Stewardship isn’t all fun and games…

Notes from our work crews: Great turnout on a perfect weather day for the second to last day in November! Eleven volunteers all showed up at the Sheep Farm at 1:00 to do a final mowing and fall cleanup.  After finishing up the Sheep Farm in about 35 minutes the team split up, with a few of us going to The Merritt Family Forest and the rest to Avery Farm Nature Preserve, North.  The Merritt was done by 2:00 and everybody reconvened at Avery Farm.  We had 4 mowers going, weed whackers, pole saws, hedge trimmers and everything was all cleaned up by 3:00.  All three sites are done for the rest of the fall and winter.

Finally, the remaining debris from a previous work party at BeBee Cove was loaded into the back of my truck and got it to the dump by 4:00.   Very, very productive day.  Remaining work will be cleaning up tree damage from the storms.  Apparently, according to scouts, there is massive damage in the far back of Avery Farm.  It’s possible that we could get a NCRS grant to clean it up and build habitat piles.

Almost all winter equipment prep is done. The the tires have been taken off of the storage trailer, the built in jack supports lowered, (this trailer was a high quality acquisition!) and we finished the job in less than 30 minutes.One volunteer suggested we might be able to qualify for the over 65 NASCAR pit crew test!  Stewardship love enthusiasm, but I think that might be a stretch…

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2017 National Land Trust Alliance Excellence Award, All-Volunteer category

The National Land Trust Alliance Rally in Denver, Colorado,was attended this October by ten GOSA members in support of receipt of the 2017 National Land Trust Alliance Excellence Award in the All-Volunteer category. This prestigious honor was accepted, on behalf of all GOSA members and donors, by Joan Smith and Sidney Van Zandt. Individuals paid their own travel and hotel expenses in order to participate in the award ceremony, workshops and field trips.

Sidney Van Zandt, Vice President, and Joan Smith, President, accepted the 2017 National Land Trust Alliance Excellence Award in the All-Volunteer category during a welcoming dinner before 2000 participants. After a double Jumbotron debut of the three-minute video produced last summer by LTA photographer DJ Glisson, Sidney and Joan were given exactly two minutes to speak. Sidney, the second speaker, read aloud the “WRAP IT UP” warning, eliciting appreciative laughter, and arrived at a heartfelt conclusion. The audience was with us.

Joan posited that GOSA would not have been successful alone, citing appreciation of Amy Paterson and the Connecticut Land Conservation Council’s mentorship in governance and professionalism; appreciation of fiscal sponsorship by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association during the “Save the Haley Farm” campaign; and appreciation for the critical bridge loan by the Conservation Fund, which enabled GOSA to purchase the Sheep Farm just fifteen days before the option would have expired.

Sidney and Joan cited challenges faced by GOSA over 50 years: the planning commissioner who believed that grey-haired ladies could not manage a problematic property, and the Life Magazine articles describing “Battles Won” about Haley Farm and Bluff Point State Parks.

Joan and Sidney were dubbed the “feisty women” for the remainder of the Rally. GOSA made 2000 new friends and helped put Connecticut Land Trusts on the map, overcoming the differences in scale, funding and professional staffing found in many other parts of the country.


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A word from the President, Oct. 2017

GOSA News Update October 2017GOSA has good news to share! More open spaces have been created for you and your family to enjoy! The Candlewood Hill State Wildlife Management Area was created in March 2017, and the new Beebe Cove Vista created in September 2017, joined with GOSA’s other open space projects and properties.

Candlewood Hill State Wildlife Management Area is a 201-acre property formerly owned by the Tilcon Corp. and is situated between I-95, Gold Star Highway, Flanders Road, and North Road in Groton. State rules of use for wildlife management areas will apply, and a management plan, parking, mapping, and trail marking is under development. The site is open to the public but is currently unmarked.  We recommend contacting GOSA for up to date information about access, parking, trails, and tours. GOSA raised contributing funds and has a contract to provide stewardship services.

Why is Candlewood Hill WMA special? The rugged bedrock ridges, cliffs, ravines, hollows, shrubby swamps, vernal pools, streams, and historic granite quarries provide scenic passive recreational opportunities for all. The 44-acre pitch pine barren atop the ridge is one of Connecticut’s 13 most imperiled ecosystems and both are wonderful to see and to smell. Candlewood Hill was historically named after its resin-rich and inflammable pitch pine. Knotholes used to be burned for lighting, and the resin was used for shipbuilding, waterproofing, and pine tar soap.

