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Community Conservation Champions

Taking a new approach to Community Conservation, the New Canaan Land Trust is looking to engage with our neighbors in a way that provides opportunities for volunteer involvement like never before.

But first, “What is Community Conservation?” you might ask. It is a way of approaching land conservation that responds to broad community needs. It involves listening to many voices, creating new partnerships and building lasting relationships. ​

By finding more ways to connect people to the land and to engender within themselves a new conservation ethic, we are engaging a new generation of supporters who put land conservation as a priority in their lives, and not an afterthought. The Land Trust continues to partner with schools, community organizations, and neighbors as we build out more partnerships, providing access and creating the possibility for inspiration, particularly with the youth.

How can you help? 

f you are a neighbor or spend a lot of time enjoying the Land Trust properties, we would appreciate if you could take on some limited responsibilities as a way to help us better serve a broader community.

What does that mean?

With 70 properties to keep track of, we can’t be in all places all the time, so we rely on you to help us monitor and steward a property you either live near already or happen to visit frequently. We are asking that you contact us and ask about what you can do for a specific property.

What does that look like, for example?

Perhaps a property contains bird houses that need regular cleaning, or sometimes branches or trees fall over a trail or stone wall and need to be removed, or maybe a trail is getting overgrown and needs some trimming, a sign has been damaged or is missing, the list goes on. These are all examples of cases where you can take action on behalf of the Land Trust (like cleaning our the bird box), or you can contact us and we will coordinate the next steps (like tree removal, or missing signs). For those who want to be even more involved, there are opportunities to meet with the Executive Director to discuss more active roles.

As a Champion of a property near your home, you help the Land Trust achieve its goals of stewardship and outreach while benefitting your neighbors and the broader community in the process.

If you are interested, email us at info@NewCanaanLandTrust.org and let us know which property you would like to be a champion for, and we will be able to share with you a plan for management and strategy for involvement.

Community Conservation Champions (CCC): The Colgans & Colhoun Meadow

Thoughts on the Colhoun Meadow from Jim and Dianne Colgan, Land Trust neighbors:

We moved from Stamford to New Canaan in 1986. As we looked at property in New Canaan the Colhoun Meadow land preserve adjacent to this house on Ponus Ridge was a huge factor in our purchase of it. Having open land bordering the west of this house (often with beautiful sunsets) was very enticing and during our 30 years of living here has been a real plus to our enjoyment of it. The thought of having several homes built on that land…rather than having it preserved for all to use…makes us so thankful for the Land Trust.

We would be appreciative for this land even if we had never actually ventured in to it. This land has provided more than just beautiful open space, particularly for our children and grandchildren. It is known that ready access to nature improves thinking skills, imagination and mental health of children. Our children all readily express that they have been so fortunate to have had the time and space and freedom to experience nature so close at hand.

One of my daughters reminisces of times during her middle school years…

“Laura and I used to spend hours exploring the woods. We had read Bridge to Terabithia and the two of us created our own magical land, with a river crossing, castle, and a sacred ceremonial spot. I have wonderful memories of bringing literature to life in our backyard without a care in the world.”

The preserve has also had a great influence on my youngest son, as he recalls…

“Growing up, my sisters would take me on adventures in the preserve, with elaborate stories to go along. There was skunk cabbage land, a blue whale made of rock, and a royal throne. The imagination spurred by this preserved land contributed to a life-long love of the wilderness. In my young adult life, I worked as a wilderness guide, sharing this love of the wild with others.”

Recently he has taken his nieces on elaborate adventures in the fields and woods perpetuating the love and adventure of the undeveloped land.

In the spring, the din of the ‘peepers’ is a much-anticipated sign that spring is close at hand. Birds returning, nesting and successfully bringing a new family through the perils of nature, the first fawn sighting of the year…sometimes twins, and the emergence of new growth on the trees and in the fields are all noticed and loved.

On summer evenings, we frequently have dinner outside and linger there as our eyes are scan the field and woods beyond. For us, hawks with their piercing call are frequent and exhilarating, the striking goldfinch have their unique undulating flight across the field, and young deer frolicking in the early evening testing their new skills are great fun to watch.

