Monday, June 18, 2018

Some history of how Dodge Paddock and Beal Preserve were acquired

This week we revisit another posting from  students of Connecticut College's Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment.  This time about the history of Dodge Paddock and Beal Preserve.


by Cian Fields and Marina Stuart

Much of this information comes from interviews with Shirley Beal and Anne Nalwalk, and we thank them for their time and great memories.
The Beal homestead and gardens.

A true grassroots effort

Shirley and Leonard Beal, owner of Dodson’s Boatyard, moved onto Main Street in Stonington Borough about 40 years ago. Their property looked out over a small piece of mostly wetlands that led up to Little Narragansett Bay. This was one of the last remaining pieces of undeveloped open space in Stonington Borough. This pristine parcel even played a significant role in the Stonington Borough community life, as it was the site of a historic and annual Easter day baseball game for Borough residents. Upon the passing of John E. Dodge, whose estate owned the land, there was great concern among the neighbors who abutted the property that it would be purchased and turned into condominiums. The Beals always had an interest in preserving land even before they became involved with Avalonia (or Mashantucket Land Trust, as it was called back then). 

A view from above of the gardens and the paddock.

With the Beals taking the lead, a fundraising effort began to purchase the pristine ocean front property and preserve it as one of the last remaining open spaces in Stonington Borough. In total, about 12 neighbors came together to purchase the land. Shirley remembers fondly how the efforts united the neighborhood, recalling the time a neighbor knocked on her door and insisted that though they couldn’t offer much, they wanted to help in any small way they could. It was no small task, involving many meetings and attorneys. The efforts ultimately ended in success, as they were able to purchase the land and preserve it through the Mashantucket Land Trust. The Beals then made another personal contribution to the preserve by donating a parcel of their own land and gardens that abutted the Dodge Paddock, creating an even larger parcel of land to be preserved.
Mrs, Beal's Garden in spring time.

Avalonia’s main task in managing the Dodge and Beal Preserves involves dealing with the drainage issues and the invasive Phragmites that have taken over the increasingly wetland. In recent years especially, the property has been flooding more and more as the tidal line and sea levels rise. The land originally had an open ended pipe to drain this flooding, though this simply facilitated flow of water both in and out of the preserve, and thus wasn’t terribly effective. Almost a decade ago a pipe with a clamshell-like device was installed that allowed water to flow out, but not in. This was moderately successful for several years, but the system was still plagued by frequent obstructions with sand and gravel after storms. As part of the massive destruction brought by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the clamshell pipe was permanently clogged and secondary drain pipe fractured. In addition the storm deposited lots of debris around onto the property. It looks like it’s a good thing they never built condos there.
The historic walls still show the height of the debris after Sandy rolled through.

Pottery in the Past

Another interesting aspect of the Dodge Paddock preserve is the different industry that existed on the property over the last centuries. According to historical sources, beginning in 1811, cousins William and Adam State ran a pottery factory. Unfortunately, due primarily to technological developments in producing glass, the pottery industry began to lag and the States left the trade by 1835. Though the lifetime of their business may not have been long, the State cousins played a pivotal role in establishing the pottery industry in Connecticut and training several prominent apprentices. A steam powered saw mill was then run on the property until it burned down in 1865. Even to this day, pieces of pottery can be found on the property if one looks around close enough.
An example of States Pottery.

A mosaic made from States pottery shards.

Avalonia considers the Beals in the highest regard for their efforts in preserving this pristine and history-rich piece of land.


Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Stewardship, management, and a walk in the woods at Hoffman Preserve

By Beth Sullivan
The Hoffman Evergreen Preserve is one of Avalonia’s oldest and largest holdings. The original preserve was approximately 150, acres and with additions over the years, it is now closer to 200 acres. The original land included several areas of planted evergreens in man -made forest areas, and the donor’s intent was to preserve and maintain the diversity including those plantations.
The preserve is on the west side of Route 201 in Stonington, just south of the North Stonington border. It is lined by lovely and well-constructed stone walls that seem to accentuate the darkness of the woodlands behind them. There are several well- developed and maintained trails that loop and cover the entire main body of the preserve. Recently we added the orange trail which goes into a portion of the “add-on” and includes some interesting stone mounds and an old foundation. There is a nice diversity of habitats with upland woods and lowland wetlands and seeps. A lovely brook runs from one wetland down a steep slope to the wetlands and brooks that form the western boundary. Sometime this summer an Eagle Scout project will create some permanent bridges to cross the tricky brook crossing, making it safer for all.

Fungi abound in the dark, moist forest areas.