Beebe Cove Vista was generously donated by the Fredrick and Robert Anderson families to protect the views of Beebe Cove for public enjoyment. It consists of four small parcels along the edge of Beebe Cove and Elm Street in Noank/Groton. While only .56 acres, Beebe Cove packs a big visual punch from its grassy strip next to a popular bicycle, jogging and walking route and sidewalk. The vista includes blue waters, a small marsh with egrets and other wading birds, an osprey nest, migratory ducks, racing sculls and small craft. Please be respectful of private lots and docks next to the Beebe Cove Vista parcels. We thank Frederick and Robert Anderson for their generous donation of the property.

Your participation is the key to this small all-volunteer organization do big things!

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Effects of Drought on Habitat Restoration Projects

The keyword this past summer for GOSA stewardship volunteers has been rain, or unfortunately, the lack thereof. According to the U. S. Drought Monitor, as of early October, nearly all of Connecticut (98%) is experiencing “severe drought” conditions. Perhaps you have heard that the dry conditions have led to a high level of fire danger and that the wells of many homeowners are running dry.

What you may not have heard is how an organization like GOSA is affected by drought conditions. Beginning in the fall of 2014, and most recently this past spring, GOSA planted hundreds of native grasses, shrubs and trees in selected areas of its Candlewood Ridge and Avery Farm Nature Preserve properties to restore habitat for at-risk wildlife including the New England cottontail. These plants depend on regular rainfall and the dry summers of 2015 and 2016 have meant that GOSA volunteers have had to think quickly and creatively to find a way to water the plants. Firetruck photo at left: Thanks to Fire Chief Derek Fauntleroy and Nathan Shank of the Center Groton Fire Department for their deliveries of water to fill our pools.

Pool photo: GOSA volunteers watering bucket by bucket the nearly 1000 plants installed with funding from of the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Long Island Sound Futures Fund and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

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Edith Fairgrieve


GOSA Founders

(l. to r.) Edith Fairgrieve, Priscilla Pratt, Sidney Van Zandt and Omar Allvord, at the GOSA annual meeting Oct. 12, 2006, in the Latham Chester Store, Noank, where they were honored for pioneering contributions to land conservation in Groton.

Edith Fairgrieve, a former GOSA director and one of four beloved pioneers of the Groton land conservation movement, passed away on August 4. A memorial service was held in her honor on Sept. 12 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mystic. Click here for more information about Edith’s conservation work with GOSA and beyond. An obituary was published in The Day on Aug. 17th.

Photo, left to right: Edith Fairgrieve, Priscilla Pratt, Sidney Van Zandt and Omar Allvord, at the GOSA Annual Meeting Oct. 12, 2006, in the Latham Chester Store, Noank, where they were honored for pioneering contributions to land conservation in Groton.

GOSA’s president, Joan Smith shared the following with GOSA’s Board of Directors:
It is sad to see the passing of one of GOSA’s earliest and stalwart members. As Jim Furlong once said, Edith had a moral compass of “true north.” Her legacy lives on in many of GOSA’s principles and projects. She made especially generous contributions to the acquisition of Avery Farm and to the Mystic Woods appeal. We admired her quiet but firm defense of the environment.

Click here to read more about Edith and her work in defense of the environment, including Sidney Van Zandt’s “Remembrance” from the memorial service.

Sidney Van Zandt’s “Remembrance” on Edith Fairgrieve

The following was written by Jim Furlong, former GOSA director, in remembrance of Edith…
This line… is pure Edith:

“Resident opposition, culminating in arrests on the day construction began, was insufficient to deal with a divided community backed up by the political clout of road builders and commercial interests favoring the Connector.”

In my earlier note to Joan, I think I failed to get to Edith’s essence as a GOSA member. Here’s another try:

Though she spoke quietly, Edith was a hard-nosed and uncompromising advocate for the environment. She was fiercely independent and took strong stands against contractors and town planners.  She would not think of tempering her positions in advance in order to avoid disputes. She put GOSA’s case as strongly as possible with the aim of winning the maximum protection for the animals, woods and waters she loved.

Cheers, Jim

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Shifting the Mosaic: Creating Early Successional Habitat to Conserve Species by Syma Ebbin 3.29.16

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Why does GOSA cut down trees?

There are a variety of reasons why you may see GOSA volunteers or contractors hired by GOSA removing and/or cutting down trees. The key reason for this activity is that over the past century, many shrublands and young forests across the Northeast have been cleared for development or have grown into mature forests. As this shrubby habitat has disappeared from much of the landscape, the populations of more than 65 songbirds, mammals, reptiles, pollinators, and other wildlife that depend on it have fallen alarmingly.

Trees Cut Down as Part of Habitat Improvement Programs

 Protecting native species and the habitats in which they occur is an objective of a number of federal and state agencies and entities including the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP), the U.S. Fish & Wldlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), and The UConn Department of Forestry. Private landowners like GOSA* receive grant monies and/or expertise to create these increasingly scarce habitats.  Our team of volunteers (please join us!) works tirelessly following the WHIP, CT DEEP, UConn Department of Forestry or NFWF work plans to restore meadows, encourage shrubby habitat, improve  streamside  corridors, and remove countless invasive species.

