Dear supporters of the New Canaan Land Trust and Waveny Park Conservancy,
My name is Kelly Flannery and I am excited to share updates from the first week of our Summer Steward Internship program! Aaron Lefland, NCLT’s Executive Director, and I have been preparing for Session 1 for several weeks now, and I feel we have designed a great program that will educate our young interns on the benefits of land conservation and stewardship.
We started our program at the Watson-Symington Preserve, located at 110 Wellesley Drive. Before we began working, we got to know a little bit about each other. For the first session, we will be joined by Ben Walter, Vivi Reeves, Jake Harasiuk, Alex Hazlin, and Alex Schauer!
All our interns are current high school students and they all share a passion for the outdoors. You can check out a short biography on our five interns on our website’s blog page!
On Monday, I found it important that the interns and I discuss safety precautions while working outdoors. We worked on identifying poison ivy, went over tick safety and removal instructions, and I taught each intern how to properly handle work equipment, such as loppers, hand-saws, and weed whippers. Going over these topics was an important way to start the day, because these are skills that they will need to implement throughout the program! We entered the Watson-Symington Preserve and walked the trails that weave through the 42-acre property.
During this walk, we spoke about invasive species and native species. Since the goal of the land trust is to preserve Connecticut’s natural habitat, I wanted to emphasize the importance of invasive species management. The interns and I discussed Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), and Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), which are all invasive species that dominate the understory of our properties. When I shared with the interns that these species can outcompete native plants for resources, our interns were inspired to remove as much of the invasives as possible. We began by cutting down four Burning Bush trees that bordered our trail.
The interns worked together to get experience with each of the tools and they created brush piles to promote an ecosystem for smaller animals and insects. We also pulled Garlic Mustard from the ground as we walked through the property.
After lunch, we shifted our focus towards water bars. In steep areas of our trails, we install water bars to divert runoff after storms. This maintains the trails and prevents erosion! Our intern Ben went around removing build-up along existing water bars.
Vivi and Jake used a pick-axe and shovel to dig an area for a new water bar to be placed, and Alex S. and Alex H. sawed a dead cedar to fit the shape of the channel Vivi and Jake made. Together, we installed a water bar that will divert run off into a small stream within the property. Activities like this maintain the accessibility of our trail, and we are thrilled with the final product! To end the day, I gave the interns journals. At the beginning of each week, I ask them a question and give them the opportunity to reflect on their answer. This week’s question is “Why does open space matter?” I hope that over the next few days the interns feel confident sharing their opinions on this topic and use the information they learn to inform their opinions.
Normally, Tuesdays would be spent all day at Waveny Park, but the weather forced us indoors for the first half of the day. Our interns met at our 58 Pine Street office and were tasked with organizing sections of our property files. As a nonprofit organization, the work New Canaan Land Trust performs at the office is just as necessary as the work we perform outdoors. We discussed the importance of record keeping and establishing an organized filing system. As we worked, our interns learned about property deeds and parcel mapping. It was a great opportunity for our interns to see a different side of the land trust! After lunch, we were able to move to Waveny Park and hike through the trails.
While we were there, we continued to work on our plant ID skills and we discussed the importance of the different habitats, such as woodlands and meadows, found throughout New Canaan’s open spaces.
On Wednesday, we met at the Livingston-Higley Preserve at the end of Apple Tree Lane. We were fortunate enough to start our day speaking with Rich Whitehead of Hutchinson Tree Care Specialists, Inc.
Rich shared the importance of native trees with our interns, and he also emphasized the importance of invasive species management. We discussed emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) and its effect on ash trees, which almost all of the interns have identified on their own property. We also learned how to properly shape and prune young trees, which ultimately helps them both structurally and developmentally.
We are so thankful that Rich volunteered his time to speak with us and pass on so much useful knowledge to our interns. Following Rich’s talk, we began working on the trail at Livingston-Higley, which had become overgrown with invasive species such as burning bush. Each student took turns using tools like the weed whippers, loppers, and hand-saws.
It was great watching all of our interns gain confidence out in the field identifying plant species! We will return to the Livingston-Higley Preserve to open more trail space as the summer progresses.
