Monday, September 21, 2020

Embracing Changes

By Beth Sullivan

This time of year always seems to sneak up on me, and the changes catch me by surprise. One would guess after all these years I would be better at remembering, anticipating, and preparing.

Of course in our early years we always knew school was coming, and that marked the change. We got ready by buying pencil boxes and new crayons. Later it was binders and notebooks and calculators.   Then we had our own kids, and we were again buying those same things. The seasonal changes seemed to blend into the expected activity.

Over the years I have also gotten used to hearing the school buses go by, but I mark my seasonal changes by watching the birds and plants and thinking about family birthdays all clustered at this time of year.    Some things don’t change, but it seems like everything else has.   When I think of the changes, I can get really depressed, but I have decided to try  to pay attention to the positive, to try and remember the good in people and the consistency in nature, even in the face of change.

A little bit of dirt never hurt anyone.

Allow your inner child a chance to have a little fun, too.



Almost exactly six years ago I wrote a blog dedicated to my first grandchild, Emerson. I couldn’t wait to be his nature teacher (not that his parents couldn’t do it!).  In the following years we have done everything I hoped and more. We have explored woods, played in brooks, walked and talked about all sorts of things from insects and birds and mushrooms to the magic of acorns.  When he was two, we discovered “birdies on the phone”, the Audubon Bird ID app. How much fun we had learning the birds and their sounds.   Never doubt that the lessons learned at an early age can last a lifetime. He still knows his way around that app better than I do.

Two years ago we welcomed a granddaughter, Ava.  From day one, or maybe two, we walked outside.  The best way to soothe a crying infant, and let a tired mom get some rest, was to bring her out to see the sky and trees and feel the breeze.  A favorite place was under a maple tree where we could watch the leaves move and see the play of light through them.  That summer was a good summer to be outside. This little girl learned early about animals of all sizes - dogs, goats and even horses. She is comfortable out in nature, and even enjoys pointing out ‘buggies’ where her bright little eyes find them. She will run barefoot over any kind of surface, hop in puddles with glee, and keeps her mom busy with laundry and trying to match socks she has discarded along the way.  Her first word, or command, was “OUTSIDE!”  and is still tops on her vocabulary list.

Now we have a third grandchild, Clara. She is almost one. Such a wonderful age.  Of course every age is wonderful.   She is following in the footsteps of her brother, literally, as she is learning to climb and explore. She, too, has a fondness for leaves, rocks, acorns, and water.   She knows how to use a few words of sign language and ‘birdie’ is one of her favorites. She can spot them high and hear them from afar. 

Yes, things have changed. I can’t be with my little ones as much as I would like. But we can still communicate, share treasures, photos, and adventures.   Being close to children now is so important; they are such sponges for information and needy for opportunities to connect and learn.   They are also fonts of joy and hope. 

Emerson now can teach Clara all the secrets he has learned.

Independence, self confidence, and joy are all possible outdoors when you are six.

Learning to be with animals is a gift that will last a lifetime.


Go outside with children

As the season changes, the children especially will need ways to stretch away from computers, to get rid of masks for a bit if possible.  Adopt a child to nurture, or at the very least, adopt a childlike nature for yourself, and take some time to stop the speeding madness and take in the true beauty of this time of year.   Embrace the changes as they arise, and do your very best to begin an outward ripple of positivity and hope.  Kids do that without even thinking. 

OUTSIDE! is where Ava wants to be.

Sometimes I feel like this when I am outdoors.

Why bother with toys when a leaf is just perfect.


Photographs by Beth Sullivan and her family.

Monday, September 7, 2020



This spring and summer I had the pleasure and great good fortune to work with Chris Arrotti, a recent UConn graduate. As a summer intern with the UConn program Climate Corps, he helped me scientifically and logically sort out a lot of options and directions for our planning for the Hoffman Preserve. He has created a super management proposal that will be reviewed by our stewardship team and added to the Hoffman Management Plan going forward. It will ultimately be available on our website. Enjoy his report. With young adults like Chris, succeeding even during this time of upheaval and change, standing ready to confront the future and whatever challenges it holds, I have hope.



