Hiking Out of the Classroom: Explorer’s Club Leaves No Child Inside By Syma Ebbin

This story has a serendipitous beginning, storybook ending, and positive outlook for producing future chapters rich in adventure. It began last year during Connecticut Trails Day.  My family and I were hiking Candlewood Ridge, newly acquired GOSA open space, with Sue Sutherland in the lead and a largish assembly of hikers following.  It was a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in early June and the leafy canopy cast a green light over our group as we ascended the ridge. We paused to scoop up and examine salamanders and pollywogs in a vernal pool.  We paused to identify the Indian cucumber, dwarf ginseng, witch hazel and other species growing luxuriantly above and below us.  We paused to take in the expansive forested vistas, nicely open and free of the tangle of invasives to which many other Connecticut wildlands are subject.  And we breathed in the earthy, slightly vinegary smell of the damp, decomposing leaves.

Our group of hikers chatted amongst ourselves and I found myself speaking with Ben Moon, a teacher at the Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School where my boys had gone several years before.  As an avid hiker and trail runner, he told me how much he appreciated these open spaces in Groton.  He recounted a story of a recent field trip he had taken with his 4th grade class to the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center and how unnerved his students became when immersed in the woods.  They were uncomfortable and anxious, feeling out of place and scared by the possibility of the insects and animals they might encounter.

The utility and even necessity of interacting with wild places and experiencing the outside world is becoming overwhelmingly apparent as we find ourselves and our children more and more often confined    inside buildings, staring at video screens, removed from and increasingly indifferent to nature and natural things.  Richard Louv, author of the influential book, Last Child in the Woods, has called this phenomenon nature-deficit disorder. He recounts the words of Paul, a 4th grade boy in San Diego, who told him, “I like to play indoors better, ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

A host of physical, mental and emotional impacts have been attributed to this increasing alienation from nature. These include obesity, various physical and emotional illnesses such as anxiety and depression, attention disorders, and difficulties as well as diminished achievement in educational pursuits. Conversely, engaging with nature challenges and inspires, keeps us in shape, stimulates our minds, sharpens our senses, awakens our curiosity, fuels our creativity, balances our lives, provides us with peace, feeds our souls, replenishes our spirits, and for some, is a primary source of spirituality.    Some of these sentiments are evidenced in Henry David Thoreau’s writings, notably in his journal for January 7, 1857 where he reports, “…in the distant woods or fields, in unpretending sproutlands or pastures tracked by rabbits, even in a bleak and, to most, cheerless day, like this, when a villager would be thinking of his inn, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer….”

In a 1984 book, E.O. Wilson outlined his thoughts on the biophilia hypothesis in which the very essence of our humanity is in fact derived from our association with other living organisms, claiming that “[w]e are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms.” Biophilia has continued to be the subject of critical examination by scholars of science and the humanities. I had the good fortune to be able to help organize and participate in a conference focused on the  biophilia hypothesis which took place in 1992 in Woods Hole, MA, and resulted in the volume of the same name edited by my doctoral advisor Stephen Kellert and E.O. Wilson.  The book explores our human dependence on nature, extending that dependence beyond the material and economic to encompass a suite of  aesthetic, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual meanings.

As a remedy to this nature-deficit disorder, Gina McCarthy, former CT Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (now CT DEEP with the insertion of energy into its mandate and moniker), convinced Governor Jodi Rell to initiate the statewide No Child Left Inside program. The program aims to “reconnect youngsters with the outdoors, build the next generation of environmental stewards and showcase Connecticut’s state parks and forests.” (The Day, May 3, 2006)   The program hopes to improve the physical and mental health of our youth, enhance their cognitive and social development, and set the groundwork to create a generation of future voters who support environmental initiatives.

In a time of declining monetary resources, might Groton’s open spaces be used as educational      resources to combat these fears and introduce students to the natural world outside their classroom?  This is the question that Ben and I asked and attempted to answer over the course of the following few months. We communicated and met throughout the summer and fall; we brainstormed and sketched out ideas for an interdisciplinary educational program that would integrate many core subjects and entice students to feel comfortable leaving the classroom. In the end, we decided to start small, as an after-school club, and expand in the future if successful.

