Tag Archives: Caryl Haskins

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.)

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!