Category Archives: Environment

Pics Of The Day #264

A bald eagle visits Gray’s Creek:

(Photos/Paul Greenberg)

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.

Boy Scouts Will Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Sure, yesterday was magical. Christmas is, you know, the “most wonderful time of year.”

But today. Christmas is so yesterday. Boxing Day is for Brits. Us go-getting Americans need to throw away the toys that no longer work. Toss out the leftovers.

And think about getting rid of that big Christmas tree too.

Fortunately, there’s help. At least for that last task.

Boy Scout Troop 39 of Westport will happily pick up your tree. That once beautiful, soon dying and needle-dropping symbol of recent holiday cheer can be disposed of with one simple mouse click.

The big day is Saturday, January 6. This is the 8th year in a row the Scouts are providing the service, so they’ve got the drill down pat. (And it’s a green drill: The trees are recycled as mulch. Last year they collected and chipped enough trees to provide the town with 5 tons of garden mulch!)

Boy Scout Troop 39 to the rescue!

To register, click here. Reservations are limited so — unlike Christmas shopping — don’t delay.

Place your tree by your mailbox by 6:30 a.m. that morning. Then tape an envelope with your donation to your front door.

The suggested donation is $20 per tree (cash or checks made out to “Boy Scout Troop 39” are fine). I’m sure the Scouts would not refuse higher amounts. Funds go toward activities like food drives, community service projects and backpacking trips.

The Boy Scouts are well known for “good turns” like helping old ladies across streets. Bush league. In Westport, they help little old ladies — and strapping young men — dispose of big old Christmas trees.

NOTE: The Scouts can’t accept wreaths or garlands (the wires ruin tree chippers). You’re on your own for those!

Dave Stalling’s Wild Montana Calendar

David Stalling loved the outdoors. Growing up in Westport, he was an avid hiker, camper and fisherman.

After graduating from Staples High School in 1979, he served in a Marine Corps Force Recon unit. He has degrees in forestry and journalism, has worked for several wildlife conservation organizations, served as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation, and is a passionate advocate for conservation. He lives in Missoula.

But Stalling did not take nature photography seriously until he went walking in the woods with his son.

Nearly a decade ago, Cory was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. A severe form of the disease, characterized by rapid muscle degeneration.  Eventually, even involuntary muscles are affected.

Cory and David Stalling

Cory is now 17. When he was 12, and first slowed down, Stalling would walk ahead. He’d sit on a rock or log, and wait for his son.

“I started noticing surrounding details: diverse, smaller, colorful plants; rocks painted with lichen; the geometrical shapes of tree buds; the beautiful, ever-changing arrangements of raindrops, snow, sun, dew shade,” Stalling recalls. “It was the art of nature.”

He surprised himself that — despite a lifetime of roaming the wilds — he’d overlooked such details. Or taken them for granted.

Or didn’t even know they existed.

So Stalling started to capture what he saw with his camera.

“My son taught me to ‘slow down and smell the roses,” he says. “And — while I was at it — to photograph the thorns.”

David Stalling’s photo of a bighorn sheep.

His images are popular. Stalling has won national awards, including a recent 1st-place prize from the National Wildlife Federation. He sells limited-edition prints.

Every December, Stalling combines his love for photographing the wilds with his love for his son. He creates a “Calendar for a Cure,” to raise awareness and funds to find treatments and a cure for Duchenne MD. Besides Cory, the disease afflicts 400,000 people worldwide.

“It’s a genetic, muscular degenerative, fatal disease for which there is currently no cure,” Stalling says.

“But there is hope. A lot of treatments, like the steroid-based medications Cory takes, slow the progression.” Promising clinical trials are underway too.

“I use my photography to focus on hope and beauty, while helping my son and others,” Stalling explains.

Images from David Stalling’s 2018 calendar.

Cory — a high school junior — spends as much time as he can in the beautiful, wild mountains surrounding his home.

And, following in his father’s footsteps — literally and figuratively — he’s a budding photographer too.

(To enjoy 365 days of wild Montana in 2018 — and help Cory and others with Duchenne MD — click here. The calendar costs $19.95)

Photo Challenge #156

Every Westporter knows the Post Road. South Compo. North Avenue.

But not every Westporter knows Greens Farms Road — especially the section near Southport.

That’s a shame. You miss out on beautiful homes. Our “other” railroad station.

And last week’s photo challenge.

Peggy Lehn’s image showed a tree stump, painted to look like a happy face. It’s familiar to anyone taking a right out of the station. Bob Grant, India V. Penney, Jimmy Stablein, Barbara Wanamaker, Seth Schachter and Andrew Colabella all recognized it instantly.

It’s been there for maybe a year — after a tree was cut, or fell down.

Let’s hope it stays forever. (Click here for the photo — or go see it yourself.)

This week’s photo challenge comes courtesy of Ed Simek. If you know where in Westport you’d spot this, click “Comments” below.

Pic Of The Day #247

Saugatuck River, from Grace Salmon Park (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

First Night: Fun Family Tradition Endures

For the past 4 years, Jim Marpe has been a familiar presence at First Night. Westport’s 1st selectman sits happily at Saugatuck Elementary School, welcoming families to the fun, festive New Year’s Eve event.

As he begins his 2nd term, Marpe is not the only selectman volunteering at the turn-the-calendar celebration. Running mate Jen Tooker will belt out karaoke at Seabury Center on Church Lane.

Jim Marpe takes service to a new level. Every December 31, he volunteers at First Night.

Those are just 2 highlights of our 24th annual First Night. The family-friendly, alcohol-free festival has become an integral part of local life. This year it’s stronger than ever — even as other First Nights around the country have faded away.

