Newtown Bridle Lands Association Celebrates 40 Years
Riding trails on horseback is something many people can only experience vicariously if they do not leave their community.
In Newtown, however, thanks to the Newtown Bridle Lands Association (NBLA), horse lovers do not have to watch a movie to see people saddle up, or if they are equestrians, they need not trailer their gelding somewhere else to ride.
In addition to private farms, there are places to ride horses in town due to the efforts of the NBLA which, in 2018, is celebrating its 40th year of dedication to serving the equestrian community as well as others. The NBLA promotes horseback riding as well as preserving, protecting, and maintaining riding and hiking trails throughout town.
A big part of the NBLA’s ability to do its thing is through the support of land owners and volunteers.
It all started with a vision of three people — Christina Kennedy, Leslie Hudson-Tolls, and Lorraine Smith — who started the organization back in 1978, according to NBLA President Dee Davis.
Throughout the years, the NBLA has continued, but not without change resulting from development.
“Since the beginning in 1978, the NBLA concentrates its efforts on working with landowners and developers to maintain crucial links in Newtown’s trail system. This unique model has distinguished Newtown as one of the premier equestrian-dedicated communities in Connecticut, earning Newtown the important designation as a Greenway,” according to an NBLA press release submitted to The Newtown Bee.
“The NBLA works cooperatively with landowners, developers, and town land use commissions to raise awareness, preserve existing trails, and create new trails for both hikers and equestrians. Working with these groups, the NBLA has carved new trails, redefined old trails, and created links between adjoining trails continually expanding the town-wide trail system. This synchronized collaboration allows horses, hikers, and residents to simultaneously enjoy the beautiful trails of Newtown, Connecticut. This can only be accomplished through the unwavering support of our members and sponsors, to whom we are unconditionally grateful,” the release continues.
A Collaborative Effort
As residents have moved out of town, new landowners have been gracious enough to carry on the tradition of allowing NBLA members to ride through their properties.
“The generosity of people in Newtown is just overwhelming,” said Ms Davis, who moved to town three decades ago and has been a member of the NBLA since coming to town.
“I think it’s a blessing that we’ve had so many generous people that have moved in,” said Andrea Brosnan, vice president of the NBLA.
Ms Davis said the NBLA has lost a substantial amount of its riding terrain to development throughout the years, but has found new riding space in other areas.
“Over the decades, a significant amount has been lost, but we’ve also gained,” Ms Davis said.
The NBLA works with the Newtown Forest Association to utilize part of the Cherry Grove Farm space.
The NBLA’s annual expenses run anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000, depending on trail maintenance needs and how much volunteer work is put in, Ms Davis said.
NBLA members organize fundraising events such as the Frost on the Pumpkin Hunter Pace, which was canceled this year because of rain the day before — an obvious hit to the organization. The Hunter Pace distance changes year to year, but it ranges from 9 to 12 miles.
A significant part of what some of the members do is off horse and nowhere near the trails, in fact. They attend town meetings both to maintain a presence and be heard when developments are considered. NBLA members also must go through land records to look at maps of properties and work with homeowners for permission to use their land. Trails run through easements as well as private property and the town’s trail system.
NBLA members are working toward creating a map of the trail system and said it is unclear how many miles of trails and land the group members use. The goal is to someday have all of the trails linked together.
“Everybody does so much to keep the organization running,” said NBLA member Judy Huntington, who was lured to town from New York State because of the horse community and has a barn on her property.
Ms Huntington notes that the NBLA is a big part of what makes Newtown a desirable place to be.
“I think it helps establish part of the Newtown brand,” Ms Huntington said. “It really distinguishes this community from other surrounding communities.”
“Newtown is known for being a horse-friendly community, and there are not so many left,” Ms Brosnan added. “It definitely benefits the town that our group is here.”
Ms Brosnan grew up in Trumbull but has enjoyed Newtown’s trails since well before moving here two decades ago.
“I always ride here in Newtown. It was always my dream to have a farm here in Newtown, and it worked out,” Ms Brosnan said.
The NBLA holds events with veterinarians and speakers, in collaboration with the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard. “We support them; they support us,” Ms Brosnan said.
“There’s an educational component to this that is really invaluable,” Ms Huntington said.
Although the NBLA comprises horse lovers, not all members own horses — or ride in town, for that matter — but all put in substantial effort toward maintaining open space.
“It’s not just for us who are horse people. We have people come up to us and say ‘I love walking on your trails. I walk my dog there,’” Ms Brosnan said.
“It’s not all self-serving. It really has a broader appeal to a lot of people,” Ms Huntington added.
Ms Davis stated in the release, “Through the ongoing support of our Newtown partners and our shared vision to preserve, maintain, and expand our trails, along with the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation, the NBLA opened the Trail of Angles in 2016, welcoming hikers, dog walkers, and horseback riders. Most recently, working in collaboration with the Newtown Forest Association and a local developer, the NBLA was instrumental recommitting and reestablishing the trails at Cherry Grove Farm. We are proud of these accomplishments and are continually encouraged by the support and enthusiasm we received from the Newtown community to further our mission.”
“It’s a very collaborative effort and takes an awful lot of people who embrace this effort to make it happen,” Ms Huntington said.
“The people that started the NBLA really had a great vision and love of the land,” said Ms Brosnan, adding that finding ways to keep the remaining open space is important to ensuring that the vision is enjoyed by horse lovers, as well as lovers of open space in general, for many years to come.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You have to protect it while we have it,” Ms Brosnan said.
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