Hi! My name is Chris Arrotti, and I’m a recent graduate from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in biology. When exposed to the different facets within biology, I learned I had an affinity for ecology and conservation, the branch of biology which studies organisms' relationship to one another, their physical surroundings, and preserving these relationships. I think my passion for the subject accrued given the current circumstances on Earth: humans have altered the planet in such substantial ways to the point where there is an environmental crisis. I feel very lucky to be passionate about something that will be arguably one of the most important frontiers in my lifetime. In the past few months, I’ve learned about the difference between school work and employment, both the challenges and freedoms that come with each, and the necessity for resilience in nature and life.


When I had started my project on Avalonia’s Hoffman Preserve, I was a senior during the Spring 2020 semester. Numerous courses painted a bleak picture of the realities of conservation: limited funding, limited resources, and most importantly limited time. We were taught to ponder questions of triage, choosing between species x or species y and how you go about justifying such an answer. Or what makes one environment more of a priority than the next for conservation efforts: productivity, number of species, uniqueness of habitat. There isn’t exactly a clear-cut answer to many of these predicaments, nor is there a very storied history of conservation which can tell us which the best way is to go about addressing these problems. One philosophy that was consistently suggested was adaptive management. Adaptive management is essentially a set of guidelines one uses to make management decisions when faced with uncertainty. This is a process general enough to be repeated when new conflicts arise and specific enough to tailor it to certain circumstances.


A patch cut that was bare is now regenerating, one step at a time.

Chestnuts have succumbed to blight for over a century, yet regrow from their bases.

A young hemlock grows in the shelter of an old birch tree.

Assisted Migration

During January, I had taken a walk through Hoffman Preserve’s patch cuts. The patch cuts, as a good portion of the preserve in general, were barren: compact dark soil, no vegetation, and silhouettes of sickly grey trees outlining the outskirts. I was told many of the trees were diseased and unhealthy conditions led to these acre-sized vacancies. I started to feel as if I likely wouldn’t have an impact here. I had limited knowledge of forest ecology, and the landscape did not look able-bodied enough to harbor life. However, in the lack of growth I saw an opportunity for something that was unprecedented at Hoffman: assisted migration. Assisted migration is the idea of moving southern native species into northern areas to make the environment more resilient to projected changes in climate. With the vacant areas of the preserve I thought it would be an ideal place to attempt to translocate some southern species.

As I continued to work on the project, I learned about the issues that led Hoffman to where it is now and what the managers planned to do going forward. Hoffman Evergreen Preserve, as the name suggests, was a preserve for evergreen trees. However, early management practices led to an overcrowding of planted evergreens. Ultimately, this created areas of densely populated, unhealthy trees that shaded out any light underneath, disallowing the establishment of any understory. The intense monoculture limited biodiversity and was a mediocre habitat for animals that used it. For that reason, patch cuts were made; trees would be logged and harvested throughout the park. However, removing the trees and transporting them out of the preserve also created large skid trails.


Resilience will have a chance when the sun reaches the forest floor.

Lush new growth on a hemlock in response to more light.

Hope for a warmer future. A southern species of pine.


Come late March, a pandemic had swept across the world and I was out of school. Among the stresses a pandemic brings alone, the abstractness of online classes was a difficult transition, and I found my management plan was harder to write. I think everybody can attest to the grueling mental grind quarantine put us through worrying if you were sick, the impatience of wanting normalcy, and never having experienced a rapid change such as this one.

But I write this now in August, and it feels like March was a decade ago. And it looks like it, too. Yes, people are still wearing masks, but there’s this palpable plasticity in society where I feel as though normalcy is within reach. For better or worse, I’ve adapted to the house-workplace and feel as though if I were to be under these circumstances again, I’d be better prepared. Moreover, Hoffman’s plants have bounced back with a vibrancy I didn’t think was possible. Three of the five patches are covered in a lush-green. Plants have managed to thrive in one of the driest and hottest summers in Connecticut's history without the help of people. I’ve even gone on to see some of the southern native species I recommended get planted on the site. Sometimes, the future seems unimaginably bleak. But it’s important to recognize the necessity and importance of resilience and your ability to adapt in the face of change.
A stump sprouting maple is also resilience.


