Tag Archives: Earthplace

An Evergreen Grows In Westport

First, it was natural land: wooded, a bit wet.

Then it was cleared for farming. Eventually, nature took over again.

Stone walls show that this wooded land was used long ago for farming.

In 1959, Lillian Wadsworth sold 12 acres to the town of Westport — for $1. The year before, she’d given 62 acres to the fledgling Mid-Fairfield County Youth Museum. The organization later changed its name — first to the Nature Center, then to Earthplace.

A philanthropist, artist and sculptor, Wadsworth was active in the Westport Garden Club, Westport Library, and various preservation and horticutural organizations. 

The Board of Education considered the site — bordered by Stonybrook Road and Woodside Lane — for a school. Residents of the quiet neighborhood objected.

Eventually, the town designated the 12 acres for passive recreation.

The Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum is called “Stony Brook Rd property” on this Google Maps Earth view. Earthplace is at top.

About 20 years ago, the town explored selling the site to a developer. Nearby resident Dick Fincher and town attorney Stan Atwood helped scuttle that plan.

In 2009, a micro-burst felled hundreds of trees. They sat, rotting, for several years.

In 2014 Fincher and Lou Mall got 1st Selectman Jim Marpe interested in the site. When tree warden Bruce Lindsay saw it, he immediately recognized its potential.

With a $50,000 urban forestry grant — and hundreds of volunteer hours — a few trails were cut. Fincher and neighbor John Howe played key roles, and saved a beautiful Norway maple.

Dick Fincher, at the entrance to the Wadsworth Arboretum (corner of Stoneybrook Road and Woodside Lane).

A Norway maple at the Wadsworth Arboretum. The teepee nearby was built by students.

Since then, volunteer restoration efforts have continued. The land was given an official name: The Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.

Now Fincher and Stein — both members of Westport’s Tree Board — are kicking the project into high gear. The Board has formed a non-profit — Westport Evergreen — to solicit foundation, corporate, civic group and individual funding to manage, maintain and improve open spaces throughout town.

The start of the Eloise Ray trail, on Stonybrook Road. Eloise Ray was a noted landscape architect.

In addition to the Wadsworth Arboretum, Westport Evergreen has done preliminary work at Baron’s South, the 32-acre wooded site between South Compo and Imperial Avenue.

So far, 40% of the Wadsworth site work has been completed. Dangerous deadfalls and invasives were removed; a trail plan has been established, and several trails added. Specimen vegetation has been planted, signage installed, and benches and tables were made by Stein from salvaged wood.

Dick Stein made this bench from salvaged wood. Lou Mall invited fellow RTM members here for a picnic.

Clearing the massive amount of underbrush is “not a job for amateurs,” says Dick Fincher.

Dick Fincher stands on a bridge built earlier this summer by Lou Mall, Dick Stein and tree warden Bruce Lindsay.

Dead creepers line a Wadswworth Arboretum trail.

Still ahead: a visitors’ information kiosk, 3- or 4-car parking area, and path along the Stonybrook perimeter.

A visitors’ kiosk will be built here. All the wood comes from the Wadsworth Arboretum site.

Westport Evergreen hopes to organize work days with groups like the Boys Scouts, Staples’ Service League of Boys, and Rotary and garden clubs.

One of the trails already cut at the Wadsworth Arboretum. Many have been created by students.

Last year, several Staples senior interns and members of Mike Aitkenhead’s environmental studies classes worked at the Arboretum.

Westport Evergreen seeks contributions to the general fund, or for planting a tree or purchasing a bench. Email blindsay@westportct.gov, or write Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum, c/o Tree Warden, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

When funding is completed, this rock will bear a plaque saying “Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.”

In the meantime, wander over to the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum. It’s open 365 days a year.

And it’s free.

That’s priceless.

Finding The UN At Earthplace Camp

Every jUNe Day, Westport hosts hundreds of guests from around the world.

As you walk along Compo Beach, you hear dozens of languages.

For Jaime Bairaktaris, his “Westport United Nations” moment comes at Earthplace.

The 2016 Staples High School graduate has worked for several seasons as an Earthplace summer counselor. Previously, he was a camper there himself.

Every year, Jaime is impressed at the number of international visiting campers. They come from China, Spain, Germany, Singapore, England and everywhere else. They’re all ages too.

He and the kids climb trees, run through the brook, build stick shelters, have mud fights, swim and canoe down the Saugatuck River.

“No matter where they’re from, we all realize the nature sanctuary doesn’t have a language,” Jaime says.

Last week was extra special. In his group of 5 youngsters, only 1 — Andres — was from Westport.

Andres’ cousin is from Chile. Sofie lives in New York. Liv and Adam come from Paris.

The world comes to Earthplace. On the right is camp co-director Becky Newman.

