Do You Want To Know A Secret?

I thought I knew every place in town.

I’ve shown long-time Westporters the undiscovered treasures of Compo Cove.  I can point out the hidden teeny-tiny town-owned parcels off Beachside Avenue and Saugatuck Shores.

But until last weekend, I’d never set foot in Haskins Preserve.

In fact, I’d never even heard of it.

Minutes after discovering it, the 16-acre park off Green Acre Lane — itself a quiet, lovely road off South Compo — became one of my favorite spots in Westport.

One of the two ponds, with an island birds love.

It’s an astonishing place — woods, meadows, 2 ponds, dams, and a spectacular assortment of rare trees — made even more so by its history, and its anonymity.

Anonymity first.  Haskins Preserve is administered by the Aspetuck Land Trust.  For 45 years, this organization has preserved open space and natural resources here and in surrounding towns.  They don’t toot their own horn, so you’d never know they manage 7 preserves, salt marshes and arboretums in Westport.

As for history, head back to Caryl and Edna Haskins.  A noted scientist, author, inventor, philanthropist, government advisor and pioneering entomologist in the study of ant biology (!), Caryl died in 2001 at 93.

Edna was a scientist too, at a time when few women entered the field.  Her research encompassed diagnostics explosives and alkalimetal hydrides — and ant biology too.  She died in 2000, age 88.

The bulk of their $15 million estate went to the Carnegie Institution.  But they left their 22-acre Green Acre Lane estate to Aspetuck — with the stipulation that a portion be sold to generate funds to create a nature preserve — and the result is a true Westport gem.

Scott Smith, on a misty afternoon.

It took 3 years to create the park.  The home is gone; so is what by all accounts was a phenomenal greenhouse.  But after extensive landscaping, restoration of many trees, and clearing of the grounds and ponds, the preserve opened in October 2005.

Very, very quietly.

In topography it’s similar to Winslow Park — not unusual, as it’s only a mile or so from there.  Like Winslow, it’s got paved paths, walking trails, a bowl, benches, woods, meadows and dogs.

Unlike Winslow, it’s got 2 ponds, a stream, a cistern, 2 enormous boulders, and very few visitors.

It also feels much more intimate — and natural.  Close your eyes, open again, and you could easily be in Vermont.

To its regulars, Haskins Preserve is a year-round delight.  There’s skating in the winter, fishing in the summer, bird-watching with the seasons.

And always, the trees.

Dogwoods and daffodils -- what a combination.

Fifty are labeled — larch, Southern red oak, white oak, black oak, tulip poplar, willow, white ash, birch, beech, mulberry, ginkgo, American elm.

Many were brought back by the Haskinses themselves, from their world travels.  Some are almost extinct.

There are rows and rows of flowers too.  Last week, the daffodils were spectacular.

Of course, not many Westporters saw them.  They didn’t know about the Haskins Preserve.

Now you do.

Ssssshhhh…keep it to yourself!

More daffodils!

9 responses to “Do You Want To Know A Secret?

  1. Catherine Burnett

    Thank you for letting us in on the secret. Your description is lush and I look forward to quietly visiting. And leaving only footsteps behind.

  2. Linda Gramatky Smith

    Ken and I had a “tour” of the Haskins Preserve three years ago by Donald Snook, who had been the Tree Warden in Westport for many years. I was as mesmerized as you, Dan, by the beauty of this land and the education I got from reading the names on the trees and from the enthusiasm of Don’s love of this property.

    If you see a huge house across the street (it was on the WHS house tour a few years ago), know that the sale of THAT property provided the funds to keep Haskins Preserve maintained for the future. Thank you, Caryl and Edna, for your gift to our town.

  3. Dan,
    You opened your mouth, well you know what I mean. I live down the street from the park and we visit it 5 times a week. The kids love the trails! and we do skate there in the winter. I recommend it to everybody!

  4. I favorite hangout as a kid growing up on Over Rock Lane when you could roam all over the place as long as you were home in time for dinner.

  5. Not a Stepford

    The Aspetuck Land Trust is offering a hike to view the trees at Haskin Perserve on Saturday, May 14.
    Let’s hope this hidden gem doesn’t become another dog park. During a walk at Trout Brook Valley two weeks ago, the longtime warden of the land when it belonged to the water company said there are no more animals left in the preserve because the dogs scared them all away.

  6. I remember the blue glow of the grow lights from the greenhouse at night thru the woods near our neighborhood. I always wondered what happened to them…

  7. It is a gem. Bring on the dogs!

  8. Wendy Crowther

    I was fortunate enough to have a tour of the house and outbuildings before they were torn down. It was amazing to see the drawings and slides of all sorts of ants that Mr. Haskins had archived in his home/study area. Apparently, even the Aspetuck Land Trust had no idea that he had left this property to them in his will. It came as a welcome surprise. We owe Mr. Haskins and the ALT a huge debt of gratitude.

  9. Nature lover

    Haskins is a gem and Westport is extremely lucky to have such a beautiful place to visit. Please enjoy, but leave no footprint. The Aspetuck Land Trust owns and manages over 1,700 acres in 4 towns, Weston, Westport, Fairfield and Easton. It is easy to help support the work of the land trust in maintaining the properties and future acquisition of land. Consider becoming a member.