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 of sorts, and the donor’s intent was to preserve and maintain the diversity including those plantations.
|The entrance to Hoffman Evergreen Preserve.|
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. In the near future we hope to complete an additional trail on the new portion added last year.
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 such 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.
|Fungi abound in the dark, moist forest areas.|
|Pink Lady's Slippers are very particular about where they can survive.|
A 1984 Review
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 assessments 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, and we 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, 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.
|Years ago this Evergreen lane was lush and dark.|
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.
|Over time the canopy has thinned, letting in more light.|
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.
|An old stone bridge on the lower trail.|
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.
Photographs by Beth Sullivan and Rick Newton.