We developed several partnerships: the Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School (CKMS), GOSA, University of Connecticut at Avery Point, New England Science and Sailing, and the Town of Groton.  Ben was able to gain support from the leadership at CKMS, the loan of iPads, funding for t-shirts and the use of   after-school bussing for the students.  GOSA enthusiastically supported the effort and supplied funds to purchase cinch packs.  Mark Berry at the Town of Groton Parks and Recreation Department was also supportive of encouraging educational uses of the town’s open spaces and allowed us use of the department’s new logo. I created and advertized an internship opportunity for Avery Point UConn students to work with us as instructional aides on this project. We were lucky to get two terrific UConn students for this job: Sara Mindek and Sydney Marcks, senior marine science majors at the time and both now graduated. The project benefitted immensely from the avid involvement of these two former students of mine.

Ben advertised the club to 4th and 5th graders at the CKMS:

“Do you like exploring the outdoors?  Finding new trails?  Hiking?  Learning about wildlife?  Then join the CK Explorers Club!  The club is a 7 week, field trip based program that will introduce students to some of Groton’s most scenic and interesting hiking trails and wildlife habitats. Students will have access to iPads to photograph and document their experiences.  T-Shirts and transportation to the hiking sites will be provided.  Students must be picked up at school at 5:30.  There is no fee for Catherine Kolnaski students.  Join us to explore Groton Trails!”

Seven trips (six hiking and one kayak trip) were planned for Thursday afternoons in April, May and June to Haley Farm State Park, the Sheep Farm, Pequot Woods, the Merritt Family Forest, Beebe Pond, Candlewood Ridge and Esker Point Beach (kayak trip).  Over 40 students entered the lottery to be selected to participate in the CK Explorer’s Club; 15 were selected representing a mix of 4th and 5thgraders, girls and boys, different cultures and backgrounds. The students were loaned iPads and instructed on their use for photographic purposes.  Each student created a photographic portfolio of his or her experiences in the club. The children received t-shirts and cinch packs which they were able to keep.

The trips were enjoyable for everyone who participated, children and adults alike. The hikes were unstructured, with informal learning interspersed with time for student-led exploration.  Unfortunately, the time allotted flew by quickly, especially as the children meandered off the trail to investigate and photograph the emerging plants, wildlife, and the geological and water features we encountered.   One trip was cancelled due to rain, but we were able to complete the rest and the program ended on a high note, as the New England Sailing and Science team towed in a fleet of kayaks to Esker Point that we used to explore Palmer Cove and the aquatic boundary of Haley Farm.

The children absorbed and retained the information contained in our casual conversations and asked probing questions. Ben, overhearing a child ask me if plants have male and female sexes, commented that that kind of questioning would never have occurred in a classroom setting.  After teaching some of the children to identify the ferns we encountered, I was gratified to have a girl come up to me on following weeks to identify fern species, telling me “Here’s a New York fern…I can tell because it burns the candle at both ends.”

These children were not scared or unnerved by the wild woods we hiked; rather they photographed the nature encountered as well as their friends, allowed slugs and inch worms to crawl up their arms, jumped off erratic boulders, scooped up salamanders from under rotting logs and rocks, found the queen sitting on her throne at the heart of the violet, chewed on the tasty sprigs of black birch, smelled the flower of the skunk cabbage, and sucked the nectar out of the honeysuckle flowers.   These kids hiked out of the classroom and returned with a story of adventure, mastery and a broadened understanding of their world.

With a small amount of funding we cobbled this program together, but with more funding we hope to replicate this program in the future, possibly expanding the number of students who can participate, or even exporting the club to other schools in Groton.  It is nice to know that GOSA continues to expand the portfolio of open space in Groton, thereby allowing old and young explorers from Groton and elsewhere to set off on into the wild to chart their own grand adventures.

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Groton group, Pfizer volunteers plant greenway By Lee Howard Publication: The Day Published October 03. 2014

Click here to read the article.

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Connecticut Botanical Society’s Tour of Avery Farm 7.19.14

July 15, 2014   Does a fen habitat interest you? Orchids, sundews, lilies, woodwardias and a few Atlantic white cedars? For a field trip on July 19, Saturday 10:00 AM, Groton, Avery Farm (Weber Farm), join Sigrun Gadwa, Connecticut Botanical Society Plant Ecologist, and Whitney Adams, Jr., GOSA member, when they visit 300 acres in Groton, part of a much larger mosaic of open space, being brought under preservation through the efforts of the Groton Open Space Association. Bring lunch and old sneakers or rubber boots for wet spots. 

