. It is a truly special thing to have an old-growth forest here on Aquidneck Island, one that is now recognized to be part of a national network.”

The mission of the Old-Growth Forest Network (OGFN) is to connect people with nature by creating a national network of protected, mature, publicly accessible, native forests. The organization’s goal is to preserve at least one forest in every county in the United States that can sustain a forest, estimated to be 2,370 out of a total of 3,140 counties. OGFN’s program works to identify forests for the Network, ensure their protection from logging, and connect people to these properties to experience old-growth forests. OGFN also educates about the extraordinary ecological and human wellness benefits of old-growth forests, and speaks out regarding immediate threats to specific ancient forests.

Founded in 2012, OGFN has over 145 forests in 27 states currently in the Network. Oakland Forest will be the first Rhode Island forest to join the Old-Growth Forest Network. It will join other northeast forests such as Mohawk Trail State Forest in Franklin County, MA, Belden Forest in Hartford County, CT and Zoar Valley Unique Area in Cattaraugus County, NY. The full list of forests in the Network may be viewed at www.oldgrowthforest.net.

Sarah RobbGrieco, OGFN’s Northeast Regional Manager, states, “We are thrilled to be welcoming this beautiful and important forest to the Network as the forest representative for Newport County and our first Rhode Island forest. We applaud Aquidneck Land Trust for their work in preserving this special forest for generations to come.”

OGFN depends on a volunteer in each U.S. county to help identify and induct forests into the Network. Nathan Cornell of Warwick and Rachel Briggs of Chepachet are volunteer supporters of the Old Growth Forest Network and are County Coordinators for Newport County. Interested volunteers are welcome to contact OGFN through www.oldgrowthforest.net.

ALT: Gretchen Markert, Communications Manager, 401-849-2799, ext. 13, gmarkert@ailt.org
Old-Growth Forest Network: Sarah RobbGrieco, Northeast Regional Manager, 978-807-7409, sarahrg@oldgrowthforest.net

About the Aquidneck Land Trust: Aquidneck Land Trust’s time-sensitive mission is to preserve and steward Aquidneck Island’s open spaces for the lasting benefit of the community. The organization has conserved 2,641.11 acres on 85 properties across Aquidneck Island since its founding in 1990. ALT is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the first land trust in Rhode Island to have received national accreditation.

For more information, visit www.ailt.org.
790 Aquidneck Avenue | Middletown, RI 02842| 401.849.2799 | www.ailt.org