Using Words And Pictures, Carroll Takes GOSA On Swamp Tour

GROTON — The prize-winning naturalist and illustrator David Carroll, who learned to love turtles in a now-vanished swamp of Groton, showed GOSA members around still-rich New Hampshire habitats in a photo-illustrated lecture at the GOSA annual meeting Oct. 15, 2009.

Mr. Carroll was introduced by GOSA Director Edith Fairgrieve, who said his “presence this evening deeply honors Priscilla Pratt’s legacy of dedication to habitat preservation.” The speaker is author and illustrator of five books and winner of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award.” His latest book, Following the Water: a Hydromancer’s Notebook, is a finalist for the National Book Award.

Mr. Carroll, who grew up in Groton, characterized his trip back as a “return of the native” by a refugee from Connecticut and Massachusetts, where swamp habitats have shrunk dramatically. He said he had great respect for GOSA and for Priscilla Pratt. Though he did not mention the fact, he supplied a letter on wood turtles for GOSA’s 2002 state grant application for the Merritt property. He said Haley Farm was a “highlight of my adolescence.” But it was in a swamp behind his house when he moved to the Eastern Point section of Groton 60 years ago that he first became fascinated with turtles, he said in an interview with The Day published Oct. 10, 2009. The swamp was buried by development long ago.

He told the GOSA audience that he understands the “difficulties you face,” noting that conservationists in this area must go after “ever smaller pieces of land that come at ever greater prices.”

The naturalist’s talk was illustrated with photos, though his books feature his own highly detailed drawings. The lecture centered on his study of turtles in New Hampshire, where he has walked during all seasons for decades, observing turtles, frogs, salamanders and other creatures of the wetlands. For robust turtle populations, he said, “you need extent and complexity of environment.” Extent is needed because turtles can travel a mile a day, and complexity provides sanctuaries. People tend to “simplify to the point of ecological non-sustainability,” he said. As an example of such destructive simplification, he showed a photo of a stream in New Hampshire, one bank of which was a riot of vegetation. The other bank was a manicured lawn.

Unlike birds and flowers that begin life in the spring, turtles start living when their eggs hatch in the fall. He said one baby turtle may be picked off by a predator within 10 minutes of crawling out of his nest while another may live for 120 years. It takes two decades for a turtle to become a propagating adult.

One picture showed a protective net that Mr. Carroll had placed over a nest of turtle eggs. He said that when this temporarily blocked the exit of the babies, “they did what turtles do–dig in, wait, think about it. Things will get better.”

Mr. Carroll spoke of what he called the need to “move beyond conservation to preservation.” That means, he said, that biodiversity can stand only so much human intrusion. In New Hampshire, he said, snow mobilers place big pressures on the environment. He illustrated this with a picture of a wooden bridge built over a stream at a point once occupied by a beaver dam. He said, “We need some places where people don’t go.” He said that this idea some day will be accepted by the public, though it is not the prevailing view now. Meanwhile, he said, “if you don’t pave the way for people to come in, the crowd thins out.”

He said that for turtles, “the worst thing you can do is stock a brook and put paths next to the brook because people pick [turtles] up. Wood turtles are collected for the pet trade.”

Mr. Carroll said that the vernal pools on Haley farm are important to spotted turtles, which are vernal pool predators. It is important to protect the migration routes by which the turtles travel to the pools.

Turtle watchers need more patience than bird watchers, he said. While birds fly quickly into view, turtles may take days to appear. Mr. Carroll joked that while birdwatchers have been modified by evolution to look upward, he habitually looks down at the water. When he spots a bird, it’s likely because the bird’s reflection has appeared in the water. Nonetheless, he does look up sometimes and sees tree frogs. He showed a photo of one that looked like “lichen with eyes.”

Showing a picture of one hard-to-locate spotted turtle, Mr. Carroll said, “When you find it, what’s not to love?”

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Danbury man present at Apollo creation

Following is an article by Robert Miller, staff writer of the News-Times of Danbury, CT, that describes the important role of Nelson A. Merritt in the Apollo moon mission. The article from  is dated Aug. 31, 2009.

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DANBURY — Nelson Merritt got the assignment of his life in 1963 — to help design a flight simulator to help astronauts train to fly to the moon.

The tricky part was this: The spacecraft, called the Apollo, only existed as a name.

“Nobody had built an Apollo before,” Merritt, of Danbury, said.

Today, at 89, on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, Merritt looks back at his achievements at NASA with pride and gratitude.

During the heroic decade of American space flight, he and his team played an integral part in Apollo’s success. His name is now on the Wall of Fame at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., for his work on the Apollo simulator.

The impact he had on the programs was straightforward. Astronauts getting ready for space had to learn how to fly the Apollo.

They learned in the systems Merritt, as technical director of the simulator, helped design.