July 22, 2014   Many Thanks to GOSA (Groton Open Space Association) for hosting the botany field trip to the 298-acre Avery farm in Groton on July 19th. After an informative presentation our group of nine walked northerly between farm fields along a tree-lined gravel road, then headed westerly towards the 38 -acre wetland. Wherever the shrubs thinned out, we enjoyed the lovely vista of the pond to the west studded with white – and some pink – Nymphaea odorata (water lilies), with floating fen islands in the distance.With endless energy GOSA botanist, Whitney Adams, sprang down and then back up the bank of the pond to fetch interesting wetland specimens for the group to examine, like Woodwardia, with leaf veins arranged in chains and nets, and even twigs of such uncommon shrubs as Leucothoe racemosa (swamp sweet bells”) and Nemopanthus mucronata (mountain holly). We noted the long stemmed, dangling fruits of appropriately named dangleberries (Gaylussaccia frondosa). We learned the differences between several species of highbush blueberry – new information, even for the most accomplished botanists in the group. The substantial crescent shaped fruits of beaked hazelnut were a hit, as were etymological explanations of plant names. We were treated to close-up views of the delicate beauty of five carnivorous plants, three colorful Utricularias and both round and ovate sundews, also bog club moss (Lycopodiella). Back on Lambtown road, now a gravel hiking and biking path, we enjoyed a display of swamp rose in full bloom and botanized roadside plants, like Hieracieum scabrum, a blunt-leaved native hawkweed of sandy soils, with stem leaves, not a basal rosette. Whitney clearly explained how to identify poison sumac.

After lunch we hiked a lovely stretch of the powerline corridor that traverses Avery farm, an example of sensitive vegetation management in cooperation with the GOSA. NU/CL&P calls Sue Sutherland at GOSA before starting work, so she can speak with the contractor. So instead of cutting red cedars at the ground, as they have done elsewhere, they cut them higher per my instructions to provide habitat. in cooperation with GOSA . Red cedars and assorted tall shrubs were left in place, and vegetation was not disfigured by herbicide. Orange butterfly weed abounded. I finally have a sense of the gestalt of mature, wide-spreading witherod viburnum (Viburnum cassinoides var. nudum) and red and black chokeberries. Highlights were a population of upland boneset (Eupatoreum sessifolia) in an area with exposed bedrock , and then a miniature hilltop bog with sundews and Lycopodiella, threatened, however, by ATV’s. We heard towhees and a Great Crested Flycatcher and watched a Great Spangled Fritillary nectaring on orange milkweed. What an outstanding site for a botany field trip! We are also thankful that the weather was quite cool for mid July!

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Women Inspiring Conservation in Connecticut award winners recognized for their work in agriculture, conservation

Written by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and published on June 21, 2014 in the Hamlet Hub

Tolland, CT –The spotlight was on 12 remarkable women Thursday at the State Capitol as Connecticut’s Conservation Partnership recognized them for their work in agriculture and natural resources conservation.

This year’s theme was Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment: Stories of the Extraordinary Determination of Women, and honored the exceptional and often unrecognized determination and tenacity of women in a non-traditional field.

Sponsored by two USDA agencies – the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency – along with the Connecticut Association of Conservation Districts, nominations for the awards were solicited from partners and the general public. Six were selected for top honors, while six received honorable mentions. All received recognition from Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman who was on hand again this year as presenter. Those acknowledged included:

Amy Blaymore Patterson, Executive Director for the Connecticut Land Conservation Council. Under her leadership, the CLCC has grown and become an important voice statewide for the conservation community.

Sidney Van Zandt, who has been a leader in environmental conservation since 1967 when she spearheaded the effort to save 1,000 coastal acres of Haley Farm State Park and Bluff Point State Park & Coastal Reserve. She currently serves as Vice President of the Groton Open Space Association; and in the past served on the Boards of the  Avalonia Land Conservancy and remains an honorary member of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association board.*

Joan Nichols, Owner of Nichols Logging and Forestry Management/Director of the Connecticut Professional Timber Producers Association. Nichols also serves on the Connecticut Forest Practice Advisory Board; and has been the Volunteer Tree Warden for the Town of Lebanon for 20+ years.

Amanda Fargo-Johnson, Director of the Connecticut Farm Energy Program/Program Assistant for the CT Environmental Review Team/Founding Member of the Maples Farm Commission, Bozrah Farmers Market Subcommittee, and the Bozrah Agriculture Commission.

