Tag Archives: Aspetuck Land Trust

Photo Challenge #244

Whenever I post a photo of a bucolic, water-rippling-over-boulders, looks-like-Vermont-but-it’s-actually-Westport shot, the default response is: the Saugatuck, River, at Ford Road.

Sure, that’s one of Westport’s most beautiful, underrated spots.

But it’s not the only one.

Last week’s Photo Challenge showed a scene that readers thought was Ford Road. (Click here to see.) In fact, it was Newman Poses Preserve. The river is the Aspetuck.

Leigh Gage was first with the correct answer. Seth Schachter, Jonathan McClure and Alice Ely followed soon.

This hidden gem — located off Bayberry Lane and Easton Road — is the only public memorial approved by the family of the late Paul Newman as a way to honor the actor/philanthropist/race car driver/popcorn and salad dressing king. He lived nearby, and donated much of the land for the preserve.

The parcel also includes land sold to the town by Lillian Poses, a neighbor and friend of the Newmans. She worked on the New Deal in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, and was one of the first female graduates of NYU Law School.

Newman Poses Preserve is managed by the Aspetuck Land Trust. For more information, click here.

This week’s Photo Challenge is also wonderfully scenic. If you know where in Westport you’d see this — and everyone here has — click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Bear Necessities

Last year, there were 2,251 bear sightings in Connecticut. As many as 700 adult and cub bears live in the state. Residents spotted 3,249 bobacats too.

That’s a big change from a century ago. According to Dr. Tracy Rittenhouse, by the late 1800s, almost all forest here had been logged for agriculture, fuel and construction.

Bears, bobcats and deer were rare.

But forests grow back. And — with strong laws also regulating hunting — large animals have habitats in which they thrive.

Dr. Tracy Rittenhouse, and a black bear.

Dr. Rittenhouse should know. She is a wildlife expert, and an associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Connecticut. Her long-term research project examines how black bears have expanded their range to include suburban areas of the state.

Next Wednesday (November 14, 7:30 p.m., Westport Unitarian Church) she’ll speak about bears and other large mammals — specifically, why we see so many more of them these days, and what it means for folks like us.

The talk is part of Aspetuck Land Trust‘s Haskins Lecture Series. Scientists Caryl and Edna Haskins donated their Green Acre Lane estate to the trust in 2002. It’s now a 16-acre preserve, just off South Compo Road.

Caryl Haskins earned renown as an ant biologist.

Bears and bobcats are somewhat larger. But they’re all part of our Westport world.

For anyone hoping to understand our changing town, Wednesday’s talk should be fascinating.

(Dr. Rittenhouse’s talk is open to the public. Admission is free to Aspetuck Land Trust members. A $5 donation is suggested for non-members.)

Staples Interns Explore 3 Generations Of Fun

Back in the day, Staples High School seniors spent the last month before graduation marking time.

Stricken with severe cases of senioritis, with classes essentially over and warm weather beckoning, even the most diligent students checked out.

For nearly a decade though, Staples’ senior internship program has provided an excellent bridge between school and the real world.

Last week, over 450 soon-to-be graduates completed their 4-week internships. They worked for marketing and financial services firms; at Town Hall, the police station and in Westport schools. They helped doctors and lawyers, builders and caterers.

They got a taste of commuting, writing lesson plans, being part of a company team. They learned about punctuality and customer service; how to write business emails, answer the phone and (yes) make coffee.

Ella de Bruijn did her internship at Wakeman Town Farm.

I could highlight any one of 450 interns. But I chose Zach Howard and Alison Lindsey-Noble.

They interned at Aspetuck Land Trust. Part of their work was creating a video.

Together, they interviewed 3 generations of local residents. First, they asked: “What did you do for fun as a kid.”

The grandparent and parent generations talked about being outdoors: fishing, bike riding, playing games, jumping in leaves.

The youngest generation — today’s kids — mentioned video games, computers, watching TV with friends. One talked about rock climbing — the Xbox version, that is.

