Barry Deutsch refers to himself as an "old city guy who fell in love with the outdoors."
These days, with his faithful dog Buddy by his side, the president of the Canton Land Conservation Trust feels more at home in wide open spaces.
I was recently a guest of Deutsch and trust member Karen Berger, who invited me to explore the Mary Conklin Sanctuary and listen to their plans for a big 40th anniversary celebration bash on Sept. 29.
After acquiring a tiny 2-acre parcel from Charlotte Craig back in 1972, the trust's holdings have grown to nearly 2,000 acres over 55 preserves and 16 trails.
Mary Conklin Sanctuary represents 107 of those acres, a preserve within a large swath of land trust holdings in the northwestern portion of town. An avid birder, Conklin donated the land and her home to the trust. Dozens of bluebird boxes hang on posts in the preserve's open fields. Several trails — the Ray Smith trail marked with red and yellow blazes and theTommy Ryan — trace a sort of figure-eight around the heavily wooded preserve.
During the anniversary celebration, the trust will offer expert-led nature, geological and mushroom hikes. There will be presentations of reptiles and raptors as well as lessons in constructing bluebird houses and other activities. If you haven't figured it out yet, the celebration is aimed at the young and young-at-heart.
"This isn't a fundraiser," said Berger, chairwoman of the celebration committee. "We are hoping to introduce people to the property who haven't been here yet. We want to encourage active use of the trails, especially for families."
And the sanctuary is a great place for families. The 2 miles of trails are relatively easy to navigate, and with the changes in topography along with the old stone walls, scenic overlooks, rocky outcroppings and birds flying through the fields, even the youngest explorers will be engaged.
There are approximately 425 families involved in the trust. The trust runs a popular "trailblazers" program for children 5 to 13 years old. Each month from October to April, the trust takes the children on hikes across town.
"You haven't hiked here until you come at night in the middle of winter and the trails are lined with luminaries," Deutsch said. "I've learned a lot spending time outdoors and I still have a lot to learn. The trust has come a long way in those 40 years… This land really belongs to everyone."
A more formal event, the Harvest Moon Celebration, will be held from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Sept. 29 at Ski Sundown in New Hartford. The barbecue, complete with jazz music, will include a hike under a full harvest moon to the top of Ski Sundown.
Ever since 1972, the goal of the trust has been to acquire, preserve and protect land of scenic, natural or historic value. It also promotes public awareness, understanding and enjoyment of the land. My visit was my third here; I can say the trust's mission hasn't changed over those four decades.
Turn onto Indian Hill Road off Route 44 just north of its junction with Route 179. Follow for a mile and take a left into the preserve entrance just past Spaulding Road. Visit http://www.cantonlandtrust.org for trail maps and more information on the anniversary celebration.
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