Jiff Martin, Sustainable Food System Educator, University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension. Martin previously served as the Connecticut State Director of the American Farmland Trust, Food Policy Director for the Hartford Food System, and Project Director for the Working Lands Alliance.

Norma O’Leary poses with her award with Lt. Governor Wyman and members of the Conservation Partnership.

A Special Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Norma O’Leary who has devoted her life to promoting and expanding sustainable agriculture. For many years she worked on the family dairy farm. After retirement she became an advocate, working tirelessly to educate and promote agriculture in Connecticut. She has served as a board member at the state, regional, and local levels with almost every organization dedicated to agriculture and natural resource conservation. For many years, O’Leary sought to build capacity at the local level by formalizing agriculture’s voice in municipal affairs. From her efforts, the AGvocate Program was born. Since then, more than 20 Connecticut towns have established formal agriculture committees/commissions, and have made great strides in creating farm-friendly policies and regulations.

Others honorees included Theresa Freund, Jane Harris, Dr. Melissa Marcocci, Alicia Mozian, Alison Murdock, and Anne Nalwalk.

“Since its inception last year, the Women Inspiring Conservation in Connecticut Awards has grown tremendously,” said NRCS State Conservationist Lisa Coverdale. “This year NRCS was joined by FSA and CACD in sponsoring the event. We can see the growth, and the growth-potential, by the number of nominations we received this year. Now we’re excited to see what 2015 will bring as women become more of a fixture in the fields of agriculture and conservation.”

*This paragraph of the article was edited to correct the following errors: “and in the past, [Sidney Van Zandt] was President of the Avalonia Land Conservancy…” Sidney was not President, but she did serve on the Board of Directors. In addition, Sidney continues to serve on the CT Forest & Park Association board as an honorary member.

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The Eel Deal: Recounting the Saga of the Sheep Farm Eel While Exploring the Mystery of the Eel’s Life History

By Syma A. Ebbin

First published on March 31 in GOSA News, Spring 2014 edition

Have you been to the Sheep Farm? It is one of GOSA’s recent open space acquisitions. It boasts the highest set of waterfalls in the town of Groton along with remnants of a historic grist mill dating back to the 1700s. It is a lovely place to hike any time of year.

GOSA Eeel ProtectionOn a warm Sunday over three years ago, June 6, 2010, to be precise, I hiked the Sheep Farm with my family. We enjoyed a picnic on a rocky outcrop in the middle of one of the fields and then hiked down along Fort Hill Brook until we reached the falls. My husband and children clambered up and over the rocks while I explored the pools at the bottom of the falls. My husband yelled down to me that he had found a fish in one of the pools atop the falls. I climbed up the rocks and, although I had never seen one before in fresh water, I easily identified it as an American Eel (Anguilla rostrata). The eel was dead, about 14 inches in length and in fairly good condition. I thought that a raptor might have dropped it into the pool, which is about 10 feet above the stream, but there were no talon marks or tears. No, this fish had probably migrated up this stream several years before as a tiny elver, working its way up the moist and fairly vertical walls of the falls, living its life in the fresh waters of Fort Hill Brook. Or perhaps, our eel took a detour on land, relying on the ability of its skin to absorb oxygen, and slithered over the damp ground to make its way around the obstacles in its path.

If all had gone well, our little eel would have matured into a silver eel with a blackish back, silver underside, large eyes and a host of other physiological changes, and eventually migrated back downstream to Mumford Cove, out through Fishers Island Sound and headed south, swimming in deep waters to the Sargasso Sea. Here, in the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, a shifting area of two million square miles delineated by the clockwise movement of ocean currents, our eel would join with other members of its species in a mass spawning event along with European eels (Anguilla anguilla), which spawn in the same area. After spawning, our eel would have died. This spatially unified approach to reproduction with spawning occurring in the same location results in what is termed a panmictic species – that is one that shares a common gene pool, with no genetically distinguishable populations or stock structure. All North American eels basically belong to the same and only population within the species A. rostrata.