A walk in the woods


There is no doubt that a walk here is lovely, peaceful, and in many cases, green, even in the winter, thanks to the Pines and Hemlocks. The open understory is appealing to the eye. There are several species of woodland flowers that thrive in an area such as Rattlesnake Orchid and Pink Lady’s Slipper. In the humid wet season, mushrooms of all color and form abound on the decaying debris on the ground.
I had the opportunity to read an environmental review that was prepared in 1984. These documents are in-depth studies of geology, topography, and hydrology, as well as assessment of wildlife and habitats. It was interesting reading. I followed it up with a walk through the preserve to view it through the eyes of the report to think how it may have changed. And the change was huge.
In 1984 the evergreens were mature yet healthy. The forest was already changing with young hardwoods, deciduous Oaks, Beeches, and Birches beginning to grow in amongst the Hemlocks and White Pines. Back in those years the big fear was the Gypsy Moth invasion and the effect on all species. The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid had not yet appeared. Back in 1984 there were recommendations to start management. Preservation was defined as “letting Nature take her course”, results would be slow, andwe would lose diversity. Conservation was defined as “wise use of resources under management”, which was suggested to achieve the balance and diversity that was needed to maintain health in the system.
In the ensuing decades, the course of preservation was followed. The evergreen stands have over-matured and in some cases are dying. Deciduous oaks and beeches have grown larger and overtopped the Hemlocks and further decreased their vigor. The invasion of the Wooly Adelgid pretty much sealed their fate, and the large lovely stands of Hemlocks are no longer lush and healthy. The big Pine groves are still impressive, though somewhat damaged by recent hurricanes and blizzards. There are young seedlings in the understory, fighting to survive.
In many areas the forest floor is so shaded, and likely over browsed by deer, that there is no understory. That is not helpful for birds and wildlife that seek cover in the mid- and lower- levels of the forest.
Pink Lady's Slippers are very particular about where they can survive.

Over time the canopy has thinned, letting in more light.

Harsh weather

In the last two years we have had some tremendous wind storms that have toppled beautiful old Oaks, and the forest floor is strewn and littered. It has created openings that let in light, and added a lot of organic matter to the understory. Not pretty, but nature’s way of housekeeping.
Our walk that day was lovely, no doubt about it. We heard Pileated Woodpeckers calling and drumming. They love the big old trees in the forest. Acadian flycatchers, which are pretty uncommon, were seen and heard in the old Hemlock areas. There were Vireos, Ovenbirds and other woodland species. The vernal pond was shaded, but there were frogs present. The trails are wide, and evidence of an old cart path is visible in the stone bridge crossings. It is a beautiful preserve.
Maybe someday we can restore those lush evergreen groves and all that made their home within them. We may need to think hard about the best way to protect all that is there, to conserve and manage rather than just wait and see. Managing for the future is always an act of hope and optimism.
Windstorms have toppled dozens of  Oak trees.

The new orange trail has some interesting rock formations and an old foundation.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and Rick Newton.






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Monday, June 4, 2018

The history of Knox Preserve

This week we revisit a posting from students of Connecticut College's Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment about the history of Knox Preserve.

by Cian Fields and Marina Stuart

Like several of Avalonia’s land holdings, the Knox Preserve, which is located off of Wilcox Road between Route 1 and the train tracks, contains a rich, story-filled history. The piece of land came to Avalonia through a generous gift by David D. Knox who donated the nearly 17 acres of property so as to ensure that the land would not be used for industrial development. In an article from June 19, 1985 by Phil Rieth, editor of The Compass, Knox said that “Stonington is being over-developed; I hope that I helped stop that a little”. After a tumultuous battle in the courtroom levied by Stonington residents over the potential use of the land for a magnesium plant, Knox acquired the parcel in 1968 but continued to face troubles as the land was still zoned for industrial purposes. Some 20 years later Knox decided to make the land’s preservation official in conjunction with Avalonia (or Mashantucket, as it was called back then).

Former corn fields have reverted to a more natural state.

Fruit trees from an old orchard attract Orioles.
Native plants attract birds and other wild life to the preserve.

The story of the Knox Preserve history however, becomes even more interesting as one goes back a few hundred years further. The piece of land was originally owned by Thomas Minor, the settler that is one of several featured on the Stonington founders’ monument. Records show that Minor probably first acquired the land some time around 1652. In addition to being a prominent figure in the establishment of Stonington and the surrounding area, Minor is quite well known for his diary. This diary is one of very few that survived the ages since the 1600’s. Because of this, Minor’s diary is an important implement as it provides a rare look into the daily life of the very first settlers in New England. In addition to the unique vocabulary and spelling, and among the insight provided into the daily tasks of a 17th century famer, Minor recounts first hand interactions with Native Americans. Though banal at times, Thomas Minor’s diary is a worthy read for its significance in the local southeastern Connecticut history. One can even still go visit Minor’s land, at Knox Preserve, and walk the land that served as a starting point for Stonington.

Historic walls reflect the hard labor and effort of a century ago.

Knox preserve has been highlighted in this blog series over the last year. It has lovely vistas, easy hiking trails and attracts abundant native wildlife as stewards continue to restore the habitats there.
But the works not over, old wires need to be removed now that they serve no purpose.


Photographs by Beth Sullivan.