Monday, January 30, 2017

After the storm

by Beth Sullivan
Winter storms can be just as bad as summer ones: wind, storm surge, precipitation and clean up. So far we have been really lucky that our winter has been fairly calm and not too stormy, weather wise at least. The last week has brought some swings in the weather and a pretty good storm.
In general, these weather events are really just part of nature’s cycles, an opportunity to “clean house” or change things up a little. Sometimes we can just go with it, let things happen as they should and not try to change any outcomes. But as stewards of the land we have protected for you, we have a responsibility to make things safe as well. This last storm was by no means the worst we have experienced in recent years, but it was enough to rearrange things a bit.
After the storm, we need to walk the trails and check for issues.
Wet land plants adapt to seasonal flooding.

High Water

Many of our preserves have lovely streams running through them. Often times it is those streams that are the impetus for us wanting to protect the land around them. The drought that lasted through summer and into the fall dried them down to mere trickles. Over the last few months we have had enough rain to fill them more, to restore much needed water to the plants in the wetlands. This storm with volumes of heavy rain drained off the land, collected the way watersheds do, and the brooks filled to flooding. Overflowing their banks, wetlands were drowned, but they are used to that. It is what they are supposed do: buffer and soak and hold the water. Unfortunately some shallow rooted trees were toppled as the soil loosened their roots, and the winds pushed and pulled at them. Sometimes this is good, the shallow depressions created where the roots pulled up often fill with water and can become little refuges for amphibians and reptiles. Deeper holes create great hollows for denning mammals.
A leaning tree has provided a den area.

In the forests, downed trees and branches may be a little unsightly, but they create layers in the under story. Perches, hiding places and ultimately the material will break down to become part of the nutrient duff on the forest floor-recycling for the next generation. It is a nice metaphor: one older generation making way, in a positive fashion, to make sure things are nourished and supported as the next generation steps in.
Trees blocking bridges need to be moved as soon as possible.

Clearing the trails

Along the woodland trails we have to be on the lookout for any fallen or hanging limbs and branches that could impact a visitor, literally. Teams of stewards have branched out over the last couple of days to clear trails, assess threats and report back where more effort and bigger tools may be needed. In the meantime please be careful anywhere you walk.
Some trail blockages are not dangerous, just inconvenient.

Coastal areas were hammered by high water and waves. The natural salt marshes flooded, but absorbed the strength and surge. The high water wrack line was left with litter; the fragile edges of the marsh may have broken off in places, but in general, thanks to the natural function of a salt marsh, the land is mostly intact.
At Dodge Paddock,  channel and grasses held though the logs were bared.

At Dodge Paddock, the challenge continues. While the rains flooded in from one side, the tides pushed in from the other. Everything filled up. The drainage ditch was compromised a bit. Erosion took place along the south face where all the eel grass got scoured away. But most of the coir log supports held; the grasses that were rooted held on as well. The new marsh grasses stayed firm, collected sediment and functioned as they should. The water drained out as it was intended. The system needs a bit of a touch up, but so far, so good.
Fresh and salt water flooded Dodge Paddock. Photo by Jeff Callahan.

Storms will happen; changes in the landscape will occur. Sometimes we can let nature take its course, sometimes we have to intervene a bit. We must always find a balance, and that is part of the job of stewardship. And stewardship of our environment needs support from everyone from boots on the ground, to top administration.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A new era

By Beth Sullivan
We welcomed the New Year. We all knew there were changes and challenges ahead. We have begun a new era.
This blog may be my voice, but it represents Avalonia Land Conservancy and many varied voices, so it is not appropriate for it to be a platform for my thoughts about women’s rights, all human rights; the value of life, all lives; the need for affordable and accessible health care; the right to be whoever you want to be and be with whomever you choose in your life. Because it all boils down to happiness and security, respect for one another and peaceful co-existence in our world. For many of us being out in Nature, in all her beautiful variable forms, is what brings us to peace and happiness. It can be a common ground for so many, despite differences in views.
Children understand the need to turn to nature...

Therefore it is supremely important that we all agree at least, that protection of our environment is something we must support together.

A changing climate

There are always going to be differences of opinions as to cause, but there should be no dissent in the understanding that our climate is changing, and with it comes perilous consequences. experience joy...

If you live near the coast, you are more aware of the sea levels rising, changes in storm intensity and losses of our valuable salt marshes. These changes threaten more than the high-end real estate along the coast, but the protection afforded to all, by the open spaces, undeveloped land, marshes, and dunes. They must be preserved. experience simple love...

Living inland more, you may notice the changes in our weather patterns in how it affects our gardening season. We are in the middle of a January thaw that has been quite long already. Winter seems to have started late, was pretty intense for short periods as we were blasted by extreme arctic air. If it continues like it did last year, the cold and erratic weather may push itself farther into spring, blasting flower buds confusing plants and insects and birds and crops. If it affects us in a small way in our home gardens, image how it affects the larger scale farms and orchards.
...and to learn to work together.

