Monday, August 25, 2014

A little preserve with a big history

By Beth Moore and Beth Sullivan

Over the last several years, we have written of the nature of Dodge Paddock, but few of us really knew the secrets this preserve has been keeping.

The history of the preserve is significant; its present is in flux, and the future may be in the hands of Mother Nature, but Avalonia is doing its best to preserve the area for future generations of nature lovers and history buffs.
Aerial view by DEEP after phragmities removal and freshly dug drainage channels.
Dodge's history, compare the view.

The beauty and tranquility one experiences now when visiting this one of Avalonia’s smallest preserves belies the area’s bustling history. Known in its earliest days of settlement as “Little Point,” it served as the terminus of “Shinbone Alley” down which the remnants of the nearby slaughterhouse’s activities washed each evening. On the west side of the preserve was Stiles Phelps’ ropewalk, laid out in the late 18th century to support the growing fishing and boatbuilding activities in the borough with cordage and rope. When Stiles' decedent Charles Phelps died in 1809, he left the parcel of land, then valued at $1,100, improved with a wharf, a pottery works, and a small house identified as “where Gerant and Simon now live together,” to his descendants.

Every Day Pottery

To local history buffs, the area is best known as the location of the States pottery works, later known as States & Swan, which was active between 1811-1835. This, the first pottery factory in Connecticut, produced wares for daily usage rather than decorative pieces, and as such were much sought after due to their highly durable admixture of local clay and clay imported from Huntington, Long Island. Visitors to the preserve can easily find shards of pottery, but remember: in Stonington Borough, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, it is illegal to remove objects from the site!

A mosaic made by local artists, from States pottery shards

Examples of States pottery. Stonington Historical Society photograph 

Stonington Historical Society photograph

Over time the various owners of this small piece of land passed away and the parcel passed through many hands and continued to serve many uses. Stonington’s first millionaire, Charles Phelps Williams, had his whaleship “Betsey Williams” built and launched on the north part of the lot. A steam sawmill and wood working factory was set up by the brothers Daniel and Gilbert Collins in the late 1840s, and from there, doors, window frames, and shutters were built and shipped out to buyers in New York and New Jersey. In 1865 this factory, then under the ownership of Harris Pendleton, was set ablaze by two men under the hire of Palmer Loper, son of Richard Fanning Loper. That Richard Fanning Loper was once affectionately known as “Little Dickie Loper,” and to him the borough could be said to owe its continued existence.

War in Stonington

Late in the evening on Tuesday August 9, 1814, Captain Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy and his squadron of five British warships commenced an attack on a nearly defenseless Stonington Borough. Against 160 cannon and 1,275 British seamen was, initially, just a scrappy group of 16 young men with three small canons and enough ammunition to see them through an hour’s worth of battle. By dawn on the morning of August 10th, the gunpowder had run out. Captain Jeremiah Holmes of Mystic had arrived that morning and taken over command of the defense of Stonington and immediately sent several young men out to search for more ammunition. It was at the States Pottery wharf that “Little Dickie Loper,” then just 14 years old, found six kegs of gunpowder aboard a privateer that was tied up there. The kegs were rolled down to “Grasshopper Fort,” and the ultimately successful defense of Stonington was resumed. It was the same “Little Dickie Loper” who, at the age of 21, was on board the sealing sloop “The Hero” (captained by his best friend Nathaniel Brown Palmer) when Antarctica was discovered in 1820.

After the fire of 1865, the area more recently known as Dodge Paddock lost its manufacturing aspect and became residential. In more recent years, a neighborhood baseball game was held on the site each Easter. However, Mother Nature's storms have put an end to that enjoyable annual event.
DEEP has helped maintain the wetlands on the preserve.

Avalonia Acquired the Paddock and adjacent Beal preserve in 1981. We have written of its trials and tribulations in earlier blogs, herehere and here. With DEEP generosity and funding and Avalonia dedication over the last several years, the area has been reformed and is on its way to a new future. For Avalonia, preservation of Natural resources is the main mission, but being able to acknowledge and preserve the history as well is even more special.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Thanking a Benefactor

By Beth Sullivan
On a recent August afternoon, we decided to hike a relatively new Avalonia preserve: the Erisman Woodlands-63 acres located on Reuteman road in North Stonington.
The property was donated in 2011 by Adele Erisman, who was one of the founding supporters of the Nature Conservancy. For over 80 years she lived in close harmony with her land in North Stonington, and promoted stewardship ideas that were way ahead of her time. When she was 102, she made the most generous gift: she donated her home and lot to the Nature Conservancy, and the remaining 63 acres to Avalonia. Among those helping to start the Nature Conservancy in the 1950's were Connecticut College's William Niering and Richard Goodwin, botany professors who are the name-sakes for the college's Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment, a frequent Avalonia partner.

The property and trail head is marked by an Avalonia sign, but it is easy to miss, set back from the road. There is enough space to pull off the road to park and head down the lightly traveled path. The area is mostly upland woods, shady on a summer day, yet quite alive with birds. We noted the usuals: Chickadees, Titmice and Nuthatches but also enjoyed the song of the Wood Peewee, the constant warble of the Red Eyed Vireo and the chipping of a family of Cardinals moving through the woods. In a 2009 Day article, Adele said birds initially drew her into nature. They remained Adele’s favorites through out her life.
The trail is not blazed yet, but marked with colored flagging tape; at the outset the lime green is a little tricky to see through the foliage, but the trail is visible. Later the flags are orange and easier to spy. As the path drops down, it passes some interesting glacial erratics and outcrops. They seem to be quite common wherever we walk in SE CT. A word of warning: a particular type of woodland spider is very adept at weaving its web across the trail, right at head height. Brushing the air ahead with a stick was quite helpful! The stream bed at the bottom of the trail is full of rocky tumbles, but on this day, there was no water. I think it would be quite lovely in the spring. The land then rises up to the spine of Babcock Ridge. As it rises we noted the slope was covered with evergreen Christmas ferns, many typical woodland wildflowers , some mushrooms and some great trees. Tall regal ash trees soar straight up, great old Oaks must have some historic insight , and many show signs of woodpeckers, including the Pileated that we know lives up there.
The trail is lightly travels and marked with flagging tape.

