NC Advertiser: ‘Wild Kingdom’ star offers town open-space land deal

Jim and Betsey Fowler on the land they hope to sell to the New Canaan Land Trust. (Michael Catarevas photo)
Jim and Betsey Fowler on the land they hope to sell to the New Canaan Land Trust. (Michael Catarevas photo)
The Fowler's property, in blue, would link with New Canaan Audubon (yellow) and Land Trust (orange) property.
The Fowler’s property, in blue, would link with New Canaan Audubon (yellow) and Land Trust (orange) property.
A man who by his own estimation has circled the earth 83 times, spending more than five decades learning about, interacting with and revering the planet’s wildlife, as well as its land and water masses, wants now to make a personal and permanent contribution to nature.
And New Canaan stands to be the beneficiary.
Jim Fowler, for 30 years the legendary co-host of the much-loved television program, “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” has, with wife Betsey and their two now-grown children, been an under-the-radar resident in the town’s Silvermine area. With an empty nest of their own, Jim and Betsey, herself a successful artist specializing in wildlife paintings, moved to Rowayton a year or so ago to be closer to their daughter, Carrie Fowler Stowe, and her family.
“We now want to sell our house in New Canaan,” Mr.  Fowler, 82, said. “Our son, Mark, a documentary producer, thought it would be a great idea to have our property become open space, rather than be developed. So we got hold of New Canaan Land Trust.”
Chris Schipper, president of the Land Trust, which exists to preserve and promote New Canaan open space, was stunned and delighted to hear the news a few months ago.
“I was sitting at my desk one evening, and the Land Trust phone rang, which in itself doesn’t happen too often,” he said. “It was Mark Fowler. I’d learned that the Fowler property was going on the market. When he told me the idea, I was stunned. I view Jim Fowler as a national treasure. There are so many of us who grew up with ‘Wild Kingdom.’ That Jim wants to work with the Land Trust is a wonderful educational and scientific opportunity.”
Jim and Betsey Fowler’s property includes six and a half acres at 763 Silvermine Road. It abuts 41 acres of New Canaan Audubon and Land Trust property in Silvermine, and would provide a natural entry point for people to enjoy nature there. The Fowlers are willing to sell the land below cost, hoping the Land Trust can raise money within six months to a year. The acreage includes a house, which would be taken down and not replaced, woods and a lovely pond.
The Fowlers, who moved to New Canaan in 1984, are hoping the Land Trust can generate upwards of $1.5 million for the purchase and development of trails, walkways and wildlife habitat. The town-appraised value of the parcel is closer to $2 million.
Both Jim and Betsey have warm memories of raising their children and enjoying nature in and around their Silvermine home.
“I used to romp around those woods all the time,” recalled Mr. Fowler. “It has meadows, woodlands, wetlands and a pond. My passion now is developing wildlife areas all over the world. We live in a society where so much is being developed and paved over. We have to preserve open spaces.”
Betsey, married to Jim for 43 years, often accompanied him abroad as “Wild Kingdom” shows were filmed on every continent and in a great many countries. Her vivid wildlife paintings are dramatic and a wonder to behold. Some canvasses are six feet tall and six feet wide. She too has only fond recollections of her family’s life in New Canaan.
“Our kids went to Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High School,” she said. “We all loved where we lived. The sun set right across the pond every afternoon; it was breathtaking.
“Open land creates family values. To be out here with nature gets you away from all your troubles.”
Schipper said the plan is to bring the idea to the Land Trust at its annual meeting this Thursday, Jan. 22, in hopes of gaining approval, then go about raising money to make it happen. He explained that the town government of New Canaan doesn’t get involved in small land deals.
“For parcels like this it doesn’t have the inclination,” he said. “This is where the Land Trust plays a role. Jim will provide names of foundations that could help, and he’ll be involved with fund-raising events.
“We have exclusive rights to purchase the land from the Fowlers. What they are offering is a terrific opportunity. We want to get kids on the land, and imprint them with the wonders of nature. If we can do that it could ignite a new round of land conservation, which would make it a long-lasting gift.”
Jim Fowler has, of course, globally respected opinions on the state of the planet. Still strong-voiced, powerful, and with the same dazzling smile and natural warmth that made him a television star, he has not slowed down much. He is involved with conservation efforts nationally and internationally, and gives seminars and lectures. He explained that protecting the planet is vital.
“When you destroy natural resources, you’re in big trouble,” he said. “The have-nots see what the haves have, and that causes violence. Saving resources is extremely important.
“One of the things I speak about a lot is land conservation. Many people are concerned with saving this or that animal, which is fine. But how we treat the earth is also a major concern. Bringing it back to the local level, it’s important for New Canaan to stay connected to the natural world. The town should have as many open spaces as possible. It’s a vital part of the community.”