We have had drought and higher heat for several summers. We have watched lawns and gardens and small ponds and large lakes dry up. It leads to many of us using water to irrigate to save our cherished plants or vegetable gardens we tend so hopefully. Yet that draws on dwindling water resources and the combined effect is draining our reservoirs each year.
We must pass on our values.

At times I find it hard to think much beyond our local area. How do we influence the greater policies, how do we voice our concerns or make those voices heard?
We must teach respect, cooperation, and tolerance.

Connecticut Land Conservation Council

We can personally engage in practices that preserve resources. We can work to preserve or manage the landscapes in our own areas one step at a time. We can support organizations like Avalonia or the Nature Conservancy and many others, that pool resources to work for a greater good. Supporting organizations like the Connecticut Land Conservation Council is one of the best ways. The organization is staffed with brilliant, dedicated people who know the issues, who know how to use their voices, and our voices, and know how to direct them to those who make the rules, set the policies to make a difference. We can join our voices to theirs as they advise us how to reach those in power.
We need to act to preserve that which brings us peace.

We need to be kind. Kind to each other, kind to the Earth. We have a moral obligation to protect and preserve and steward our land and the environment as a whole, for the health of the whole planet and the future generations. It sounds trite. But it is true. If we think and act with kindness and consideration in all things….maybe it will trickle up.
And, by uniting our voices, they will be heard.

Photographs by multiple contributors.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Winter (?) Woods

by Beth Sullivan
January has the reputation for being a little fickle with a tendency to have a “January Thaw” somewhere near the end. Lately Mother Nature’s mood swings have been a bit more drastic, and all happening in a week’s time.
Last weekend we were snowed in; just shy of a foot of snow fell here, with frigid temperatures. The snow was beautiful, light and fluffy and the woods were cloaked with a purity and crispness that we hadn’t seen yet this season. Judging from the tracks on several of our preserves, a number of people braved the cold to don snow shoes or cross-county skis. I was fine with just boots.
With snow on the ground, the brook was just a series of dark holes in the white.

Visiting Paffard Woods

Paffard Woods is beautiful any time of year. Always something new to see. Because it is close to home, it is a favorite to drop into, to check the trails, look at the water levels in the brook, and, unfortunately, to do a necessary trash pick-up in the parking lot.
The beige leaves of the beech trees remain in contrast to the snow, and rustle in the wind.

With the fresh snow, the trails and woodlands took on a lovely soft rounded and bright look. Thanks to some earlier rain, there was some water in the brook, and the open pockets looked dark and made for pretty contrasts. In some places we could still hear the little gurgle of the brook, not fully frozen, under the snow and between the rocks. It was easy to see where squirrels had dropped into the snow and possibly tried to find previously buried acorns. There were some interesting prints, where birds had landed on the snow, only to find it was probably deeper than expected, and their wings left prints as they lifted themselves out. All in all a cold yet quite lovely hike in the woods.
Something popped out to find a snack.

The soft impression of a bird's wing.

Fast forward just a couple of days; the temperatures hit the upper 50’s, there was heavy rain, and literally overnight the snow disappeared. The warmth seemed to stir more squirrel activity as we saw them foraging through the leaves, but no prints this time. We saw a few moths and hoped they were not the dreaded Winter Moths still out and looking for reproductive opportunities. The feel of the woods was like April. There was almost a humidity to it. The streams were running quite full, and we undammed a few areas where leaves and debris had blocked the flow and created flooding around the bridges. (Playing in running water is fun anytime of year as far as I am concerned.) The water flowing under and through the stone bridge on the middle trail was so beautifully noisy, we just had to stop and listen and spied some evergreen Christmas fern still looking fresh. We noted skunk cabbages up in the wetlands; the moss was an exuberant green on the rocks and ledges, and the lichens were all soft and rubbery from the abundant moisture.
With rain and snow melt, flooding needed to be relieved.

After the thaw, the moss and lichen were refreshed.

The brook is refilled, and the mosses and ferns tease us with their emerald color.

Not Spring yet

I know we are in for more cold. As much as I enjoy the respite and warmth, I know the temperature swings are not good for many plants and animals. We do not want things emerging from hibernation, teased by warmth and thawed wetlands. We do not want to see flower buds begin to swell, all only to be blasted back by the cold we know will come. We do need things to stay in sync. So much depends on it. But it sure is fun to see so much variation in a short time, in a familiar place.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Some goals for this new year

January is a good time for reflection. Where have we been? How did we get here? What could we have done differently? What have we learned?