A dry stream bed holds promise of Spring ripples.

Several species of woodpeckers have left their marks.

The top of the ridge is marked by a stone wall along the crest. Just over the wall, with a view to the south, the trees open up to overlook the valley of the Shunock River and Avalonia’s Henne preserve below. The foliage now obscures most of the view, but come Autumn it will be spectacular.
A stone wall make the crest of the ridge with peeks of the view beyond.

We lost the orange flags up along the top. The trail is not yet hardened by travel, so we returned the way we came. Soon there will be connecting trails from this preserve, over the Babcock ridge and down to the Henne creating a lovely intact greenway.
Beware-Spider webs abound at head height across the trail.

Towering Ash Trunks.

In a 2011 statement to a New London day reporter, on the occasion of her gift of the land, Adele Erisman said: “When you are about to die, like I am, you love the idea you’ve left something worth leaving”.
She passed away nearly three years later, just this August, just as we walked her amazing gift to future generations. It was indeed worth leaving. Thank you, Adele.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer: What a beautiful time

By Beth Sullivan

Bluebirds are moving around in small family flocks now that nesting is finished.
Young Osprey should be learning to fish.
Ceder Waxwings only begin to nest in August.
Dragonflies come in numerous beautiful colors and patterns. We are grateful for their diet of mosquitoes. 
Great Egrets hunt along the rocky shore.
Painted Turtles will have laid their eggs in June, but never tend their nests so they are free to bask in the sunshine!
Red Winged Blackbirds continue to stake clam to their territories.
Robins may have multiple broods from spring through late summer.
Shorebirds have started their southern migration.
Tiger Swallowtails continue to adorn the late summer flowers.
Tree Swallow are beginning to line the telephone wires.
Despite their decline, we hope to see more Monarchs as the summer goes on.

Enjoy these beautiful summer days. Hike on one of the nearby Avalonia Preserves and have a beautiful time of your own.

Photographs by Rick Newton.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Art of Conservation

By Beth Sullivan
The idea of combining art and nature is an ancient one. Landscape artists drew their inspiration from rolling fields, mountains and rivers. Early schools and societies, including some in Connecticut, became famous for inspiring artists to express their views of nature in their own individual, creative way.
Early botanical herbalists and artists explored the intricacies of flowers and plants for greater understanding, long before there were cameras for accurate documentation. Check out Bauer, Catesby, Ehret, Redoute’ , just for a few.
Bird artists earned great fame for their depiction of birds in their habitats and in doing so, helped swing the tide of conservation to appreciation of the natural world and all that are part of it. Audubon was the most famous and first to show birds in their natural surroundings, but he was followed by Fuertes, Brooks, Peterson and today Sibley and Bateman.
Crows at Dodge Paddock

Cormorant off Woolworth Porter Preserve

Early wildlife and landscape photographers used complicated equipment to achieve some amazing results : think Ansel Adams and the whole cadre of National Geographic photographers that followed.
Botanical beauty- Queen Anne's Lace
In some ways things remain the same today, yet in many ways it is easier to capture images and impressions of the beauty of nature.
Autumn color at Knox Preserve
So while the concept is ancient, there is a new idea on the horizon: In its planning stages, Avalonia Land Conservancy is hosting its First Annual Art of Conservation event in October. There will be a contest component with prizes in several categories including fine art and photography, youth and student designations. There will also be an opportunity for artists to simply donate their work for an auction to benefit Avalonia’s mission to preserve and protect more open space.

Create Art

The idea is simple: get out and record what you see! A call will go out soon to artists, of all ages and in all media including photography, to feature some aspect of one of our Preserves, and there are some inspiring ones! Avalonia holds lands in eight SE CT towns, from shore to uplands. There are open meadows, sparkling brooks, deep forests and inspiring marshes. We protect birds and all manner of wildlife and lovely plants, both rare and common, all with their own beauty.
Feather on the water off Cottrell Marsh
You can pan out for the larger view and do some wondrous landscapes or focus in close to find the details in the small gems.
So, while we still have more than a month of summer ahead of us and lovely days of early fall, we invite you to get out and take a hike. Take your children; their art and perceptions can be the most pure and beautiful. Take your sketchbook, pens, pencils and watercolors or if you are really industrious, your oils and pastels. Strap on your camera and show us what your eyes see through the lens.
Pink Lady's Slippers from Hoffman Preserve

Zoom in for the details around the marsh
There will be more details to follow. You can call the Avalonia office for more information or to get an announcement or application. It should go onto the website soon, so keep checking there, as it is being updated.
Go and enjoy what we have preserved so far and then participate in the event and plan to join us at the Mystic Arts Center on October 18, to contribute to our mission of continuing our acquisition efforts.
Stone bridge on Pequotseops Brook trail

Photographs and artwork by Beth Sullivan.