Jaime relied on “Spanish for Dummies,” “French for Dummies” and Google Translate. He’d switch in mid-sentence from one language to another, without missing a beat.

But, he says, “these kids, without fail, form a connection. They communicate with each other. They start to play. They figure out how to work together.”

As always, children adapt — often better than their parents. One family signed up for just one day at camp. By the afternoon their child was talking excitedly about tomorrow. The parents quickly enrolled for the whole week.

“Our goal is to get them to a level where they’re comfortable and feel safe, by simply showing them they have nothing to worry about — that we don’t have words in English to describe the things we’ll be doing, so it doesn’t matter anyway,” Jaime explains.

The children quickly surpass that basic level of comfort. They mimic his voice, words and hand motions, especially as he counts down from 3 or tells them to quiet down.

“We use handshakes, fist bumps, pinky swears, hugs and a lot of facial expression when we need to explain something,” Jaime says. There are also plenty of high fives, smiles and Charades.

If things get confusing they laugh, grab his iPhone for Google Translate — then laugh some more at the “universal” emojis.

Once, Jaime pointed to words on his phone to show a young boy that they were going to a pond. His sister yelled at Jaime — in French — that he could not yet read. “Whoops!” Jaime laughs.

The Earthplace camp gang. (Photos/Jaime Bairaktaris)

For the counselor, the interactions between campers are his favorite parts.

“There’s nothing better than watching 6-year-olds sit down, build a perfect Lego house — sharing pieces, adjusting them — and then realize after 10 minutes that they didn’t even know they spoke different languages,” he says.

“Most kids truly have no clue there’s a language barrier. And when they do, they just keep playing.”

Some things need no talking. One child extends a hand to another, as they climb a tree. Together, they run over to show Jaime a frog they’ve caught.

“I think something of major importance happens here,” Jaime notes.

“In a world where screen time and organization is so prevalent, nature still teaches us how to be just human beings before we become students, athletes or artists.”

Earthplace’s “unscheduled” schedule is “whatever we want it to be. And whatever it turns out to be, we’re okay with. It’s a level playing field that binds them together, by making them equals.

“If an adult goes into the woods and sees a dead log, we see a dead log. They see a seesaw, and build one. Instead of watching a video about how tadpoles transform into frogs, they catch them — and see what’s happening.

“They can’t bury their head in their phone or rely on a computer to socialize. It’s all done outside, by themselves, and it works out just fine.”

Jaime loves that the Earthplace camp celebrates getting outside, and going with the flow.

And, he emphasizes, “we don’t even need to speak the same language when we do it. At the end of the day, we’re the same people.”

There are no words to describe how great that is.

Pic Of The Day #81

Earthplace campers enjoy today’s downpour. (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

SLOBs Take Over Westport

If you drove around Westport today, you may have noticed an unusual number of high school boys weeding, planting, mulching, painting, cleaning and picking up garbage.

What a bunch of SLOBs.

That’s the great acronym for Staples’ Service League Of Boys. One of the most popular clubs at the high school, it’s a way for boys — and their parents — to join together in community service.

Today — during the group’s 8th annual Service Sunday — SLOBs contributed over 600 hours of work. They also donated $5,000 in supplies and goods, to get their work done.

Staples seniors Brendan Massoud, Thomas Moy and Elliott Poulley (rear) work at Earthplace.

Among the job sites: Wakeman Town Farm, Camp Mahackeno, Earthplace, A Better Chance of Westport Glendarcy House, Staples High and the Bridgeport Community Garden.

More SLOBs action this time at Wakeman Town Farm — from today’s Service Sunday.

Meanwhile, inside Staples, SLOBs created a library for the K-8 Luiz Munoz Marin School in Bridgeport. Members contributed over 800 books, which they catalogued today.

They also assembled healthy snack bags for Read School students. For some youngsters, that’s much of the food they eat on weekends.

SLOB’s service day is big. But the boys do plenty throughout the year too. Since September they’ve volunteered at over 70 community events, here and in neighboring towns — providing over 3,800 hours of service.

Our SLOBs are pretty neat!

Service League of Boys members and parents pose for a photo. Soon it was back to work.

Happy GreenDay!

Looking for a way to welcome spring, honor the environment, and do cool, important things with family and friends?

You’re in luck!

GreenDay is this Saturday (April 29). In just 5 years, the event — created by Staples High School’s Club Green — has become a low-key but very fun Westport-wide celebration.

You can choose from:

8:30-10 a.m. Clean-up Greens Farms train station and Riverside Park. Both events are sponsored by the Westport Beautification Committee.

10 a.m. Family Trail Run at Earthplace. Trail run/walk options for all ages and abilities, from a 100-yard dash to 2 miles. Cost: $25 per adult, $15 per child, $75 maximum. Proceeds benefit Earthplace’s community education programs.