“It was extremely, extremely fulfilling to have been picked,” he said.

To be part of the vast NASA team, he said, was to see a host of talented engineers and scientists focused on one goal month after month — to put a man on the moon, then get him back.

They maintained that focus during the 1960s, one of the most tumultuous decades in American history.

“We’d get requests from NASA to make a change in the simulator and be told it had to be done by the next day,” he said.

The Apollo mission –preceded by the one-man Mercury and the two-man Gemini flights — were the direct product of the Cold War between the U.S. and USSR.

From 1961 on, after President John F. Kennedy gave the country the goal of reaching the moon by the end of the decade, the country’s scientists and engineers and its civilian and military factions all joined together to achieve that goal.

“I grew up in those years, and it was a pretty exciting time,” said Bill Cloutier, 54, of New Milford who has become an expert on the Apollo mission and the moon and one of the volunteer leaders of the John J. McCarthy Observatory in New Milford.

“I wanted to be an astronaut. I thought they were heros, putting their lives on the line for peaceful use.”

“It was our Manhattan Project,” said Bob Lambert of Brookfield, one of the founders of the McCarthy Observatory, speaking of the work the U.S. undertook to develop the atomic bomb during World War II. “Only more complicated.”

“I think that’s a fair comparison,” said Steven Dick, chief historian for NASA.

Merritt, born in Mystic, was part of that project.

A graduate of Pace University and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, he helped design the nuclear reactor control systems on the USS Nautilus and created full-scale attack simulators for the U.S. Navy submarine base in Groton.

The work that brought him to NASA’s attention was designing one of the first up-to-date air traffic control systems for the National Aviation Facility Experimental System.

At the time, Merritt worked for North American Aviation Inc., based in Downey, Calif., while living in Pleasantville, N.Y., with his wife, Mary, and their three daughters. That company got the contract to design the Apollo simulator.

Merritt started with one man — himself.

By the time Apollo 11 reached the moon, about 1,500 people worked on the simulators. The team recruited some of the best computer software designers of the day, and consulted with the astronomy departments at Columbia, MIT and the California Institute of Technology to get the work done.

“We got the best astronomers in the world,” Merritt said.

The problems were many. Computer design was still in its infancy in the 1960s. Because there wasn’t an Apollo prototype, Merritt’s team ended up designing a flight simulator that functioned as a model of what Apollo could become.

“We built the simulator,” he said. “Then Apollo caught up.”

What followed was a time of constant give and take.

The simulator team would come up with ideas, and the NASA team would ask for refinements. Or the astronauts, training in the simulators, would see places to make improvements and the simulator team would make the changes.

“It was a unique way of designing things,” Merritt said.

All the astronauts pushed for time in the simulators. The one astronaut given the responsibility of managing demand was Neil Armstrong..

“I got to see an awful lot of Neil,” Merritt said. “He was awfully quiet and very serious.”

Merritt said the media later criticized Armstrong for not being more outgoing.

“But he was the guy to do it,” he said of the first man to set foot on the moon.

Merritt watched the July 16 launch of Apollo 11 from his home.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “We were also so worried about the takeoff because the load had gotten heavy and they were pretty big boosters.”

But once the Apollo was safely in space, Merritt said, he relaxed. The parts that seem most remarkable to ordinary citizens — the landing on the moon in the LEM –the lunar module — and the return to the main spacecraft — did not worry him unduly.

“The LEM had been tested so many times,” he said. “And there were redundancies in every system.”

But just as NASA peaked with the Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972, the Nixon administration and the U.S. Congress began to cut NASA’s budget.

“We were all extremely disappointed,” Merritt said. “We had reached the takeoff point. Then the politicians took over.”

“The budget was being cut as the first men were walking on the moon,” said NASA historian Steven Dick.

It probably would have been impossible to maintain the focus NASA achieved in the 1960s. In part, this was because the U.S. had won the space race. The USSR fell behind and never matched the success of Apollo.

“NASA made it look too easy,” said Cloutier of New Milford.

After the Apollo project, Merritt left his position with NASA and North American Aviation to work as project manager for space satellite experiments at the Astrophysiccs Laboratory at Columbia University.

He and Mary moved to Danbury in 2003. He created a private company, Virtual Reality, to provide visual displays for the Space Shuttle program, then sold the company in 1995.

The winged Space Shuttle is, by all standards, an extraordinary ship. But it lacks romance. It is essentially a delivery truck that never leaves Earth orbit.

“There are things we could not have done without the shuttle,” Dick said. “The Hubble Space Telescope and all its repair missions would have been dead in the water without the shuttle. But a lot of people have criticized it for just going in circles.”

That is why the United States and NASA are committed to going back to the moon by 2020, and eventually planning a manned trip to Mars.

That won’t be easy, in part because the U.S. is in a recession. It’s also true the country doesn’t fund the space program like it used to.

