Monday, February 17, 2014

A College Connection

By Beth Sullivan
Just when winter has gotten me down, and it seems like there is little warmth or excitement other than the Weather Channel, along comes an exuberant and enthusiastic group of students!
Once again the Connecticut College Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment is teaming up with Avalonia Land Conservancy in Stonington. Last year we all learned a lot from the collaboration. It was a big first and a huge learning curve for me, having worked solely with elementary age students for 25 years. How wonderful to work with more adult minds that still have the same joy and enthusiasm for the natural world.

Anne Nalwalk (L, front row), Beth Sullivan, and Binti Ackley of Avalonia Land Conservancy meet with students at Conn College and Professor Doug Thompson (second from left in back row). 
Twelve students under the guidance and leadership of equally enthusiastic professors, Doug Thompson and Jennifer Pagach , met with us on February 4 at the college. Joined by Binti Ackley and Anne Nalwalk, our goal was to introduce the students to the organization of Avalonia as a non-profit land trust. We discussed the history of Avalonia, now 45 years young and holding nearly 3,500 acres in 8 SE CT towns. We explained how the Committees are set up: Stewardship, Acquisition, PR and Development, and Finances, as well as the formation of Town Committees that are a smaller version of the larger structure. This organization is fairly unique as Avalonia is one of very few regional land trusts and others look to our model. We had to be honest about growing pains, which are not unique to Avalonia, but are common to many such organizations. The students were quick to question our goals, our strengths and our weaknesses. During that discussion we talked about how the students could be of help regarding outreach, engaging the younger generation, and our need to develop a youth component within the organization. The meeting ran late, always a good sign as the kids came up with ideas: light bulbs all over the room!
2013 Project Knox plot with thriving native plants.
On the following Saturday, a frigid and windy day, we met the students on site at the two preserves that will be the focus of any field work they may choose for their projects: Knox Preserve and Dodge Paddock/Beal Preserve. These two were chosen because of their ease of access, variety of habitats, similar issues, and management plans that the students can refer to for background and details. The group was able to see the work in progress at Knox: the removal of invasives and restoration of the fields and shrub habitat. At Dodge they could see first hand the impact Hurricane Sandy had on the area and begin to understand the complexity, and cost, of trying to restore an area such as this.
At Dodge Paddock, the dunes were breached and native plants were destroyed.
At the end of the two hours, there were lots of chilled students, but Anne supplied hot chocolate and snacks! We had time for more questions and ideas. Everyone agreed that these two properties are absolute gems and cannot wait to spend some time on the sites.
Phragmites take over in flooded wetland at Dodge Paddock.

Cutting Phragmites at Knox Preserve. 
In the next weeks they will declare their interests and prepare their proposals. I will review and expect a lot of emails which I will welcome. So much energy, but so little time: the students will need to wrap up their work by early May! Some projects will be limited in their time frames; some are based on projects begun last year. But some will be the base for future projects as we hope this collaboration continues for many years.

At Knox Preserve, native shrubs have been cleared of invasive vines.
Photographs by Beth Sullivan.
You can learn more about the Goodwin-Niering Center at Connecticut College here, or on Facebook.

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