If our eel spawned successfully, the fertilized eggs would have hatched in the salty waters of the Sargasso as transparent, somewhat flattened eel larvae called leptocephali. These would have transformed into glass eels and migrated to estuarine or freshwater environments in North America over the course of a year or so. They would migrate upstream, becoming elvers, rounder in shape and darker in color, ranging from three to six inches in length. Not all eels ascend freshwater tributaries; some remain in brackish coastal waters. Elvers are nocturnal and live in and around bottom sediments, growing over the course of several years into yellow eels, which is the stage of eel that we found at the Sheep Farm. During this period of their life, which may extend from three to 40 years, they are green or yellow in color, attain lengths of one to several feet; females usually growing larger than males. In Connecticut, the largest eel on record weighed in at 10.2 pounds and measured 52 inches in length, but in other areas, larger eels have been reported to reach five feet in length. After they mature sexually, they head downstream. Once they return to the ocean, they stop eating and undergo a series of physiological changes to allow them to navigate deep marine waters on their way to the Sargasso.
This life history strategy is called catadromy, similar but opposite to the approach taken by anadromous fish species such as salmon, which spawn in freshwater, mature in marine waters, and then return to fresh waters to complete their life cycle. Over 700 species of eel within the order Anguilliformes have been identified, most are marine, and only one family, Anguillidae, contains freshwater species.

Eel Life CycleThe mysteries of the eel’s life history are numerous, our understanding is full of “data gaps,” and our assessments are considered “data-poor.” No one has ever found or captured an adult eel in the Sargasso Sea or open ocean, eels have never been observed mating, nor have the carcasses of eel been retrieved after spawning. What has been found are the newly hatched planktonic eel larvae, leading scientists to believe that adults have spawned nearby. It’s not certain that eels die after mating, but there is no evidence that eels are repeat spawners or that they ascend freshwater tributaries after spawning. No one knows how the newly hatched eels distribute themselves among the thousands of different freshwater tributaries along the Gulf and Atlantic coast of North America nor how they navigate to places to which they have never been. The list of unknowns is long, as is the list of research priorities as evidenced by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s 2013 Review of the American Eel which lists 21 multifaceted eel-related research questions in need of answers.

Unfortunately, despite the lack of data, one thing is becoming clear:  the depleted status of American eels throughout their range, including localized extirpations. In the last decade, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has been petitioned twice to list the American eel under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In response to the first petition, the USFWS concluded in 2007 that a listing was not warranted.  The second petition, however,  made in 2010 by the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy, and Reliability (CESAR) was found to contain substantive evidence that might warrant a listing as threatened. USFWS decided the petition required more review; however, CESAR filed suit against USFWS in 2012 for failing to complete its review within the one year stipulated under the ESA. A Settlement Agreement was issued last April by the Court, which extended the USFWS’s deadline for issuing a finding to September 30, 2015. So we’ll have to stay tuned to see how the eel fares in its migration through that regulatory thicket.

Astutely, you might ask why are eels faring so poorly? As an animal which migrates both up and down rivers and streams, eels are subject to the same threats that have led to the depletion and extinction of salmon, namely dams. Dams not only block the passage of eels in both migratory directions, but the turbines associated with hydropower production puree the eels as they head out to the ocean on their way to spawn. Add to this threat the many other ways that humans have obstructed, impaired, and even destroyed freshwater habitats, the pollutants which find their way into these waters, and the existence of a recently introduced swim bladder nematode, Anguillacolla crassus, a non-native Asian parasite likely brought in through aquacultural operations that are now infecting American eels and impacting their growth and reproduction. Overarching these threats is the growing impact of climate change which is causing waters to warm, flows to diminish, and droughts to persist, leading ultimately to the reconfiguration of the eel’s essential fresh and marine habitats to the detriment of its survival.

In addition, American eel fisheries feed into a multibillion-dollar international eel industry fueled primarily by Asian consumption patterns. As a child, I caught eels as bycatch while targeting winter flounder in Baker Cove, Groton. They put up a great fight, but once caught, they were so difficult to free from the gear due to their notorious slime production that there was high release mortality.  The only eels that are legal to harvest in Connecticut are the yellow eel, which is primarily used for bait or sold and consumed in some ethnic markets. According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which is responsible for managing the eel in Connecticut waters, there are two commercial eel fishermen in Connecticut, who in 2012 harvested a total of 3,560 pounds of eel at or over six inches in length, as well as a small targeted recreational fishery. With the depletion of Asian stocks of Anguilla japonica, Asian producers have turned to hatchery production; however, eels have proven to be difficult to breed and grow in captivity, and Asian hatchery production relies on wild-caught juveniles, now imported from the U.S. and Europe. This demand has spiked the market price for glass eels and elvers to rise to over $2000 a pound. Maine and South Carolina are the only Atlantic states that permit a commercial glass eel or elver fishery. Although they are not legally harvested in Connecticut at this time,  a bill proposing the legalization of a glass eel fishery was introduced to the Connecticut legislature earlier this year.Illegal harvests are common in all states along the Atlantic coast given the lucrative nature of the fishery and difficulty in monitoring and enforcing regulations. There is a company in Connecticut that buys glass eels and elvers from fishermen in other states and sells them to Japan for grow-out in hatchery facilities.