Some very recent and exciting news (January 2016) is that The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced a proposal to establish a Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge dedicated to managing shrubland habitat for wildlife and connecting existing conservation areas (including GOSA properties) in southeastern New London and western Litchfield. The agency has identified nine areas in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island as well.**

The Merritt Family Forest WHIP, a three-year plan to restore a former meadow area, was completed in 2011. The fields are now alive with birds and other key species. The five-year, 21-acre Sheep Farm restoration was completed in 2015. Eight dilapidated structures were removed and the ground planted with native grasses, shrubs, and flowers.  Old fields were cleared of invasive species and seeded with native grasses and flowers (image above).  The Fort Hill Brook corridor and five acres of a new forest have undergone selective tree cutting to allow light for shrubby habitat. If you take the red trail at the top of the Sheep Farm you can see where we have cut about two acres of trees.  The previously dominant and now removed black birch does not resprout; the maples do and have become shrubby areas where birds can nest and other species can take cover. About 50 at-risk species benefit from this new habitat.  The Greenbriar is thriving as are many highbush blueberry and other species.

Cutting down trees is part of early successional habitat restoration projects supported by the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.  Trees are cut close to the base ( see coppicing** diagram at left) so that mature forest with little habitat value can become open shrubby areas with high habitat value (see drawing below). Habitat restoration programs are currently underway at Candlewood Ridge and Avery Farm, involving 31 acres or 8 percent of the 400 + acres protected by GOSA in the area.

To learn more about habitat improvement at Candlewood Ridge in the fall of 2014, please click here to read an article from our fall-2014 newsletter titled “Moonscape Transformed at Candlewood Ridge.” Click here to read an article from our spring-2016 newsletter titled “Shifting the Mosaic: Creating Early Successional Habitat to Conserve Species” by Syma Ebbin.

Trees Downed by Storm Activity/ or to Remove Invasive Tree Species

In 2012, GOSA cut down and chipped several large invasive Norway maple trees located at the entrance to the Sheep Farm because they were damaged by Hurricane Irene. Since we had all the equipment there, we decided to cut down the remaining invasive maples and add them to the chipping production.  The by-product of the downed trees can be arranged to make a habitat brush pile or we just leave it where it is; both provide good habitat.  Other trees were cut along Fort Hill Brook to give light so shrubs could grow and provide food for insects and birds.

Hurricane Sandy brought down quite a few branches and trees on GOSA and GOSA-managed properties in its wake as well.  Using funds provided by FEMA, downed trees were removed and in their place new native trees and shrubs preferred by native birds and insects were planted.

We hope that this post and the hyperlinked resources it provides will help to clarify why you have seen GOSA engaging in activities that seem counterproductive at best. Unquestionably, these logging activities are causing some short-term pain…but for long-term gain. Please contact GOSA at if you would like to speak with a member of our Board of Directors about your concerns.

Before and after habitat restoration pictures pending.

*Many people are surprised to learn that 90% of Connecticut’s forest land belongs not to the state or federal government, but to individuals and families. Federal and state programs recognize the importance of these private forest owners by providing them with information, education, and technical assistance in managing their forest land.

**Coppicing is an English term for a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level.

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Life Growing Up on a Farm: A Conversation with Judy Weber, Owner of Avery Farm By Liz Raisbeck

Judy Weber’s Life Growing Up on Avery Farm

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Saving A 300-Year-Old Colonial Settlement Site In Connecticut by Reggie Hall

Through our Land Conservation Loan Program, we were able to step in quickly to help GOSA save this one-of-a-kind place. “Our organization faced a tight deadline on the Sheep Farm acquisition,” says Joan Smith, GOSA president. “Without timely cash, our real estate option on this property would have lapsed.”

The Sheep Farm includes remnants of agricultural and industrial operations, including an early 18th-century grist mill along Fort Hill Brook, as well as the historic Samuel Edgecomb House. Edgecomb’s son is said to have fended off British troops during the Revolutionary War by hurling 18-pound shots, with his fists, over the walls of Fort Griswold in Groton.

Today, the property’s mountain laurel forest, meadows, and wetlands provide ideal habitat for a wide array of plant, bird, amphibian and other species.  The site’s 10-foot waterfall on Fort Hill Brook — the highest waterfall in the town — forms a natural barrier to migrating fish, with the exception of the American eel, which can scale the rock wall. Fort Hill Brook flows onward from the farm to Mumford Cove, which feeds the Long Island Sound. The Sheep Farm will be open to the public for some recreation and will serve as an outdoor classroom, bringing history, nature, and community together as it has for ages.

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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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