Asked what they can’t live without, the youngsters said Wi-Fi, technology, cell phones, and TV (“because there’s nothing else to do,” one girl added).

Two boys sitting on a couch playing video games

Zach and Alison then asked the older generations why it’s important for kids to go outside.

“To have a good relationship with the natural world,” one said. “You get a healthy perspective on life in general; how we relate to the environment.” That helps everyone make “good life decisions,” he noted.

The video ends with this message: “Aspetuck Land Trust has 45 trailed preserves available to you.”

Now, hopefully — thanks to Zach and Alison’s internship work — some kids may put down their phones, turn off their Wiis, and take a hike.

Click below to see Zach and Alison’s video.

Jory Teltser Is For The Birds

Jory Teltser is one of Westport’s most passionate birdwatchers.

He’s seen over 250 species in this town alone. He’s taken nearly 100,000 photos. He raises money to help keep the Smith Richardson Preserve, a critical habitat for migrating birds.

And he’s still only a Staples High School junior.

Jory is not just a birder. He plays French horn in the orchestra and band, and this summer will tour Australia with Staples’ elite Orphenians singing group.

But birding — spending hours outdoors, figuring out calls, finding new species, learning everything there is to know about these fantastically varied vertebrates — is what gets him up in the morning.

Often very, very early.

Jory Teltser

Jory’s interest was piqued more than 8 years ago. Tina Green — a photographer and patient of Jory’s internist father — took them both to Sherwood Island. Ten feet away was a saw-whet owl.

“It was the size of a fist, all brown with giant eyes, sitting on a cedar tree staring right at me,” Jory recalls. He was intrigued.

But he did not get serious about the hobby until 4 years ago. Tina took him birdwatching after school, and nearly every weekend. “I saw her more than my parents,” Jory laughs.

Ornithology hooked him for many reasons. The biggest: “It gets me out in nature. I experience things most people never see. It can be relaxing and meditative. It calms you down.”

For a while, Jory admits, he was a stressed-out “serious lister.” He raced all around New England, trying to see as many different species as he could. In middle school and freshman year, he skipped school every couple of months to see a new bird.

A red-breasted merganser (Photo copyright Jory Teltser)

He does that far less often now. The most recent time was early March. The attraction: a varied thrush, in Simsbury. “It was an adult male, with very vibrant colors,” he explains.

But he focuses mainly on Fairfield County. There’s more than enough here to keep him excited.

Jory learns about new species and sightings in several ways. A statewide email listserv has about 1,000 participants. He’s one of 5 high school students (one other is from Staples).

There’s Cornell Ornithology Lab’s eBird database — with customized alerts about species he hasn’t yet seen — and several Facebook groups.

When Jory goes birding, he takes along a serious camera.

Jory is largely self-taught. He’s never read a field guide. But he can identify close to 2,000 species visually, and 1,000 by sound.

Being a musician helps, he notes. “I visualize and internalize notes, pitches, timbres, songs and calls.”

One of Jory’s favorite birding spots is Smith Richardson Preserve. “It’s small, but it might be the premier location in the state,” he says.

On May 12 he’ll raise funds for that site on Westport’s eastern border by taking part in the World Series of Birding. For the 3rd straight year he and 3 teammates (one is from Staples) will travel to Cape May County, New Jersey. Starting at midnight, they’ll spend the next 24 hours tallying as many species as possible, by sight or sound. Sponsors pledge money based on the total.

Last year Jory’s group — the Darth Waders — identified 162 species. That placed them 2nd out of more than 100 teams — beating out even traditional champion Cornell.

Common loon. Cockenoe Island is in the background. (Photo copyright Jory Teltser)

Jory also loves Sherwood Island. “We’re so lucky to have a state park in Westport,” he says. Over the past 60 years, more than 300 species have been seen there. That makes it one of the top 100 birding locations in the entire country — despite not being on an open ocean flight path.

Trout Brook Preserve in Weston is another favorite place. Jory calls it “a runway for birds.”

