One of the most defining and beautiful aspects of the Town of Redding is its open green spaces, woodlands, and hiking trails, but not everyone has met Silvia Erskine, co-leader of the Redding Land Trust. Along with co-president Gordon Loery, she has been at the forefront of ushering in a new era for the organization, one of spirited fundraising events, community outreach, and a forward-thinking approach to land stewardship. Erskine brings enthusiasm and meticulous dedication to these efforts, borne of her great respect for the outdoors and her professional work as an accomplished architect and landscape architect.
Erskine grew up in Westport, where she had the run of the woods right out the back door of her childhood home. “Our property was on the border of Wilton and Weston, and I would walk through our neighbors’ backyards and the Saugatuck River natural area for hours with my black lab, Alex,” she says. In many formative ways it was an idyllic childhood. Time spent hiking sparked a love for Connecticut’s woods and rivers that has informed both her volunteer work and her professional projects.
Even at a young age Erskine knew she wanted to be an architect. She attended University of Virginia for both her undergraduate degree in architecture and her graduate degree in landscape architecture. “UVA taught me how to think and see perceptively and instilled a strong design ethic,” says Erskine. After stints with notable Connecticut architects, she started her own firm, Erskine Associates, in 1995. She collaborates with clients to craft their dream homes and landscapes with an in-depth, hands-on design process. Her landscape work also includes local municipal parks and educational spaces like Greens Farms Academy and Sacred Heart of Greenwich.
One of her favorite projects is the waterfront Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve in Westport. Erskine and her then business partner Geoff Middeleer worked with the preserve committee and town to design the park, incorporating natural materials and native plants to create an oasis for both pollinators and walkers. They then collaborated with over 100 volunteers to plant the many shrubs, trees, and plantings. “The project was the culmination of years of collaborating and planning. What was a parking lot is now a beautiful space for bird watching and quiet contemplation,” says Erskine.
Erskine’s other passion project has been her home in Redding, which she and her partner Tom Casey share with her mother.
Originally, mother and daughter planned to create separate homes, but the house and property spoke to both her conservation and architectural impulses. “We decided not to subdivide, but instead added a wing to the existing house. I fell in love with the landscape; our part of Redding Ridge has an open view of the hills to the southwest. I love walking the paths through our meadow; the colors and character change in beautiful and subtle ways through the seasons, and the plant species support a wide variety of bird, insect, and animal life,” she says.
Erskine’s involvement with the Redding Land Trust is another seamless relationship given her background — she was a founding member of the Town of Westport’s Tree Board and served on the Preserve Committee of Devil’s Den — and the organization’s history. The land trust, which recently adopted the apt slogan “Small Town, Big Outdoors,” was founded in 1965 to protect Redding’s green spaces. Today the Redding Land Trust has over 2,000 protected acres with much of the land maintained as hiking trails.
Erskine joined the Redding Land Trust Board of Trustees in 2010 and she and Gordon Loery were made co-presidents several years later. Under their leadership, the land trust has made a conscious and concerted effort to strengthen community engagement through more robust communications and hosting outdoor events and dinners that residents look forward to each year. By doing so, the organization is sharing its mission and appealing to the next generation.
In the last several years, Erskine, Loery, and Redding Land Trust’s Board of Trustees also launched the “Decade of Stewardship,” an impressive master plan focused on enhancing land stewardship and diversifying land use. The plan calls for further reduction of invasive plants, improving trails, and exploring additional recreational uses of the trails — as well as a call for community feedback and input. “Silvia is dedicated to preserving the open spaces in Redding while improving access and stewardship of our properties. She always makes time to help the organization and tirelessly works to further our goals, and she has been instrumental in improving community engagement for the land trust,” says Loery.
Erskine’s dedication to our natural world and to stewarding Redding’s abundant open lands has been critical to preserving the town’s character and beauty. Her commitment is inspirational and an asset to the community and, because of the work and attention of Erskine and the Redding Land Trust, Redding residents can revel in our “Small Town, Big Outdoors.”