Fall and winter bring their own recurring events and in all seasons, there are changes from the previous year. Nature is never stagnant and we so appreciate having the opportunity to experience this on a frequent basis. If this land were developed…how much we would lose! No longer the adventures in the woods, the freedom to be in the fields, the intimate knowledge of nature.

The New Canaan Land Trust is vital in preserving our open land for all to enjoy. We support and admire their dedication, hard work, and knowledgeable management. Most of all we are thankful for those who have stepped up and volunteered many hours, donated those important dollars, spread the word among friends and neighbors all for the good of open spaces and the enduring beauty of New Canaan.

-Dianne and Jim Colgan

Community Conservation Champions

Community Conservation Champions (CCC): The Fryers on Ponus Ridge

For more than a decade now, Rob and Margie Fryer have helped NCLT become better stewards by caring for and protecting the land conservation easement that makes up the water-side buffer between their home and the Rippowam River on Ponus Ridge. In the notes below, Rob and Margie relate their experience of living next to land that is preserved and protected from future land use change. The Land Trust is grateful for the commitment made by the Fryers in 2014 to carry on the vision set forth by the Clark family decades before. Read below to understand the Fryers’ perspective on conservation, in their own words, and below that, see the 1994 letter from George Clark.

In 2007, we acquired a beautiful six-acre property on the west side of New Canaan previously owned by the Clark family, who lived here for 43 years. The property borders the Rippowam River, half a mile below the Laurel reservoir, and includes an extensive flood plain. The land on the other side of the river, in Stamford, is open space owned by the Aquarion Water Company.

The Clarks were nature lovers and, in 1984, signed an agreement with Jack Gunther, founder of the New Canaan Land Trust, creating two of the earliest conservation easements in New Canaan. One is a wooded area along Ponus Ridge Road and the other is an extensive alder-filled wetland next to the river, great warbler breeding habitat. In 2007, we knew very little about the Land Trust and nothing about conservation easements, a way for property owners to ensure the conservation of valuable ecosystems in perpetuity, without foregoing ownership.

In due course, we learned that the Clarks had intended to create two further conservation easements but had never completed the transaction – one containing a man-made island along the river frontage, and the other to extend the existing wetland easement. We set about completing the creation of these easements in 2014 with Chris Schipper, then president of the Land Trust. Around three acres is now permanently protected by easements.

We see ourselves as Community Conservation Champions for these easements.  We have removed fallen trees, built brush piles for habitat and, over time, eradicated the invasive Japanese barberries which dominated the vegetation. The birdlife is fascinating.

As George Clark wrote in 1994 in a document in the Land Trust archives: “Osprey, great blue heron and wood duck are only three of the remarkable birds that breed in the ecosystem.” We have had flocks of wild turkeys with as many as 15 birds strolling through. The recent death of an adult opossum, either by natural causes or possibly a kill, attracted red-tailed hawks, then crows and finally turkey vultures, over the following two weeks.

Being next to a perennial water supply, animal life in the easements is abundant. Over the years, we have observed close to 20 species. It is a joy for us to observe nature in this way, knowing that this valuable ecosystem is protected for generations to come.   

Rob and Margie Fryer

April 2017

Community Conservation Champions (CCC): The Podlesaks at Watson-Symington Woodlands

As members of the New Canaan community for over twenty years, Gina and Dennis Podlesak and their two sonsMatt and Justin have come to enjoy the open spaces of the New Canaan Land Trust and to appreciate the value of taking action for land conservation right in “their own backyard.” In the letter below, the Podlesaks describe how important it is to have these local preserves open for exploration and contemplation. The Land Trust is grateful for the support and advocacy of the Podlesak Family as neighbors and as friends of the New Canaan Land Trust.

Our family’s understanding of conservation efforts in New Canaan has been a journey. We enjoyed the benefits of New Canaan Land Trust work long before we became involved with the Land Trust as an organization – long before we fully appreciated the conservation efforts and philanthropy that made our enjoyment of New Canaan preserves even possible. 

We have lived in New Canaan since 1994 in two different homes, each of which happened to abut conservation land.  I shouldn’t say “happened to,” because living next to a preserve was a significant factor in our selection of each property. Our back doors swung open to reveal rich green woodlands, teeming with life, filling our evenings with birdsongs of infinite variation. With each passing season, the natural backdrop stunned us with its changing palette and character – a dense wall of vibrant colors in the fall, an infinite white sea of bare trunks and branches in the winter…

In the early years when our two boys were toddlers, these woodlands provided a blank canvas for our young sons’ developing imaginations, as their outdoor adventures took them hurtling into the endless woods as pirates, army soldiers, cowboys or explorers. Bounding out the swinging back door, away from electronics and into the unknown, they would race with energy and abandon.