The next generation steward. Photograph by J. Alexander.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Ready for a fun challenge?

By Beth Sullivan

It is really only the middle portion of summer if you go by the calendar, which has Sept 20th more or less as the first day of Autumn.  But if you go by the meteorological calendar, with June, July and August considered summer, or if you are a child or parent, thinking about school, the summer is definitely winding down. It surely has been an unusual summer for so many reasons, and as the heat and drought continue, it doesn’t feel like we are ready to change gears. While many of us need to think about a school plan, which is causing understandable angst, there is still plenty of time to get out, to relax a bit, and explore the outdoors. Maybe we will need it now even more.  Hopefully it will cool down just enough to do some quality hiking.   This is where we come in. 

You never know where a trail will take you, until you travel it

A New Preserve

While everyone has been out looking for new places to hike, Avalonia has added several new preserves, and stewards have been busy caring for existing trails and creating others on the new properties.  The one that has caused so much excitement is the TriTown Forest Preserve. It has been open to the public for a while now, and many people have hiked it and reported back that it is AMAZING. Check the Preserve page on the website to see some of the photos for yourself.  Better yet, go for a visit. There are many loops, varied habitats, lots of wildlife, and some challenges for those who look for that kind of hiking. 

 In 2018, the TriTown Forest Preserve, which is a gorgeous 527 acre property in North Stonington, Griswold, and Preston, was acquired by the Avalonia Land Conservancy through a generous loan of $877,000 from the Conservation Fund.  The TriTown Forest Preserve was our largest acquisition ever and is considered a regional treasure.  We currently owe approximately $100,000 on the Conservation Fund Loan, which is due on March 20, 2021. Raising big amounts of money has always been a challenge. Our business is nature. Most of us hate fundraising.  But we now have a wonderful resource in Terri Eickel, who is our Director of Development and Programs, and she knows how to put the FUN in fund raising. 


On several preserves, you may discover some interesting history

At the TriTown Preserve, you get more of a vertical challenge. Photograph by Carl Tjerandsen.

At the Preston Nature Preserve you can stop and meditate.

Great Avalonia Trail Trek

 Join us for the Great Avalonia Trail Trek, a week-long fundraiser to support Avalonia's efforts to conserve land, protect watersheds, and address the climate crisis. From Saturday, October 17 to Sunday, October 25, 2020, you will have the opportunity to hike or run all of Avalonia's trails, or bike to your favorite Avalonia preserve, all to benefit the Avalonia Land Conservancy and the TriTown Forest Preserve. To participate, just visit the Great Avalonia Trail Trek and register for the activity that you would like to do. You can form a team, join a team, or go solo.  Registration is $30 for adults and $10 for kids – registration fees are tax-deductible and support Avalonia.  Once you are registered, you will automatically receive a personal fundraising page that you can personalize and e-mail to friends and family members so that they can support you with tax-deductible donations. 

More info can be found on our TriTown fundraising website or by e-mailing Terri Eickel at 

While the proceeds of this event will go first to pay off the mortgage on this beautiful property,  the ultimate goal of this soon-to-be-annual event will be to support future acquisitions and stewardship. Because we cannot have large, in-person events, the usual fund raising plans need to be re-imagined. But how hard is it to imagine being able to hike your favorite places. Or find some new ones. Or run, or bike, or possibly paddle as many as you would like, and still be raising money for a great mission. All on your own time frame.

So summer may technically be coming to an end, but there are still so many summer  things to see and do. We will all still need the respite we can find outdoors. As the days shorten and temperatures  begin to cool, plan to get out and get into shape, so you can rise to the Avalonia Trail Trek challenge this fall and help us burn the mortgage papers for the beautiful TriTown Preserve.  


Sometimes you can get a glimpse of wildlife from a trail.


Sometimes you just have to make a decision.

There are hidden places to be found at Hoffman, TriTown, Teffweald, and others.


There may be distractions along the easy walk at Dodge Paddock.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.