“At its peak, NASA got 4 percent of the federal budget for discretionary spending,” Dick said. “Now it’s less than 1 percent. So we’ll get it done, but slowly.”

For Merritt, who is 89, the schedule may prove to be a tight one.

“2020 is 11 years from now,” he said. “I’ll be 100. But I’d love to be around to see it.”

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Eulogy for Priscilla Pratt

by Joan Smith

It was a sad day, but a beautiful day, the day Priscilla left us. We will miss her terribly. Yet we know she had a good life right up to the very end. She led a well-examined life, blessed by good friends and family, and she was committed to the welfare of animals and the environment. Love of Priscilla now keeps us going.

Priscilla led the GOSA cabal (as my husband calls it) in a quiet, thoughtful and dignified manner. Neighbors may have wondered what was going on in the Pratt-Wright Gallery, where we met, but we knew about GOSA’s efforts to protect the environment, sensitive lands, habitats and waters. Priscilla and GOSA helped to protect Haley Farm, Bluff Point, 57 new Haley Farm acres, and The Merritt Family Forest, more than 1,100 acres in all. Priscilla’s tenure as president covered GOSA’s incorporation as a nonprofit and GOSA’s twenty-two year program of mowing Haley Farm’s fields.

Because of Priscilla, we know we are not alone. Her legacy is the backbone and quiet confidence we need to follow our convictions, to deal with challenges and to speak clearly and effectively. She is within us and still corrects our spelling. She makes sure that we are careful in what we say and that we show restraint and respect for others. She sees that we do not back down in the face of intimidation, but that we can also accept correction and learn to do better. Anyone who mistook her small size and quiet manner for timidity, at their peril, learned otherwise. We can only emulate her sharp mind.

Love of nature brought us together. Once upon a time, Frank Williams invited me to a board meeting, where I met Priscilla, Charlie and the rest of the cabal. The topic of discussion was logging at the Mortimer Wright Preserve, and I immediately knew this was the right group for me. Haley Farm attracted me to the area, and here was the group that had saved it! I was hooked.

Priscilla, Edith Fairgrieve and I began spending full days, in the time before we had computers, typing statements, correcting spelling, and researching science — speaking in what seemed to be a lonely voice for the environment. And then the community responded in spades. Engineers taught us how to read a site plan, land trustees gave us language, and biologists, educators and experts in birds, botany, amphibians, water, shellfish, saltwater marshes, nitrogen and turtles joined the fray. Even lawyers, many pro bono, lined up one behind the other, like a train sitting in the gallery, to teach us how to intervene, appeal and negotiate hard. Neighbors, friends and local businesses gave generously to our fundraising campaigns.

Everyone respected Priscilla, especially our adversaries. Those of us who knew her loved her best. Let us hope there is a little bit of Priscilla in each of us: she took time to know individuals; she mentored and encouraged us, and let each person develop and contribute his particular talent. She spoke kindly and clearly, and had an uncanny eye for detail and a firm grasp of complex issues. By example, she helped us all become better people, and she gave us hope for the future of our planet. What a great and inspirational woman she was!

[Priscilla Pratt’s obituary, which appeared June 20 in The Day, the Hartford Courant, and the Norwich Bulletin, is reprinted below this eulogy by Joan Smith, a GOSA director]

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Omar Allvord, GOSA Director, Dies At 86

GROTON — Omar Allvord, a GOSA director with a distinguished environmental record, died April 20, 2009 in Groton at the age of 86.

Mr. Allvord, who was a former GOSA treasurer as well as a current member of the board, was active in the drive to create the Bluff Point Coastal Reserve in 1974. He served as co-chairman of the Bluff Point Advisory Council. He also took part in GOSA’s 32-year campaign that culminated in addition of 57 acres to the Haley Farm State Park in 2002.

The efforts at Bluff Point and Haley Farm both made highly significant contributions to the quality of life of residents of Groton and beyond.

A WWII Navy veteran who saw duty on aircraft carriers in the North Atlantic, Mr. Allvord worked after the war at Electric Boat. Following his retirement in 1985, he and his son operated NEID Printing in Groton.

He was a former member of the Groton Town Council, the Groton Representative Town Meeting and the Groton Beach and Park Commission. In May 2006, he won the Patriot Award from the Friends of Fort Griswold, an organization of which he was a charter member and former president.

Mr. Allvord is survived by his son, Glen F. Allvord of Groton. Mr. Allvord’s wife, Marjorie, had died in 2000.

Mr. Allvord’s picture appears in the GOSA website’s Four Pioneers section.

A Mass of Christian Burial is to be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, April 24, at Sacred Heart Church in Groton. Donations in his memory may be made to Fairview/Odd Fellows Home of Connecticut, 235 Lestertown Road, Groton, where Mr. Allvord died.

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