By the time we moved to our second home overlooking the 42 –acre Nancy Watson-Symington Woodlands, our family — now with teenagers – learned to enjoy the preserve in different ways, mostly as a respite from the hectic high school whirlwind – a silent escape where we could hike, walk our dog, or bring visiting friends and family for a reprieve from life’s stresses. “Come to the woods, for here is rest.” – John Muir

It wasn’t until these later years that we were introduced to New Canaan Land Trust as an organization and began to fully appreciate this benefit of conserved land that we had been enjoying all along. This introduction was a “natural” one: our teenage son Justin was hiking the Nancy Watson-Symington preserve behind our home when he encountered Chris Schipper, Land Trust President at that time, on a trail. They struck up a natural conversation, as hikers often do, about the preserve and their shared love of nature. Chris had been contemplating the creation of a Land Trust Summer Stewards program to increase the involvement of New Canaan youth in Land Trust initiatives; before we knew it, he had recruited Justin to become one of the first Summer Stewards in the inaugural program.

The culmination of Justin’s internship was his creation of a “Walking Tour Guide of the Nancy Watson–Symington Preserve” (Link) containing descriptive details of our “backyard” preserve, its flora and fauna, trails, rocks, streams and structures, literary quotes about nature, photographs, and a brief history of Nancy Watson-Symington’s wonderful philanthropic gift to our town.  The Land Trust Summer Steward program continues to thrive, funded in recent years by local philanthropists who understand the importance of engaging our youth in nature and conservation initiatives.

Our initial introduction to the Land Trust opened our eyes to the world of local conservation and jump-started our involvement in local initiatives. As a family, we had always had a deep love of nature and were well aware of global conservation issues: coral reef bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures, the endangered black rhino due to poaching, arable land loss due to drought; barrier island encroachment from rising ocean levels. We have always sought out travel experiences that immersed us in some of the great natural wonders of the earth — coral reefs, rainforests, wildlife safaris. Nevertheless, it took us a while to understand that right here in our own backyard (literally, in our case!) there are conservation opportunities – they are just more subtle in nature. How easily could the remaining open space in our beautiful town disappear! — precisely because local initiatives can be easily overlooked.

We started attending Annual Meetings of New Canaan Land Trust (now under the leadership of Art Berry, current President, and Mike Johnson, New Executive Director,) participating in local Land Trust initiatives, becoming Community Conservation Champions for the Watson-Symington Woodlands, and most recently working with the Connecticut Trust for Public Land and New Canaan Land Trust to protect the Silvermine-Fowler Preserve before it could be developed.

It was through the Silvermine-Fowler Campaign that we truly grasped the urgency of many conservation initiatives: If we don’t act when the opportunity presents itself, houses go up and another “hidden jewel” disappears forever.

Justin, our Land Trust Steward, went on to work with the “Nature Initiative” at Grace Farms, joining other nature enthusiasts to educate our local community about conservation, wildlife and stewardship of the earth. We began to explore other preserves in surrounding towns, including the Leon Levy preserve in Ridgefield, the Zofnass Family preserve in North Stamford, and the Mianus River Park on the Stamford/Greenwich border. “Hidden jewels!” we would exclaim each time we returned from a hike with friends – all made possible by philanthropists who made it a priority in their own lives to protect and preserve the natural beauty that surrounds us.

On a recent trip to California, we found ourselves exploring yet another nature preserve, this time on the rocky cliffs of Dana Point with a bird’s eye view out over the sparkling Pacific Ocean towards Catalina Island. The local land trust had inscribed the trailhead placard with a quote that summarizes our own family’s journey of understanding:

 “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”  —  Baba Dioum, 1968 

As “Community Conservation Champions” for the Nancy Watson-Symington Preserve, we invite you to embrace the natural beauty of our town, experience it, love it and understand it, and champion its preservation for future generations.

The Podlesak Family

Gina, Dennis, Matt & Justin

May 2017