On Thursday, we had our first full day at Waveny Park! We started our morning working in the meadow clearing invasive Phragmites. Despite the heat and direct sun, all of interns kept a great attitude as they cleared a large portion of Phragmites from the field.
Projects like this are motivating for our interns, because they watch their actions transform the land. What was once an overgrown patch of invasive species is now an area for native flora and fauna to thrive. We moved into the shade and walked through the trail bordering the Merritt Parkway. The interns identified and removed many invasive species, including Japanese Barberry, which had extended into the trail area. Japanese Barberry is an invasive plant that promotes tick populations because of the shade it provides. By removing it, we get to make the trails safer for visitors of Waveny Park.
We finished the day clearing vines and brush from the stone wall along Lapham Road. I used this opportunity to speak about past land use in the area. Stone walls are a feature seen across the New England landscape, and are often associated with land that has been historically used for agriculture. Many of the stone walls have been abandoned and, overtime, have lost much of their structure. Over the course of the session, we hope to rebuild sections of the historic stone walls across New Canaan open spaces!
We started Friday at the Firefly Sanctuary located along Sleepy Hollow Road. I wanted to have the interns sweep through the property because on July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, we will be hosting our guided firefly tours on the property. We also used this as an opportunity to discuss how each NCLT property serves a unique purpose. We compared and contrasted the FIrefly Sanctuary to the Watson-Symington Preserve, which our interns got to visit on Monday. At the Firefly Sanctuary, we try our best to maintain the wooded, wet habitat that allows the fireflies to thrive. By doing this, we sacrifice some of the aesthetic of the property. The down trees and invasive species may not look pretty, but they are necessary features for the survival of the firefly larvae. Watson-Symington, however, is one of our most used properties. We work hard to keep the ~40 acres of land as neat and accessible as possible, so that all members of the community have an easy time hiking the trails. These two properties showcase the balance that NCLT strives to provide for our open spaces across New Canaan. We value wildlife conservation, accessibility, and aesthetics, which can all be observed across the ~400 acres of land we preserve! After some quick touch-ups at the Firefly Sanctuary, we moved on to complete some work at Hicks Meadow along Silvermine Road. Our interns from the NCHS Senior Internship program pruned some of the misshapen cedars in Hicks Meadow to promote better growth. The session 1 interns continued this project and tackled the left side of the meadow. We wanted to limb the bottom of the cedars so that once a year, our mower could get underneath the branches and cut back invasive species and vines. If left unmanaged, vines would climb up the cedars and weigh down their branches, ultimately causing the top of the trees to snap. Check out some of these pictures below to see the amazing transformation for these cedars!
We finished the day by writing a weekly reflection in our journals. In the beginning of the week, I asked each of our interns, “why does open space matter?” After all the lessons learned this week, the interns all had a new perspective on the importance of open space.
We really gravitated towards a phrase that Rich Whitehead said to us on Wednesday. Rich said, “the trees do not have a voice, so we have to speak for the trees.” I believe all of our interns see stewardship as the opportunity to give back and protect the environment, and we are all so excited to continue to learn more and protect more land!
Overall, our first week was a massive success! I cannot wait to get to know and work with our interns over the next three weeks. While this time will go by quickly, I hope that every day they learn valuable lessons about land stewardship and conservation!
This upcoming week will follow a slightly different schedule given the Fourth of July holiday. All scheduled plans are tentative and dependent on weather conditions:
Monday (07/01)- work on NCLT property (exact place to be determined)
Tuesday (07/02)– work at Waveny Park property
Wednesday (07/03)– Field trip
- Start our day at Highstead, a nonprofit organization located in Redding, CT, that manages 100+ acres and associated trail systems.
- Midday we will visit Wildlife in Crisis, a volunteer run, non-profit,
organization located in Weston, CT, dedicated to wildlife preservation and land conservation.
- We will finish our day at the Norwalk River Valley Trail for a group hike!
Thursday (07/04)– Holiday: no work
Friday (07/05)– Holiday: no work
For questions or comments regarding our Summer Steward Internship program, or any of our Summer programming, please email [email protected]. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@NC_Land_Trust) for more updates!