10 a.m. Tour Westport’s wastewater treatment plantSee how sewage turns into clean water. Location: 4 Elaine Road, off Compo Road South, between I-95 and the railroad tracks.

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Fun and learning with nature at EarthplaceEarthplace naturalists, Wakeman Town Farm animals, Westport Library storytellers and the new Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum join forces. Experience and explore the natural world through hands-on science activities, and nature arts and crafts. Cost: $5/person.

12-3 p.m. Westport Tree Board gives away native saplings at Earthplace. Members will also direct visitors on tours of the Arboretum, and conduct a free raffle. The winner receives a wooden bench, handmade from black locust wood harvested on the property by Tree Board member Dick Stein.

2 p.m. Rally for the environment at Earthplace. Bring or make your own signs (materials provided), to celebrate science and nature.

3 p.m. Hydroponics at the Westport Library. Watch a hydroponic system being built. Learn how it helps grow a healthy food system.

Get your green on!

(For more GreenDay information, click here.)

Earthplace “Wish List” Aids Animals After Fire

Firefighters saved nearly 50 animals during last Friday’s Earthplace fire. The only loss was a gray tree frog.

However, the popular nature and environmental center needs a number of items, ranging from a rabbit house and terrarium to falconry anklets and animal care products.

The public can help. Click here for a full “wish list.”

In other Earthplace fire news, officials have determined the cause: spontaneous combustion involving a linseed oil-soaked rag, left after refinishing work the previous day.

How The Earthplace Garden Grows

Like the perennial plants that bloom, then disappear there, the native garden in the Earthplace atrium has cycled through periods of growth and dormancy.

Designed in 1960 by Eloise Ray — a noted landscape architect — at what was then called the Mid-Fairfield County Youth Museum, the handsome garden was filled with indigenous species.

Eloise Ray, in the natural garden she conceived and designed.

Eloise Ray, in the native garden she conceived and designed.

Over the years — as the name changed to the Nature Center — the garden became a favorite spot. A bronze statue and bench added to its serenity.

In 1977, the Greens Farms Garden Club took over maintenance. They continued until 2011, when the board of trustees changed the courtyard focus. For a few years, the garden fell into disuse.

But in the fall of 2015, the garden club revived it. They weeded vigorously. Working from Ray’s original blueprints, they planted 17 new shrubs, and 42 native plants. Last year, they added 12 more perennials.

Greens Farms Garden Club members (from left) Ann Watkins, Barbara Harman, Wynn Herrmann, Rivers Teske and Donnie Nader take a rare break from their Earthplace work.

Greens Farms Garden Club members (from left) Ann Watkins, Barbara Harman, Wynn Herrmann, Rivers Teske and Donnie Nader take a rare break at Earthplace.

Today the garden is once again a delight. It supports local wildlife like grey tree frogs. Honeybees pollinate the flora. Birds and butterflies abound.

Staff and visitors love it. And, says Greens Farms Garden Club past president Wynn Hermann, members and Earthplace employees enjoy a “wonderful partnership.”

Earthplace's atrium garden blooms again.

Earthplace’s atrium garden blooms again.

On Saturday, March 11, guests will gather there for a Garden Party Gala. There’s great food and music, plus an auction. It’s a fundraiser for Earthplace’s education programs.

The theme of the evening is “Help Our Garden Grow.”

Which makes perfect sense. Whether it’s flowers or the environmental awareness of children, Earthplace plants seeds, nurtures and grows.

(The Garden Party Gala is set for 7-11 p.m. on Saturday, March 11. For information and tickets, click here.)

 

[OPINION] After Election, Let Kids Be Kids

Many “06880” readers reacted viscerally on Sunday to Drew Coyne’s “06880” story. The beloved and talented Staples High School social studies teacher described his reaction to last week’s presidential election, adding insights into what it meant for teenagers in his classroom.

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Among those reacting to Drew’s reaction was Jaime Bairaktaris. The community-minded 2016 Staples grad has been highlighted here before. Among other things, he was an Earthplace volunteer and EMT. Last spring he traveled to Italy to work with youngsters from a disadvantaged Naples neighborhood.

Now he’s a Sacred Heart University freshman. He’s still a Westport EMT, still works at Earthplace, and is also an EMT for Easton (working the midnight to 6 a.m. shift).

And Jaime helps supervise elementary school students during lunch in a nearby town. He passes along these insights into today’s kids, a few days after one of the most polarizing elections in American history.


  • Trump’s gonna build a huge wall and keep all the bad guys out!
  • Clinton lies too much. I don’t trust her. She killed too many people!
  • Trump’s gonna kick all of the immigrants out. Where will they go?
  • She’s kind of an old lady.
  • He looks like an angry orange.
  • Mr. B, you CAN’T vote for them. Promise me you won’t!

It’s confusing to hear these things come out of tiny mouths, on the playground or between bites of pizza.

