Monday, January 13, 2014

A Good Steward

By Beth Sullivan
Sometimes people make special connections to a certain piece of land. Maybe they live near by, maybe it is a favorite place to hike, maybe there is a historical tie to the property. Something draws them to a place, and they choose to devote time and effort and offer TLC to a favorite preserve.
The trail head
Our friend RB is one of those people. His family has ties, very close ones indeed, to the White Cedar Swamp and Deans Mill Preserves, accessed off Jerry Brown Rd. in Mystic. RB grew up on these lands as years ago his family owned a large farm, most of which is north of I-95. The Deans Mill Preserve is that portion of his childhood farmland that was cut off from the rest and is south of the interstate.
RB has taken us through those preserves and lovingly pointed out the historic features, walls, bar-ways, old roads, areas where trees were harvested and a lovely fresh spring. The area boasts ledges, bald rock faces underfoot, and some spectacular peeks over the Deans Mill/Aquarion Reservoir.
A stone bench waits for winter hikers.
One of the unique features of the area, is a rare, White Cedar swamp. Atlantic White Cedars grow in wet, acidic boggy areas. The plant community is quite rare this far south in CT. Over the last years RB noticed that the area was changing. The cedars were dying out; there were no new seedlings coming along to replace the old ones, and the entire ecosystem was evolving. Red Maple and Black Birch trees were growing into the sunny openings. They are rapid growers and quickly invaded and crowded the Cedars which cannot compete.
The boggy pond is frozen over.
Preservation and conservation are interesting concepts. They don’t always mean just letting nature take her course. Stewardship is where Avalonia makes decisions about the best way to manage and help preserve special habitats. Knowing that we would certainly lose the central gem of this preserve without some action, RB engaged on a personal mission to save the White Cedar Swamp. Over the last several years he has begun to cut down many of the smaller sapling Maples and Black Birch. He has also thinned out many of the larger ones to reopen the area to the sun that the Cedars need to thrive. Some of the larger trees have been girdled- a process that cuts around the tree into the bark. It ultimately will kill the tree but the tree remains standing as a snag, roost site and habitat for insects and birds.
Mature White Cedars
RB also transplanted seedling White Cedars from elsewhere in the preserve, back into the areas that were lacking, thus giving Mother Nature a jump start on the restoration of the swamp population.
A White Cedar seedling

Nature takes her time. Having a steward like RB gives her a boost and a gentle nudge in the direction we hope will be the most valuable for wildlife and overall habitat.
Small cones and scales of green mark a White Cedar in place of needles and large cones of other conifers.
A recent walk on a winter’s day gave us lovely looks of the swamp, the rock faces of ledge and trail which was slick with ice but with moss and lichen still visible. The stone bench overlooking the pond was covered with snow. We noted seedling cedars standing up bravely in the cold. With the opened up canopy and more sunlight, they will certainly grow quickly and continue the line of White Cedars in the Swamp.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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