Westport’s First Night survives because leaders like Marpe and Tooker — and plenty of area residents — value its small-town ambience, relaxed fun and wide range of activities.

Everyone loves the train guy.

No one knows what 2018 holds. But everyone can count on these December 31 activities:

  • Musical performances from Broadway, movies, jazz and the blues — including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mark Naftalin, award-winning pianist Chris Coogan, musical theater great Michele Grace and the School of Rock
  • A hypnotist
  • Train displays
  • Saugatuck School’s Kids Park, with indoor bounce houses, dancing, sing-alongs, balloon twisters, caricatures, a Magic Genie and ventriloquist
  • Horse-drawn carriage rides
  • Theater acts
  • Puppet shows
  • Vaudeville
  • A warming fire
  • Stargazing with the Westport Astronomical Society
  • Family Zumba classes
  • Psychic readings
  • Comedy
  • Magic
  • Fireworks by the river

John Videler’s drone captured 2016’s First Night fireworks over Westport.

Sites include Saugatuck Elementary School, Toquet Hall, the Westport Historical Society, Christ & Holy Trinity Church, Seabury Center, Jesup Green and more.

All performances are within walking distance. Free shuttles run from Jesup Green to Saugatuck Elementary.

First Night kicks off at 3:30 p.m., and runs through 10. Fireworks shoot off at 8 p.m.

All you need is a button. They’re $15 each (kids under 2 are free), available online or at Trader Joe’s, Westport Library, Westport Historical Society, and Westport and Weston Town Halls. They’re also for sale on First Night itself at Town Hall and all venues.

Get yours now. They’re going fast.

Just say Jim Marpe and Jen Tooker sent you.

(For more information, click here.)

Closing The Barn Door On Aquarion’s Water Tanks

Back in the day — before Bridgeport Hydraulic built a water storage facility, and Staples High School moved in across the street — North Avenue was farmland.

A couple of decades ago, the Rippe farm and orchard was replaced by Greystone Farm Lane. Developers tossed a bone to the past, designing parts of some of the houses to look like silos.

Which may provide one solution to a controversy now roiling the road.

Aquarion — Bridgeport Hydraulic’s successor — wants to build 2 water tanks at the site it owns. Their 39-foot height concerns neighbors.

Pete Romano has an idea.

The LandTech principal knew that on Wilton Road at Newtown Turnpike, Aquarion used a facade to “hide” some of its equipment.

The Aquarion facility on Wilton Road.

He asked Peter Wormser — an architect at his engineering firm — to design something similar for North Avenue.

The result: 2 “barns.”

LandTech’s rendering of the barn structures for North Avenue. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

“I know Wilton Road is not as big,” Romano says. “And maybe Aquarion needs access on all 4 sides. But it’s an idea. It might get people talking.”

North Avenue will not go back to apple orchards and onion farms.

But perhaps — even with 2 big pumping stations — it can look that way.

 

Gauging The River Soon Gets Harder

In 2014, an odd contraption appeared on the side of the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

It was a tidal gauge and and storm surge monitor. The US Geological Survey installed it, to help improve the town’s warning, mitigation and prevention capabilities. It was funded entirely by the federal government.

Ruth Steinkraus Cohen river gauge.

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

Extremely alert “06880” reader Thomas Quealy spotted this on USGS website:

Data collection at the following gage [sic] will be discontinued on December 31, 2017 due to funding reductions from partner agencies. Although historic data will remain accessible, no new data will be collected unless one or more new funding partners are found. Users who can contribute funding for the non-Federal share of costs to continue operation of this streamgage [sic] should contact Timothy Sargent at the USGS New England Water Science Center – Connecticut Office (860-291-6754) or email at tcsargen@usgs.gov.

Which “gage” was listed?

You guessed it: “01209510 Saugatuck River at Route 1 at Westport.”

 

This Little Piglet…

Melissa Shapiro and her husband Warren moved to Westport 24 years ago. They’ve got 3 college-aged children, plus many rescued dogs and birds. She is a house call veterinarian, as well as Connecticut representative for the national Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Melissa writes:

Piglet — a deaf, blind pink dachshund/Chihuahua mix — was rescued last year from a hoarding situation in Georgia. So were his mother and 3 littermates.

But Piglet did not do well in his rescue situation. Last March he was sent to Connecticut.

I planned to foster him until he found his forever home. As things happen, that was my home. My family adopted Piglet in May.

Piglet at Compo Beach.

After months of screaming and severe separation anxiety, Piglet finally got into a routine snuggling in his dad’s arms, playing with his dog pack siblings, taking walks down the street, traveling to house calls with me, and visiting the bank, pet stores, and the animal hospital to see his BFFs,

In October, he was a celebrity guest at a Halloween fundraiser for Wolfgang & Company, a Fairfield company that employs special needs young adults to bake and sell dog treats.

Wherever he goes, he creates smiles on the faces of everyone he meets. (He’s even got his own Facebook page — click here!)

But it’s through his YouTube video that Piglet really reaches people.

A 3rd grade teacher in Massachusetts used Piglet’s video to teach her class how his positive mindset helps overcome challenges. Her students were so inspired, they used him as a role model to grow as people. When problems arise at home, kids ask, “What would Piglet do?”

The students sent hand-drawn cards to our family, with messages to Piglet. We were speechless.

Piglet’s fame has spread to Massachusetts.

That’s inspired me. I’ll make a short personalized Piglet greeting for any class or other group that wants to use this video.

But it’s not just kids who love Piglet. On January 27, he’ll be at the Senior Center. We’ll show his YouTube story, and he’ll meet and greet people who stops by.

Everyone is welcome, to see Westport’s own pink celebrity.