I broke up verbal arguments between students. They climbed over tables or stood on their toes, trying to subdue their opponent.

But the aftermath does the real damage. When the argument is over students are left angry, anxious and frightened. Nothing upset me more than a crying child. One was legitimately fearful they would have to leave the country. Another cried because they could not understand why their classmate did not see what they saw in a candidate.

It’s eerily similar to what some adults feel now. But these are children.

clinton-and-trump-debate

The 2016 election was one of the most polarizing in history.

I know that children should have some exposure to the election process. In today’s world, we have no choice. But when they recite Fox or CNN sound bites, it’s time to stop and let them be kids.

Parents need to teach the process not as if 2 things are up against each other, but rather 2 people.

Kids understand that being mean to other people is wrong. But when a news outlet — or parent — bashes a candidate, a child becomes confused. After a while though, that bashing becomes normal and okay. After all, Mom, Dad or the TV did it.

A child can’t distinguish between a candidate on television or a book buddy in class. That’s where problems start.

I’ve seen what overexposure to “adult topics” can do to a child. I have not found anything good about it yet.

It’s our job to lead by example, be kind to all others, and personify anyone you speak about.

He is a father, a husband, a son. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter. Start there, and build up when talking about someone.

Just let kids be kids.

Happy 100th, Margaret Barnett!

Today is Margaret Barnett’s birthday. She’s 100 years young.

Margaret and her husband Roy — a pathologist — arrived in Westport in 1954. They wanted a bigger house than the one in Norwalk, for their growing family.

The couple raised 3 children — John, Edith and Teddy — here. Margaret was very active in the Norwalk Symphony, Earthplace and the Democratic Women of Westport.

She played tennis — quite well — through her 70s.

Happy birthday, to a woman who has given this town so much, for so many years!

Margaret Barnett, at her 95th birthday.

Margaret Barnett, at her 95th birthday.

Peter Boyd: Local Net Zero Can Impact The World

It’s an ambitious goal: Westport wants to be “net zero” by 2050.

By mid-century we hope to produce or purchase as much renewable energy as we use; minimize energy use in the first place through efficiency measures, and handle our water and waste in sustainable, resilient ways.

Westport’s Green Task Force leads the charge. It’s a local response to a global problem.

That approach fits perfectly with the life Peter Boyd leads.

Peter Boyd

Peter Boyd

Formerly the COO of the Carbon War Room — helping businesses reduce carbon emissions at the gigaton scale —  last fall Boyd advised a non-profit group of business leaders on their net-zero initiative leading up to the Paris Climate Conference.

He just launched a consulting firm called Time4Good, and serves as an executive fellow at Yale’s Center for Business and the Environment.

But he’s also a Scotsman who — after living in South Africa, London and Washington DC — moved to Westport 2 years ago, with his wife and 6-week-old baby.

Green Task ForceAlmost immediately, Boyd joined the Green Task Force. Earthplace tapped him for its board of trustees.

Boyd believes that local actions can have enormous impacts on our beleaguered planet.

“We’re raising our family here,” he says. “2050 is not far away. I’ll be 70. My kids will be early- to middle-age. They’ll make life choices then the same way I do now.”

As he looks around Westport — his new home town — Boyd sees big houses, big cars, and people driving 50 yards down the road to meet their children’s buses (which stop less than every 50 yards).

But he also sees “opportunities to make better quality-of-life choices.”

One example: electric vehicles.

A fleet of them drove by after his recent Green Day talk at the Westport Library.

“They’re better cars than what we have now, and they’re more fun to drive,” Boyd says.

“(Second selectman) Avi Kaner’s Tesla is fast and sexy. It’s a car you can really show off.”

Boyd notes, “I don’t have a Tesla budget. But my Prius is incredibly cheap to lease.”

Robin Tauck (center) lent selectmen Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner (left) her 2 electric vehicles last year. Kaner liked driving it so much, he bought this Tesla P35D model. It goes from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds -- not that anyone does that on local roads. On the right is Westport Electric Car Club president Leo Cirino.

Robin Tauck (center) lent selectmen Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner (left) her 2 electric vehicles a while ago. Kaner liked driving it so much, he bought this Tesla P35D model. It goes from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds — not that anyone does that on local roads. On the right is Westport Electric Car Club president Leo Cirino.

That’s the “secret to a lot of climate change choices,” Boyd says. “Doing things better than before, so we can have a quieter, less polluted town.”

Another example: Boyd sees Westport homeowners install geothermal and solar systems. Their electric bills are “tiny,” he says — “and they’ve got clean, wonderful homes.” Weatherizing and insulating also pays enormous dividends.

He stresses that NetZero 2050 is not about “moving to communal houses and taking all public transport.” Rather, it involves working at the town level, in personal ways.

He says passionately, “They’re way more impactful than we think.”