Taken together, this is a recipe for extinction. Let’s hope that eel researchers are able to uncover some of the mysteries of the eel’s life history soon and that fishery regulators get their act together and can devise a rational plan to ensure the American eel’s continued existence as a species. Let’s hope that my children’s children will be able to scramble over the rocks by Fort Hill Brook and discover their own yellow eel hiding in a gravelly nook at the bottom of the brook. Steps in this process certainly involve the continued preservation of both our freshwater tributaries and the lands which surround these arteries, like the Sheep Farm and The Merritt Family Forest, along with continued efforts to ensure that our rivers and streams are unblocked and waters run pure. That’s the eel’s deal after all and not so bad for us either.

About the Author: Syma A. Ebbin, Ph.D. is research coordinator for Connecticut Sea Grant, faculty member of the UConn Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and a member of the GOSA Board of Directors.

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Habitat Restoration at Candlewood Ridge by Whitney Adams, GOSA Director, May 24, 2014

This is an update on the back-field habitat restoration work party Jim organized Sunday, May 11th, at CR.

At first glance this back-field site appeared to be a wasteland, but Marie and I surveyed the field before the rest of the work party arrived and found a lot of plant diversity.  Even more plants were discovered 11 days later.

Our work party included Lon, Marie, Annette, Ray, Christie, Sarah and myself.  Our first priority was to remove the huge amount of the largest diameter Black Birch (Betula lenta) saplings overgrowing the area.  The smaller Black Birch saplings had not leafed out yet and pretty hidden in the thickets where they were growing.  They are pretty easy to spot now though and are small enough so most can be pulled by hand, so a couple hundred were pulled May 23rd.  Other saplings removed were Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and Oak (Quercus species).

To provide a little more perspective on the site – since the original mature forest was clear-cut about 5? years ago it has developed into a fine young forest habitat providing really good cover, nesting and food for wildlife.  It is excellent bunny habitat!  In fact, we found plenty of rabbit droppings in the area.  There is also at least one animal burrow on the sloping hillside.  There are also large piles of branches from the original clear-cut piles along one side of the site, providing ready-made wildlife cover.  This is the sort of habitat restoration the NRCS is currently helping us with on about 30 acres of mature forest at Candlewood Ridge and Avery Farm.   This 30 acres of mature forest has little plant diversity and habitat value compared with the young forest habitat that will be created.  The back-field site also gives us an idea of the sort of vegetation that may colonize restored areas of the big CR field that will not be mowed in the future.

Acid-loving ericaceous plants provide the dominant vegetative cover on this back-field site.  Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) has regenerated vigorously since clearcutting, but will have to be managed in the future so it does not overgrow the desired habitat.  Quite a few bushes of Pink Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) are also located in near the center of the field, but do not appear to have recovered from the clearcutting or are browsed too heavily to flower.  The rest of the ericaceous plants are berry producers.  There are at least four kinds of blueberries; Common Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Hillside Blueberry (V. pallidum), Black Highbush Blueberry (V. fuscatum) and Highbush Blueberry (V. corymbosum).  There is also an abundance of dense cover provided by Black Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) and the taller Blue Huckleberry (G. frondosa).

In addition to the ericaceous plants mentioned above, there is a large colony of ~10 ft. tall berry-producing, Withe Rod, (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides), sometimes called Wild Northern Raisin for its sweet berries in late summer.  This is in flower now and is an obligate wetland plant.  Maple-leaved Viburnum (V. acerifolium) which is also a berry producer was also found.  Shadbush (Amelanchierspecies), which was flowering earlier now has berries which are almost ripe.  It produces the earliest edible berries.  Huge numbers of the semi-woody Common Blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis) are also present, which are currently about to flower and will provide abundant berries for wildlife.  Its very sharp thorns also help to discourage predators and people from entering the area.  A number of trees such as Gray Birch (Betula populifolia), which actually has beautiful white bark, Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), another berry producer, and willows (Salix species) have been saved as well.  Also found were several Sweet-Fern (Comptonia peregrina) which is not a fern, and is a good early successional plant because if can fix nitrogen in nitrogen poor soils.  It is in the same family as another nitrogen-fixer, Small Bayberry (Morella caroliniensis).  Flat-branched Tree Clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium obscurum), sometimes called Princess Pine was also common.

