Preserving Nature, With Help From Friends

The H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Preserve is a Greens Farms gem.

Straddling the Southport border, it’s actually 3 parcels: a 24-acre Christmas tree farm at the top of Sasco Creek; a 14-acre field habitat across the way, and a 36-acre evergreen plantation by Hedley Farms Road, behind Greens Farms Academy.

It’s a gem because it’s open, and teeming with nature. But for a “preserve,” it wasn’t always well preserved.

Several years ago when Charles Stebbins joined the Connecticut Audubon Society board, the organization surveyed all 19 sanctuaries they managed. The one most in need of restoration: Smith Richardson.

Smith Richardson Preserve, before restoration.

For 3 years, volunteer days in November have drawn dozens of neighbors, friends and board members, plus Staples High School League of Boys and Builders Beyond Borders teenagers. Slowly but methodically they cut vines, cleared brush and cleaned the 14-acre habitat.

With the help of Oliver Nurseries, they planted 100 trees and shrubs — oaks, cedars, pawpaw, black gum, dogwoods, blueberries and holly. They seeded 4 acres with native pollinator flowers and grasses, and built a stone bench.

Regular users — hikers, dog walkers, cross country skiers — helped fund the project.

A few of the many volunteers.

Early last year, the Long Island Sound Futures Fund — which combines money from the US Environmental Protection Agency, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation — awarded $145,780 to the Smith Richardson preserve.

The goal is to restore a coastal forest habitat. Stebbins calls the Greens Farms property one of the few remaining forests along Connecticut’s 100 miles of coastline.

A year from now, the area will be cleared of deadwood and invasive plants. Fields and meadows will be restored — exploding in bloom — and 1,200 trees planted. Professionals are doing much of the work.

One of the many trees being planted at the preserve.

The grant is contingent on $134,047 in matching funds. Neighbors and friends have already contributed generously.

“It’s heartening,” Stebbins says. “Greens Farms and Southport are so built up. To be able to restore this property is a great gift.”

Smith Richardson Preserve is a neighborhood gem.

But this is nature at its best. Everyone is welcome.

21 responses to “Preserving Nature, With Help From Friends

  1. Larry Weisman

    This post gives me an opportunity to mention that, also connected to Sasco Creek and the pond north of the Post Road, (at the corner of Bulkeley Ave. and Sasco Commons), is another preserved space owned by the Aspetuck Land Trust, which Mary-Lou and I donated in memory of our son Peter who died in 1980. (It is identified by a sign as having been establishrd in memory of Peter Benjamin Weisman) Despite the best efforts of the Land Trust, and Bob Fatherly in particular, it is in need of improvement, care and maintenance. Mary-Lou and I have been discussing what we might do to improve its appearance and utility and we would welcome suggestions.

  2. John Hartwell

    Thanks, Dan. I’ve walked this preserve almost daily for nearly fifteen years, and the transformation underway is extraordinary. Unfortunately, public access is not intuitive (I come through the GFA playing fields), and there’s no parking provided at the entrance off Sasco Creek Road. Once the current project is complete I hope there’s some thought given to making it easier for everyone to enjoy.

  3. A great story about another “unsung hero” and a hidden, but vital, gem in our community. Thanks to all for their work in preserving an important keystone of our ecosystem.

    It’s quite something to think about how the coast has lost most of its ecosystem. Reconnecting and reinvigorating these parcels are essential to the plants and animals that we all take for granted.

  4. I grew up on Sasco Creek, before (and after) Mr. Richardson donated the land. Even back then it was a wonderful place to wander with my dogs.

    Dan can you please add a link for donations?

    Elyse Evers, Staples ’74

    • Wendy Crowther

      Hi Elyse. We Crowthers were your next-door-neighbors back in those days. We still remember one of your dogs named Klingzore (spelling??). It’s great to see your name pop up in Dan’s blog now and then. We Crowthers are all doing great and are still in the area. Good times.

      • Lucky you, Wendy! It’s still home to me, although I live in the D.C. Area. And of course I remember you and your family. And I saw the hideous garage added to your beautiful house! Doesn’t Westport restrict anything on historic houses?!?