His favorite bird is the red-breasted nuthatch. It’s small and woodpecker-like, with a blue beak and white eyeline. Its migratory pattern, call, behavior and plumage all intrigue Jory.

Not many teenagers are so taken with anything. He may mention to a friend that he got up at “a godforsaken hour” that morning, but doesn’t often talk about it. When he brings friends along, they generally like the hiking and outdoor aspect. But many don’t have his patience, or ability to weather both the physical and mental stress of birding.

Jory has found plenty of friends in the Connecticut Young Birders Club. He’s in the front row, far left.

Jory is undeterred. He loves what he does. And he looks forward to continuing his work with the Aspetuck Land Trust (he’s on their land management subcommittee).

He may not pursue ornithology as a career. He’s considering science, particularly molecular biology.

But he’ll continue to look for — and listen to — the next species. There are 10,000 in the world.

(To donate to Jory’s World Series of Birding Smith Richardson project, click here. To see some of Jory’s many photos, click here.]

Scott Smith Discovers Westport’s Hidden Gems

Scott Smith is an alert “06880” reader, a longtime Westporter and an ardent outdoorsman. He writes:

If you ask Westporters to comment on our community’s natural charms, chances are most would cite the dazzling string of beaches and coastal places: Compo Beach, Sherwood Mill Pond, Gray’s Creek and Burying Hill. If pressed, they might claims Sherwood Island too.

Others would tout the Saugatuck River, from the fly fishing shallows along Ford Road to the impoundment of Lees Pond, and the tidal stretch through town leading to the mouth at Longshore and Cedar Point. Cockenoe Island gets a shout-out, too, especially from those with the nautical means to visit it.

Fishing off Ford Road (Photo/Richard Wiese)

But plenty of other places across Westport beguile with bucolic beauty. Many of these underappreciated open spaces are in the midst of a welcome renaissance, sparked by renovation efforts from those who love and tend them.

I’m talking about the town parks, preserves, land trusts and wildlife sanctuaries that constitute our remaining inland open spaces. Over the past year or two, I’ve visited quite a few. I always come away thinking how fortunate we are to be able to trod upon them.

“06880” has covered these developments over time, noting singular efforts and improvements. But if you step back and tally them all up, it’s quite an impressive list, covering virtually every part of town.

Over in Old Hill there’s the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum. I toured it a couple of seasons ago with its caretakers, including Lou Mall and tree warden Bruce Lindsay. They’re spearheading its transformation from an untended patch of blow-downs and invasive vines to a fetching enhancement to the adjacent Earthplace facility.

Dead creepers line a Wadswworth Arboretum trail.

Coleytown has the Newman Poses Preserve, which affords a wonderful walk through meadows along the Saugatuck stream and through upland woods. Having the memory of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and their family as you traipse along is a nice bonus. Their neighbors — and the Aspetuck Land Trust — get credit for giving us that open space.

Right near downtown there’s the blossoming of long-neglected Baron’s South, another town-led reclamation project with even brighter prospects in store as a nature-driven arts campus.

A path in Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

And just down Compo, off Greenacre Road, is the hidden gem of the Haskins Preserve, my longtime favorite place for a weekend stroll.

Haskins Preserve’s dogwoods and daffodils — a lovely combination.

I have “06680” to thank for cluing me in to my newest place to take a hike: the Smith Richardson Preserve in Greens Farms. I’ve long known about the 2 parcels north of I-95. The Christmas tree farm off Sasco Creek Road is where I chop down a tree every year. I consider it in part my annual donation to the Connecticut Audubon Society, which manages the farm and the open space across the road.

But I had no idea of the separate property just across 95, a 36-acre parcel stretching from Sasco Creek all the way to the playing fields behind Greens Farms Academy off Beachside Avenue.

I walked it the other day, taking advantage of frozen ground to course through fields that are in the midst of being cleared of smothering vines and other invasive species.