It is a little early in the season to observe many herbaceous plants.  Arrowhead Violet (Viola saggittata var. ovata) flowered earlier.  Bristly Sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida), and its relative Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) were found.  A yellow-flowered Lysimachia (Lysimachia species) that has not flowered yet is widespread in open areas as is the grass-like Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) forms soft grass-like carpets.   Lots of Hay-Scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), which has running underground rhizomes and forms large colonies, is also sprouting.

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Scenic road only open to hikers, cyclists By Anna Isaacs, The Day

Published April 24, 2014

Click here to read an article about the scenic road that bypasses Avery Farm.

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Sidney Van Zandt receives award from CT General Assembly

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Happy Birthday, Sidney Van Zandt – Our Conservation Queen

Article published Mar 22, 2014 by Steve Fagin, The Day

Stroll out to Bluff Point in Groton, one of Connecticut’s most spectacular shoreline treasures – at 800 acres it comprises the largest undeveloped peninsula between New York and Cape Cod – and imagine instead of breathtaking views of Fishers Island Sound a Coney Island-style amusement park cluttered the beach, with hot dog stands, Ferris wheels, bathhouses and a paved access road leading to a 4,000-car parking lot.

Next, amble to the adjoining Haley Farm and picture what the stone walls, rolling fields and hiking paths overlooking Palmer Cove would look like dotted with duplex houses.

Repeat this scenario at the Merritt Family Forest, the Sheep Farm, Candlewood Ridge, the Avery Farm – all unspoiled parks spared from development, thanks to dedication and hard work over the years by visionary conservationists.

Though the cause has been a team effort, everybody involved would agree that much less would have been accomplished without the work of one woman, Sidney Van Zandt of Noank.

Today (Saturday, March 22), several hundred of her closest friends will help Sidney celebrate her 80th birthday at a party at Shennecossett Yacht Club in Groton, an occasion that not only will recognize her extraordinary contributions to land conservation in the region but also promises to highlight the many nautical adventures she and husband Sandy have shared.

Sidney got started by helping found the Groton Open Space Association in 1965 that fought a housing development proposed for Haley Farm in Groton and raised money so the state could buy the property for a park. She also served as co-chair of the Bluff Point Advisory Council that staved off various ill-considered development proposals and eventually drafted legislation that led to the creation of Connecticut’s first and only coastal preserve. On a personal note, she nominated me to fill a vacancy on that board and I had the privilege to work with her and others on that cause.

Sidney also has been a member of the boards of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, the Governor’s Council of Environmental Quality, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Coastal Management Program, and the Mashantucket Land Trust (now called Avalonia Land Conservancy).

To simply say she served on these boards doesn’t adequately describe Sidney’s efforts. She attends meetings in Hartford; prepares voluminous reports, organizes letter-writing campaigns, makes countless phone calls to mayors, governors, senators … . She doesn’t give up or take no for an answer.

“Sidney is a pit bull,” her husband Sandy onced joked to me.

I had been a young reporter just out of college when I first met Sidney at a public hearing about a new road the town of Groton considered constructing – a so-called “east-west highway” that officials promised would ease traffic on Route 1 and open up a large section of town to new shopping centers and apartment complexes.

To my then-environmentally unaware sensibilities, the idea at first seemed to make sense, but Sidney took me aside after the meeting and set me straight.

“Think of all the trees they’ll have to cut down,” she began. “And all that asphalt and concrete … What about all the animals that will be displaced? Do we really need more fast-food restaurants?”

Until then I’d never thought much about the impact such projects have on the outdoors, even though I enjoyed hiking, running, swimming and kayaking. I took it for granted that there would always be places for these activities.

Sidney helped me understand that there is continuous pressure to build, build, build – and once open space disappears it’s gone for good. At the same time she reminded me that all development is not evil. After all, we need stores, houses, apartments, factories, highways — we just don’t need them spread out in a sprawl from sea to shining sea.

Over the years we’ve become friends, and my wife, Lisa, and I have shared some of my happiest experiences with Sidney and Sandy – cross-country skiing in Vermont, rowing out to their boat moored off Noank with our then-infant son, Tom, or simply strolling through the woods together. They stopped by our house the other day for our annual maple syrup party and while a crackling fire boiled sap we reminisced about various fun times on land and sea.

