You might not know it, but Greenwich is home to one of the most extensive networks of bridle paths in any metropolitan area. These 200-year old trails have remained mostly intact, thanks to the efforts of The Greenwich Riding & Trails Association Inc. (GRTA).
For nearly 100 years, the nonprofit organization has been committed to the preservation of open spaces and maintaining 150 miles of riding trails in Greenwich and its surrounding areas, including properties belonging to Audubon Greenwich, the Greenwich Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, the Boy Scouts and the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, as well as numerous landowners who allow the trails through their properties.
In 2004, GRTA acquired their very own Nichols Nature Preserve, a 92-acre property at the end of West Avenue, off Bedford Road, that straddles the Connecticut-New York border in the northwest corner of Greenwich. This town gem is open to all nature enthusiasts, who can enjoy hiking, jogging, horseback- riding, fishing and cross-country skiing there.
I recently asked GRTA President Anita Keefe for the inside track on the association. Here’s what she had to say:
WAG: Next year, GRTA will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary. Are you planning something special to commemorate this momentous occasion?
Keefe: “We will be celebrating it all next year, but it will be most prominent at our Hunt Ball in mid-October 2014.”
How big is your membership and do you need to own a horse to join?
“Membership is around 400 and is made up of landowners, riders, non-riders, friends and those who value our mission of encouraging the preservation of open space, inspiring appreciation for nature, promoting the long tradition of horseback riding and maintaining the century-old trail system that winds throughout Greenwich.”
Why do you think GRTA has been successful at preserving and maintaining the trail system that links the open green spaces throughout Greenwich when other neighboring trail systems have vanished?
“We used to be part of the Fairfield/Westchester Hunt, which had many trails in the area. Over the years, when the construction of the Merritt Parkway divided the territory and the hunt could no longer exist, we made a great effort to keep the trails open. We work with landowners, developers and the town of Greenwich to keep these trails open. Even now, many new landowners will agree to allowing trail passage when putting up a new deer fence or installing a gate so we can still come through.”
How many landowners participate?
“We have 279 generous landowners who allow us to ride across their properties in Greenwich. They are the lifeblood of the GRTA and are so lovely, they even call us when there is a tree down or some obstruction on their trail.”
In 2004, the association purchased Nichols Nature Preserve. What makes it unique?
“It’s 92 acres of beautiful woods, fields, lakes, birds, deer and other wildlife. We encourage people to come and walk, cross-country ski and enjoy nature.”
Tell me about your upcoming Dogwood event: Is it open to the public? Where and when is it?
“The Dogwood Ride is held on May 11 this year. It starts around 9 a.m. and is followed by a luncheon at noon served in the Greenwich Land Trust field at Sabine Farm.
“It is open to the public, but luncheon reservations are required ahead to be sure we have enough food. Contact Vicky Skouras at email@example.com.”
In addition to the Dogwood event, there are other equestrian events GRTA organizes to help raise funds to maintain Greenwich’s open spaces.
“We have a Barn Tour, which is great fun, visiting some of the local barns in Greenwich. Each participant receives a box lunch at check in and there’s a horse demonstration at the finish. Contact Lindsey Thune at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We have two horse shows – the 92nd annual Horse Show on June 9 and the ‘Day In The Country’ on Sept. 29.
“We have a really fun party – ‘Stetsons & Stilettos’ – at a private home on Sept. 21.
“‘A Hunter Pace’ –a ride through the woods and over fences for time – is on Oct. 13.”
For more information, visit thegrta.org