        • Wendy Crowther

          Elyse, unfortunately there are no restrictions as to what can happen to a historic house unless past or current owners have had it officially designated as a Local Historic Property or it is located in an officially designated Local Historic District. These designations come with considerable protections and can often increase the value of the house or the neighborhood. However, unless the owners are passionate about historic preservation, most of today’s home buyers are more interested in updating or tearing down these great antiques rather than preserving them. Sadly, pieces of Westport’s history are thrown into dumpsters every day.

          • Heartbreaking. I go by my old house every few years and I’m happy to see that the current owner loves it as much as we did. I wrote them a history of our time in the house (including when my dad tore down a wall and found a book of poetry and half a bottle of wine).

            Please give my best to Tracy. I can still imagine her on stage at Staples in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

            • Wendy Crowther

              I’ll make sure Tracey sees your comment.

              Was that book of poetry dated? Your house was originally built by Peter Burr Jennings who was the father of the man who built our house, Henry Burr Jennings. They were both farmers. There were Jennings all over the neighborhood. Later your house was owned by a long time railroad worker – I think his last name was Quinn – it was a perfect house for him given its proximity to the tracks.

              I found great artifacts between the attic rafters in our house, including a series of mystery stories for kids called “The Sleuth” dating back to the 1890s. We also discovered a mural painted on the plaster underneath old wallpaper.

              These houses have such great stories to tell if they can endure today’s tear-down culture. Your old house has survived thanks to its caring owners.

              • It was a paperback copy of Thanatopsis, a poem originally written in the 1800s.

                Mr Quinn was killed on the railroad tracks. His house went to his sister, who couldn’t keep it up. When we bought it, it was a wreck, and everybody in the neighborhood thought it was haunted. We did nothing to dispel that notion; we moved in on Halloween.

                We shouldn’t take over 06880, though are you on Facebook?

                • Wendy Crowther

                  I recall that about Quinn. I’m on FB but limit exposure and use. If you can find me there, send me a private FB message. It would be fun to exchange more. Thanks for indulging us, Dan.

        • Robie Spector

          Is it necessary to be rude online? We are big supporters of the Smith Richardson clean up (and so grateful to the families that donated the land!) Let’s focus our energies on this positive project and leave negative thoughts to ourselves, please.
          The owners of the garage

          • I did not intend to be rude, but perhaps I was. I have a deep love of historic houses in New England. My grandfather was the builder of several along Pequot Road in the late 1800’s, in fact.

            Sasco Creek was where I grew up, and I love every inch of it. As an adult, I also understand that homeownership permits one to change the homes one buys.

            But anyone who fundamentally changes an historic home should, frankly, expect some broken hearts amongst the people who loved it just he way it was. And they should be confident enough in the changes they made to deal with criticism.

  5. I sure do respect the passion, discipline and grit of the people who made this happen. It often takes just a few motivated individuals to move mountains where institutions have failed. Years ago this might have been a template for the restoration of Winslow Park, however, its most pressing challenges have, at this point, grown beyond the effective reach of volunteers.

  6. Wendy Crowther

    The house seen in the lowermost photo (a great 1856 Jennings Family antique) was owned by my family for over 30 years, though it was much smaller during our ownership.

    The Richardson family (from whom we bought the house in the early 1970s) donated these three Sasco Creek Road properties to Audubon shortly after we moved in. These fields became my backyard and neighborhood nature-playgrounds. I loved exploring them and knew every inch of them. I could tell many stories about my adventures there, both found and created.

    The Richardsons had planted all three properties with Christmas trees (to qualify them as farms for the tax relief status this provided). However, over time, their tree planting/harvesting efforts had stopped and the landscape reverted to haphazard growth and opportune, invasive proliferation. Once Audubon took possession, they resumed Christmas Tree farming but only on a portion of one of the parcels. The remainder was left mostly on its own, still valuable as a wildlife and nature habitat, but vulnerable to invasive sprawl.

    I’m so thankful to the Audubon Society, and particularly to Charles Stebbins and the crews of volunteers, for recognizing the need for and the value of rejuvenating these great properties. [Charles, please say hi to your wife who presided at my wedding several years ago]. Your vision and dedication to restore these very special pieces of land are immensely appreciated.

    I might add that these properties are also historically important in the early settling and development of Greens Farms. Highlighting this story could add additional richness and educational value to your work there.

  7. Back in the 70’s we would go there and cut Xmas trees and sell them at the Pack Roads parking area. By the way Jacques Cousteau had offices in there.