It’s an impressive project, even if the space is hard by the highway and Metro-North rails. Hemmed in by neighboring houses big and small, and what looks to be a refuse depot managed by the railroad or state, the area has the look of a pocket-size Central Park in the making, with Olmstedian trails that wind through woods, and alongside meadows and ponds. I can’t wait to see how the property develops, with its ambitious new plantings and clearings, and whether the caretaking crews can keep the tick-haven invasives at bay.

Smith Richardson Preserve (Photo/Scott Smith)

These public/private corners of our community are all discovered places, at least for me. When I visit them, either with my dog or solo, I’m often the only one around. I like the solitude, and question why I’d even want to spread the word about them. Parking is often a pinch, and I’m not even sure about the proper access to the new Smith Richardson preserve behind GFA’s sprawling athletic fields.

But these largely hidden local natural spaces deserve recognition, and our support for the groups that manage them — the town, Aspetuck Land Trust, and the Connecticut Audubon Society — whether by check or volunteer hand.

Separately and together, they all make Westport a wonderful place to live and to explore.

Photo Challenge #129

It’s a medium-size playground for little kids, with a big name.

Last week’s photo challenge showed wooden climbing structures, in a wooded clearing. (Click here for the image.)

Ten alert readers knew this hidden gem is on Weston Road, just north of Ford Road (next to Bridgewater Associates’ headquarters).

Called the Leonard Schine Preserve and Children’s Natural Playground, it’s part of the Aspetuck Land Trust’s vast, wonderful holdings. To find out more, click here(But sssshhhh! It’s our little secret!)

Congratulations to Joan Tricarico, Evan Stein, Fran White, Julie Fatherley, Stan Skowronski, Bob Fatherley, Rachel Polin, Grady Flinn (just 9 years old!), Alexandra Wiberg and David Brant.

This week’s photo challenge has 2 parts:

  • What is this, and
  • Where in Westport can you find it?

If you know, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #72

Last week’s tranquil-looking photo challenge was”sort of” easy.

A number of readers “kind of” placed it in the general area of Ford Road/the Glendinning office building (now Bridgewater headquarters). Props to Tom Reed, Eileen Lavigne Flug, Jill Turner Odice, Nancy Hunter Wilson, Richard Stein, Wendy Cusick, Jeff Giannone and Tom Wall.

No one actually said that Peter Tulupman’s shot was of the Leonard Schine Preserve. It’s a wonderful spot — apparently hidden from many. Learn more: http://www.aspetucklandtrust.org/17116.

This week’s photo challenge is our 1st-ever 2-fer. It’s important to see both the big picture —

Oh my 06880 1 - May 15, 2016

— and the plaque:

Oh my 06880 2 - May 15, 2016

This week’s photo challenge comes courtesy of Bob Weingarten. He’s best known for photographing old homes for the Westport Historical Society — but he couldn’t resist these shots.

If you know where you’d see this scene, click “Comments” below.

“Tails, Trails And Tales”: Etiquette For Dogs (And Their Owners)

Haskins Preserve is going to the dogs.

Literally.

The 16-acre park off Green Acre Lane — itself a quiet, lovely road off South Compo — is an astonishing place. Filled with woods, meadows, 2 ponds, dams, and a spectacular assortment of rare trees, it’s one of Westport’s most wonderful little gems.

It’s beloved by nature lovers. Walkers. And — in this dog-crazy town — dog owners.

Haskins Preserve's dogwoods and daffodils -- a lovely combination.

Haskins Preserve’s dogwoods and daffodils — a lovely combination.

The latter group does not always treat the preserve well. I’ve posted 2 stories in the past 3 years about dog issues. One described bags of poop left on a sign requesting owners to remove waste. The other was about mounting mounds of doo left all over the beautiful property.

That crappy problem is now worse than ever. There are also reports of out-of-control dogs threatening wildlife — it’s a nature preserve, not a park — as well as other dogs, even people.

Ground nesting birds can be chased from their nests by free-running dogs — on purpose, or inadvertently. If it happens often, birds won’t return to the nest.

