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.
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.
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.
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!