Many talented individuals have served the land trust over its long history, but Sarah and Fred Richards are the rare pair who have worked together for years with great skill and dedication to protect open space and further the public’s enjoyment of the natural landscape. “Sally,” as she is known, and Fred each chaired the Westwoods Trails Committee (WTC), which maintains the land trust’s trails in the Westwoods complex and elsewhere, and Sally also served on the board of the land trust. They were true trailblazers of the land trust, active in its early years and leaving a strong impression on those with whom they worked.
Paul Proulx, the current chair of the WTC, said it was obvious to him when he first joined the committee that it was led by two extraordinary people. “Getting to know them better over the years led to more amazement at their intelligence, dedication, accomplishments and breadth of experience,” Proulx said. “I remember asking a committee member if she was going to march with the Westwoods Trails Committee in the Guilford Fair parade. She said, ‘Absolutely, I would not miss the opportunity to march in the parade with giants like Fred and Sally.’”
Former board member Susan Kukle worked in the woods for many years with the Richards, who remain active with the WTC. “They are a balanced partnership,” Kukle said. “When we would start out on a project working on the trails for the land trust it was always well organized by the Richards. I admired their success with simple tools. That made it easy for one to work alongside them.” Kukle said she was always fond of working on new trails with Sally. “Sally and I marked out trails with her expertise using topographical maps. We’d bushwhack and redesign a path over a few years in all seasons to make it appealing aesthetically as well as environmentally sound. We saw and heard wildlife intimately. It was a treasure for me to have her as a friend and mentor. She had her chain saw, which she would swiftly toss up in the air at a limb to cut away with such efficient grace; it was like watching a performance.”
Fred’s contributions included using mapping software to update the trail map produced by the WTC and producing a trail-marking manual. “He had a teacher’s talent for explaining how a job is to be done,” said Kukle of Fred, who was a distinguished Yale Sterling Professor. Carolie Evans, a former president of the land trust with her own extraordinary record of leadership in open space preservation, credits Sally, who has received the Nature Conservancy’s highest honor for volunteer service, as a mentor. “Sally’s leadership inspired me to become involved in land issues in Guilford,” said Evans, who met Sally on a nature walk. “Back about 40 years ago, Sally was leading a marsh walk in Guilford,” she said. “I decided that the walk sounded interesting and I would attend with my kids. I have a memory of Sally poking her hand into the marsh and pulling out live samples of sea life. Sally and Fred’s son, George, who was about three at the time, was wandering around in the marsh behind her. Those of us listening to Sally realized that George was slowly sinking in the mud. Finally, Sally realized what was happening and without missing a beat picked George up and moved him to higher ground. I was very impressed with this bright, articulate, energetic woman.”
In the 1970s, Evans served on a committee headed by Sally to examine the holdings of the New Haven Water Co. in Guilford when the company announced its intention to sell 3,000 acres in town to raise funds for federally mandated water treatment plants. “The first item of business was to walk all the water company lands in Guilford with Sally leading the way,” said Evans. “Eventually,the New Haven Water Co. became the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority. This move enabled the SCCRWA to borrow money at reasonably rates so that the lands did not have to be sold.” Fred and Sally have not just influenced contemporary members of the land trust and WTC. Current land trust board member Gary Kaisen recalls meeting them when he was in high school. “I well remember one summer evening as a teenager when a friend took me down the street to meet the Richards,” Kaisen said. “What a fantastic family, warmly inviting us in and sharing stories. Their ability to thoroughly entertain us while conveying their love of all things natural—land and sea—was remarkable. It certainly was not a typical night out for these two high school boys. I thank the Richards for my memory of that night, which remains vivid, while memories of countless other nights at that age have long ago washed away.”