And dogs looking to refresh themselves with a harmless jump into a forest pool can silt it up, destroying egg larvae from salamanders and frogs. That, of course, affects many other types of interconnected wildlife.

Aspetuck

A hard-to-believe scene at Haskins Preserve.

Aspetuck Land Trust — the non-profit organization that maintains Haskins, as well as many other open spaces in Westport, Weston, Fairfield and Easton — is not rolling over and playing dead.

This Saturday (May 7, 10 a.m.-noon), they’re sponsoring a free, open-to-the-public class in dog and dog owner etiquette.

“Tails, Trails and Tales” will be conducted as a hike. Connecticut Audubon Society senior director of science and conservation Milan Bull, his dog Edge, and noted dog trainer Jason Hofmann will walk, talk and provide answers to questions you’ve always wondered about: What does a dog sense in the woods? What does a biologist observe? How do we accommodate both, and protect the environment too?

(Interestingly, except for Edge, this is a dog-free event. The hike leaders request no dogs, to avoid chaos.)

Responsible dog owners respect property -- and all animals.

Responsible dog owners respect property — and all animals.

“Tails, Trails and Tales” is limited to 20 people. To RSVP, email administration@aspetucklandtrust.

Parking is available at the preserve, on Green Acre Lane off South Compo.

Which is not to be confused with Westport’s actual dog park, Winslow, on North Compo.

(To read more about Haskins Preserve, click here.)

Hilla von Rebay: Westport’s Other Baroness

Gabriele von Langendorff — the subject of a recent “06880” story — is not Westport’s only baroness.

Lrt’s not forget Hilla von Rebay.

According to the German website Spiegel, she was “an obsessed patron of art, and the long-time girlfriend of one of the United States’ richest men.”

She also inspired the Guggenheim Museum.

Hilla von Rebay, around 1915.

Hilla von Rebay, around 1915.

Von Rebay was born in Alsace in 1890. Her father was a Prussian general. She attended a private school in Paris, then “dove head first into the bohemian lifestyles of Munich, Berlin, and sometimes Paris, before spending time with the Dadaists in Zurich.” She had “numerous affairs,” including one with Hans Arp.

In 1926, she came to the US. She was soon known as “one of the most powerful but also most eccentric women in the art world.”

She met Solomon Guggenheim — who was 30 years older — and one of America’s wealthiest men. She inspired his interest in art, and advised him on what became his noted and extensive collection,

The pair — with Guggenheim’s “querulous looking wife” — traveled throughout Europe. They met “young and wild” people like Marc Chagall, Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian, and bought hundreds of pieces of art.

Guggenheim and von Rebay rented an apartment at New York’s Plaza Hotel, and put on art exhibits there. They formed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1939, and planned a new building on Central Park.

The baroness was influential in selecting Frank Lloyd Wright (who called her a “superwoman”) to design what became the Guggenheim Museum. It took nearly 2 decades to complete, due to problems with finding a proper site, revisions of plans, and material and labor shortages during and after World War II.

Hilla von Rebay with a model of the proposed Guggenheim Museum, 1946.

Hilla von Rebay with a model of the proposed Guggenheim Museum, 1946.

During the process, von Rebay had a falling-out with the Guggenheim family. “My aunt was a difficult person who liked writing nasty letters,” said her nephew Roland von Rebay. Three years after Guggenheim died in 1949, the family ousted her from the museum’s board of directors.

She was not invited to the opening of the new Upper East Side building in 1959. In fact, she never set foot in it.

That chill thawed in the 2000s. A Guggenheim exhibit showcased “this extremely independent woman.” A book and documentary honored her life and work.

So what’s the Westport connection?

Baroness von Rebay owned an estate at 83 Morningside Drive South, called Franton Court. She bought it in 1937 and retreated there after battling the Guggenheim family, finding solace in her lawns and gardens. Every year, tulips were shipped from the Netherlands.

Hilla von Rebay in Westport in the 1940s, with Rudolf Bauer, Fernand Legerand and others.

