Monday, May 16, 2016

Thank you to Connecticut College and Remembering Whit Davis

By Beth Sullivan
I hope you have enjoyed getting insights into the work done by the Connecticut College students. This is our fourth year together, and each year we learn more. We learn what works and what doesn’t, what projects are helpful, and which are most meaningful to the students as well as to Avalonia
I have been amazed at the enthusiasm of these students, and this year has been no exception. We have attacked invasives, and shrubs and stumps and poison ivy. In some cases the poison ivy attacked back. We have uncovered and studied history, which is really exciting. They even raised some funds for Avalonia while spreading the word about our work.

High school to college to Avalonia

We also made some great connections and some of these will continue long after this year’s students have graduated. What wonderful representatives these students were at the Farmer’s Market for us. They made friends and recruited members. We now have a connection with High School Students in Stonington. What better way to reach out and connect with HS students than with College students. Hopefully we may have a younger, stronger pool of enthusiastic stewards to call on, and they will find a meaningful connection to a land trust organization. And as for me, I enjoyed having someone write this blog for several weeks as I sat back and enjoyed the things that this spring had to offer.
Class of 2018

I want to pay tribute to a special man from Stonington-Whit Davis, who passed away this week. He was a local legend, and I am sad to say, this is possibly the end of an era of those wonderful Stonington farmers who loved their land so dearly; it was their life. Whit made sure his lands would be protected and the history they hold, be honored. Avalonia was the recipient of nine acres of very special salt marsh property we call the Continental Marsh. I wrote about it not long ago, but please take time to read again and think about it from the perspective of history and the man whose family cherished that land since Stonington was founded. Maybe take time to honor those memories by taking a walk out onto Barn Island as spring advances over the salt marshes.
Here are some old articles about Whit Davis and his gift to the town, and to Avalonia. A special man.

The Continental Marsh Preserve

Those of us who live in Southeast Connecticut are very lucky to have one of the largest coastal preserves in the state. Barn Island Wildlife Management Area is more than 1000 acres of saltmarsh and coastal forest, owned and managed by the State and the DEEP. There is a little slice of this heaven that is owned by Avalonia Land Conservancy with a special history and is a gem in its own right. This is the Continental Marsh Preserve.
During the American Revolutionary War, the Davis Farm , which is located east of Barn Island WMA, provided the Continental armies with hay harvested from the salt marsh and thus gave the piece its name. Salt hay was valuable for grazing cattle and sheep. The marsh provided income as the hay was also sold for livestock bedding and food. That particular grass is Spartina patens and is a fine sturdy grass that grows on a higher drier part of the marsh. Over the decades, due to many causes such as changes in tides, sea level rise and even peat compression due to more frequent flooding, the marsh has changed. It's become more compacted, lower and wetter, and the high marsh grass retreated to be replaced by Spartina alterniflora and other grasses that tolerate the wetter conditions. This new grass was not nearly as desirable for salt hay.
Cedar posts, stone walls, and swirls of saltmeadow hay remain on the Continental Marsh.

The area is secluded, almost like a “valley” of marsh, between the slightly higher coastal forests with a creek of tidal flow flushing it daily and bringing life deep into the marsh. It is this area that was donated to Avalonia land Conservancy in 1978 . Reading the deed to this property is like beginning a historical mystery using shifting shorelines, tidal creeks and ancient stone bridges as marker points to describe the boundary.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan. 

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