Aspetuck Land Trust Board President Princie Falkenhagen, explorer Richard Wiese and David Brant, the land trust executive director, at the group's annual meeting Thursday in the Pequot Library. Photo: Contributed Photo/Mike Lauterborn, Contributed Photo / Fairfield Citizen contributed
From adventures with crocs and dogsledding to climbing the heights of mounts Everest and Kilimanjaro, the good-natured Weston resident kept the audience rapt.
Explorer Richard Wiese proved to be a highlight of the Aspetuck Land Trust's annual meeting June 2, 2011 at the Pequot Library in Southport.
The event attracted a full house of land trust members, volunteers and the public who came to hear about the group's activities and Wiese's presentation on his exploits in the wild. Wiese also signed copies of his book, "Born to Explore," which outlines the skills, projects and information for budding explorers.
"We're all about connecting people to land, which aligns well with Wiese's book about exploring right in your own backyard," said David Brant, the trust's executive director.
The Aspetuck Land Trust maintains 42 trails and 113 parcels of land across Fairfield, Westport, Weston and Easton, preserving open space for public benefit.
"Richard has young children now, so his focus is changing to local pastures," added Princie Falkenhagen, the land trust board president. "I think he wants to instill the love of nature and exploration in his own family. The Aspetuck Land Trust is also focusing on young children, the future stewards of our preserves, and offering programs like `Short Hikes for Short People.' Parents need help counterbalancing technology overload with good, natural outdoor fun."
Before Wiese launched into his tales, Falkenhagen thanked, in particular, fellow board members for their work over the past year, including getting the organization involved in social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. "If you build it, they will come," she said. "Our name is out there, our preserves are being used and our parking lots are suddenly full. Now we're balancing the needs of the public with the mission of being stewards of the land."
Falkenhagen, Don Hyman, Jack Light and Ken Bernhard were all re-elected to the land trust board for four-year terms, as directors for Easton, Fairfield, Weston and Westport, respectively, while Cynthia Williams was tapped as director at-large.
Wiese said he had selfish reasons for wanting the Aspetuck Land Trust to do well. "As a local resident, I'm a user of the product, the product being the land trust," he said. "I hike the trails with my kids, wife and friends. All winter, I skied Trout Brook Valley. I'd like people to look at the outdoors with new eyes, see that nature is nourishment and use it like they do gym time."
Explorer Richard Wiese of Weston signs copies of his book "Born to Explore," a guide for budding explorers that will serve as a bassis for a future television show. Photo: Contributed Photo/Mike Lauterborn, Contributed Photo / Fairfield Citizen contributed
Wiese is featured in a new television show, launching Sept. 3 on ABC, titled like his book, "Born to Explore."
The program's goal, he said, "is to awaken people's innate curiosity about the outdoors. There's a cultural component to it as well, showing how people live in other parts of the world. I used to go on a lot of expeditions and what you think is going to be the most interesting moment -- climbing a mountain, for instance -- usually isn't. It's the people along the way."
Wiese said his father was an early inspiration. "My dad was an airline pilot with Pan Am," he said. "He introduced me to so many things. The first thing we always talked about was the weather. When I was 11, he took me to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I've since climbed it 18 times."
When Wiese became president of the Explorers Club, he had the thrill of having a Boy Scout camp named after him. "I stayed in the camp and, in one of life's ironies, got a case of chiggers on my rear end," he laughed.
He noted that the North Pole was a highlight experience. "It was often 25 below and the ice was constantly shifting," he said. "This, and the fact that the sun never set, would keep me awake at night."
In the television work Wiese does, he's often asked to handle snakes. "I was raised in Long Island and we really didn't have snakes," he said, smiling.
"Alaska as an outdoor resource is fantastic," Wiese said. "I had an opportunity to climb a mountain there that had never been climbed before. It's neat to think about that."
In terms of adventure value, he said the Everglades is best. "There are crocs and alligators living in the same place, and a wide variety of birds," he said.
Mount Kilimanjaro is likely Wiese's favorite adventure. "It's so novel and breathtaking," he said. "It will be a tragedy when it loses its ice cap."
As thrilling as his world adventures have been, Wiese said the Land Trust is a jewel worth noticing and preserving. "I get as excited seeing bobcat tracks in Devils Den (in Weston) as seeing a moose in Alaska," he said.