Hilla von Rebay in Westport in the 1940s, with Rudolf Bauer, Fernand Legerand and others.

Former Westporter Vivianne Pommier remembers her well. The house was filled with “millions and millions of dollars of art.”

“We would be invited over for lunch or dinner,” Pommier recalls. “She would pull Klees and Kandinskys from behind the toilets. Amazing paintings were crammed into every place possible — on walls, and behind things.”

Hilla von Rebay: a self-portrait.

Hilla von Rebay: a self-portrait.

The Westport Historical Society featured her in a 2005 exhibit. It included her paintings and pochoirs, and works of artists she promoted like Vasily Kandinsky, Rudolph Bauer and Alexander Calder.

Von Rebay died in 1967. She left much of her personal collection to the Guggenheim.

Two acres of her estate — including her home and outbuildings — were sold. Four other acres became building lots.

But 8 1/2 acres of Franton Court are now part of the  Aspetuck Land Trust. Those gardens, specimen trees, wooded wetlands and trails are preserved as a nature and wildlife sanctuary — and are open to the public.

You won’t see any art there. But you will feel connected to one more rich — if long-forgotten — piece of royal Westport history.

Part of the Hilla von Rebay collection.

Part of the Hilla von Rebay Arboretum.

 

Downtown Salt Marsh Threatened By Development

Last Sunday’s photo challenge showed a sign for “Taylortown Salt Marsh.” Though the 3.2- acre preserve sits in the heart of Westport — the Saugatuck River, off Wilton Road and Kings Highway North, opposite the “Fort Apache” medical complex — it’s unknown to many Westporters.

That will change soon.

Tomorrow night (Thursday, January 21, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning and Zoning Commission discusses a proposal for a 45,796-square foot, 5-story, 48-unit apartment building planned for 122 Wilton Road.

122 Wilton Road -- site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building -- sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

122 Wilton Road — site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building — sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

The developer — Garden Homes Management — is using Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Statute. Known as “8-30G,” it allows developers to add “affordable units” that override local zoning regulations, in towns where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is considered affordable.

In this case, 30 percent of the units — numbering 15 — would be “affordable,” as defined by state housing law.

Th3 8-30G regulation was part of a 2014 plan to build 200 apartments on the site of the Westport Inn. First Selectman Jim Marpe and P&Z chair Chip Stephens instead found a local buyer who understood the importance of maintaining the lower-impact inn on that small-footprint, already-crowded stretch of the Post Road.

The Aspetuck Land Trust — which owns the Taylortown tract, and spent the last 3 years saving the marsh from invasive weeds — is not pleased.

An email from the organization warns of negative environmental impacts to the marsh and river, as well as destruction of views of the estuary.

Garden Homes believes that development of the site will not impact the wetlands.

One view of the Taylortown Salt Marsh...

One view of the Taylortown Salt Marsh…

Interestingly, the Aspetuck Land Trust itself is a direct result of a struggle to save the salt marsh from being filled and developed in the 1960s.

Back then, there was no legal protection of tidal marshes. Inland wetlands were thought of as boggy areas to be filled for level building lots, the Trust says.

When Barlow  Cutler-Wotton learned of plans to build a geriatric hospital on the Wilton Road/Kings Highway North corner, she contacted attorney Leonard Schine. He based his case on traffic congestion. The P&Z denied the application.

...and another.

…and another.

Cutler-Wotton went on to form the Aspetuck Land Trust, for Westport and Weston. The Trust buys, or receives as gifts, property that it then preserves in natural states as open space. The organization acquired Taylortown Salt Marsh in 1987.

The Trust will have to work hard now to keep it. 830G is a powerful state statute. It overrides most local rules and regulations — except those related to the environment or safety.

Let Westport’s newest battle begin.

(Tomorrow’s Planning and Zoning Commission evening meeting is open to the public. So is a P&Z field trip tomorrow morning to examine the property. It begins at 8:15 a.m., at 122 Wilton Road.)