The Green Valley Institute:
Balancing Growth and Conservation through a University Partnership


The Green Valley Institute: How It All Began

A 35-town region in northeastern Connecticut and south central Massachusetts is referred to as the Last Green Valley (see Figures 1 and 2), because it is a rural oasis in an otherwise developed corridor along the East Coast of the United States from north of Boston to south of Washington, D.C. A 50-mile radius from the center of the heritage corridor includes all of Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; Providence, Rhode Island; and the southwestern reaches of metropolitan Boston. However, more than 70 percent of the land in this region is still in forest or agriculture (see Figure 3). There are charming village centers with town greens (see Figure 4) that contribute to the unique historic, rural character of this region. The area is what New England used to be.

These are among the reasons that Congress designated the region as the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor in 1994. Public Act 103-449, federal enabling legislation, was introduced and passed by Congress in 1994 and signed by President Bill Clinton. The corridor became one of only four such designations in the country. The federal designation of National Heritage Corridor recognized the significant features of the lands, water, and man-made resources of the corridor, and it established the mission of the QSHC, which is "to assist in the development and implementation of integrated cultural, historical, and recreational land resource management programs that will retain, enhance and interpret these significant features." The Quinebaug Shetucket Heritage Corridor Inc., a not-for-profit organization that receives federal funding, was designated as the management entity responsible for achieving these goals.

The Last Green Valley RegionGeographic Detail of the Last Green Valley Region
Figure 1 Figure 2
The Last Green Valley Region Geographic Detail of the Last Green Valley Region

About a decade ago, the University of Connecticut's Cooperative Extension System and the Quinebaug Shetucket Heritage Corridor (QSHC) became aware that they had overlapping concerns about land-use and natural resource issues in the Last Green Valley region. At that time most towns in the QSHC did not have professional planners on staff to help them address these increasingly complex issues. In New England, land-use powers reside almost entirely with individual towns and their volunteer land-use boards and commissions. Connecticut is broken up into 169 fully incorporated municipalities. Towns in the northeast are more like townships found in other parts of the country. There are no counties in Connecticut.

Forests and Agriculture in Typical Village in the Last Green Valley Region
Figure 3 Figure 4
Forests and Agriculture in
the Last Green Valley Region
Typical Village in the Last Green Valley Region

Photos courtesy of Leslie Sweetnam

The cooperative extension and the heritage corridor found that there was a significant need for community assistance with planning and conservation issues. As a result, in 1996 a new educational partnership was established between the University of Connecticut and the QSHC. The partnership began with the creation of a shared "Corridor Circuit Rider" position, which would focus on designing and implementing educational programs aimed at addressing land-use and natural resource issues in the then 26-town QSHC (Godin and Broderick, 2001).

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