I’ve always admired Sid and Sandy’s sense of adventure — they built a 39? steel sailing vessel in 1981 and spent the next 14 years sailing 95,000 miles, including four transatlantic passages and a global circumnavigation. If Sidney is the one person you want on board to organize a campaign to create a new park, Sandy is the guy you want at the helm in a force 10 gale.

Like all their friends, I’m delighted the Van Zandts are back on terra firma today so we can celebrate this happy occasion.

Happy birthday, Sid, and thanks for helping me perceive the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau:
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”

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Forward Thinking: Preserve a Ledyard Farm, Close a Road to Traffic By Steve Fagin

Published in The Day on Feb. 22, 2014    While running with my old pal Johnny Kelley of Mystic years ago we loped toward Ledyard, where pavement gave way to gravel.

Soon we passed an expansive bog that bordered a dense forest, which gradually opened up into rolling pastures with grazing horses.

A man on a tractor waved as we approached.

“Hey, Johnny!”

Throughout New England you could not accompany Kell, the gone but never-forgotten 1957 Boston Marathon champ and two-time Olympian, without someone shouting a greeting.

“Hi, Art!” Johnny replied, barely breaking stride, and off we went into the hills.

This was Art Weber, who lived with his wife, Judy, on a 298-acre farm on Lambtown Road Extension that straddles Groton and Ledyard.

The narrow dirt byway that passed through their farm became one of my favorite running and biking routes, and I eventually came to know Art and Judy. Art, in fact, had been a city editor at The Day, but in his heart he was a farmer, and every spring he dug up and balled a couple dozen pines and hemlocks from areas he was clearing, which I then hauled back to my house and transplanted. Today these trees are nearly 50 feet tall.

Art died a number of years ago, but Judy, whose father, Latham

Avery, bought the property in 1929, still lives in the Colonial-era farmhouse, thanks to an arrangement she made late last year with the Groton Open Space Association. She is donating 146 acres in Groton to the land preservation group, and selling the Ledyard portion to GOSA, guaranteeing that the entire, magnificent parcel will remain undeveloped.

This is wonderful news, especially since the property is adjacent to another recent GOSA acquisition, the 91-acre Candlewood Ridge preserve, which has outstanding trails for hiking and cross-country skiing. Both properties contain streams, pools, mature oak and beech forests and mountain laurel, and are home to hundreds of species of birds, turtles, amphibians and other woodland creatures.

Dr. Robert Askins, Katherine Blunt Professor of Biology at Connecticut College, calls the Avery Farm “one of the most biologically diverse and valuable sites for conservation in eastern Connecticut.”

The town of Ledyard, which maintains Lambtown Road Extension, has for the past two years closed it to cars during winter to help prevent erosion and unintentional widening by snow plows. This measure, incidentally, also saved about $2,500 in road repairs.

Last week officials announced a better idea: Keep the gate at the north end of Lambtown Road Extension closed to traffic year-round. Hikers, bicyclists and runners, of course, would still be allowed through.

The southern end has its own gate that emergency vehicles and Judy Weber can use, but, as Ledyard Mayor John Rodolico noted, there is “no valid reason” for other cars to use that road.

Amen, and well said.

Ledyard’s Planning and Zoning Commission must first hold a public hearing, but Mayor Rodolico hopes the proposal is adopted next month.

I don’t recall many other instances in which a town closed a public road to cars, and hope it inspires others to follow suit. Though we live in comparatively rural southeastern Connecticut, there’s still way too much asphalt and concrete. Many mistakenly view new roads as “progress,” as evidenced by elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremonies whenever one opens.

Maybe Ledyard and the open space association should conduct a symbolic ribbon-tying to celebrate the closing of Lambtown Road Extension.

GOSA, which has helped preserve thousands of acres throughout the region, including such treasures as Bluff Point and Haley Farm, now is seeking state grants and raising money to complete the purchase of the Avery Farm. One generous contributor has kicked in $25,000 to match donations made by March 31.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Groton Open Space Association, Inc., P.O. Box 9187, Groton, CT 06340-9187, or through the website gosaonline.org.

GOSA also is offering tours of the Avery Farm property at 2 p.m. every Sunday in February and March.

Just remember, if you arrive by car, you can’t drive through Lambtown Road Extension.

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