From David Allen’s blog post “Development for Conservation”

By Beth Sullivan

Sitting on the couch, cuddled into a down blanket with a cup of tea, some throat drops and a box of tissues, and a couple of dogs that just don’t understand-that’s where I have been for the last week. How did I get here? Way too much wonderful Christmas affection that I wouldn’t change for the world. But it has made me sit a bit more and think about that quote above. 
To get very close to see details

Reflecting back on my past New Years’ resolutions , as far as I can remember, they all involve getting out, exploring, looking more closely and appreciating the outdoors. If I do that, it will take care of my secondary resolution to get more exercise.

Being involved with Avalonia, and wanting to get more knowledgeable about the preserves and trails, has given me a lot more incentive to roam. In the past year I enjoyed getting out of my backyard and getting to properties in other towns, properties with trails to explore so I can share them in this blog and on the website. 
To help overcome fears.

For the next generation

Lately, I am feeling a greater sense of urgency in helping the next generations get out and look closely and appreciate the natural world around us. Working on the Hike and Seek project gave me an outlet to accomplish more of that mission. As I walk and wander, I am now thinking about how I would show things to a child by my side. I try to get down lower, look up higher and think with an open curious mind. I am trying to take photos that will help inspire or explain or create curiosity. We started this project as a challenge to find a target or goal, a personal challenge, not a contest, but it has evolved into more of an educational project. People have responded that they enjoy having the photos and explanations to help guide their walk. We are adding educational resources and links as we go along now. Parents have enjoyed looking ahead so they can point things out to their kids, and some of those parents have written back and said they have learned a lot as well. This gives me great hope because I realize more people are actually using the project site to give greater depth to their own outdoor explorations. 
To know where to find something unusual.

There so many distractions, responsibilities and various dangers out in the rest of the world. To me one of the biggest dangers is that we are losing open space with its beauty and diversity, where we can find peace and get away from the distractions and responsibilities of the other lives we have to lead. Our mission as a land trust is to continue to preserve these beautiful and valuable spaces so everyone can continue to find respite. My goal is to help provide the insight into some of these places and the treasures hidden in plain sight, so everyone can understand the importance of our conservation mission and share it with their own children. It is preserved for them and the generations to follow.
To look at ordinary and see extraordinary. 

Direction is clear

So, I know where I have been and I know where I want to go. I have learned a lot, and I have a good idea of what I want to do in the next year: I want to be able to share this even more. 
To look up high for a new view.
To see beauty in soft landscapes.
To spot a jewel.

I ask you to help me. Send your photos and thoughts about the places you wander to I would love to be able to use them to help encourage others to do the same.

I look forward to hearing from you. Happy New Year!

Monday, January 2, 2017

President's message January 2017

Happy New Year to friends and readers of Avalonia eTrails! We will be beginning our fifth year of posting this blog. But more importantly, Avalonia Land Conservancy is beginning its 49th year, and anticipating the celebration of our 50th year.

Under the leadership of our President Dennis Main, the Board of Directors, standing committee and town chairs, and a special ad hoc 50th steering committee, Avalonia is planning to celebrate the milestone. We would love your help.

One of the President’s goals is to keep open lines of communication with members and friends through as many venues as possible. To start the New Year right, this week’s blog is an update from the President. There is a lot to celebrate and a lot to anticipate. He is always willing to take feedback and meet members through his Avalonia email:

Have a great New Year, and please get out and enjoy your preserves. 


President's Message

Happy New Year to our Avalonia Family: Members, Friends and Supporters! It has been a very successful and exciting year for Avalonia, and we look forward to a New Year that continues this success.

We have added more than 5% (179 acres) to our protected preserves which now total over 3,500 acres in our southeastern CT mission area. This recent addition of roughly $1,000,000 value of property was through the extremely generous land gifts from donors we look forward to honoring at our Avalonia Annual Meeting on June 22, 2017. Please read the article on our website by Sue Sutherland, our Acquisition Chair, about our new properties here.
The leaders of our first 50 years.
On the Accreditation front, your current Board of Directors (BOD) has done yeoman service in completing the work necessary for our Accreditation Application to be in the pipeline for approval. Accreditation announcements are due in February 2017. Although our Accreditation application is moving forward, it is not the end of the journey. Re-accreditation happens every five years, and the current BOD is engaged in the continual review and revision of Avalonia Governance documents. Under the guidance of Chair Mike Pernal, the Governance Committee is currently reviewing and updating Town and various Standing Committee Charters as appropriate. Improvements to our By-laws are currently being reviewed for their efficacy, with the BOD already approving an amendment to bring our Fiscal Year into line with the Calendar Year which will greatly simplify our budgeting, accounting and reporting efforts. The BOD has also approved changes to enhance our cash management and internal controls under the direction of Finance Committee Chair and Treasurer Sue Sutherland. 
Avalonia leadership celebrates completion of our accreditation application.

Under the leadership of Stewardship Chair Karen Askins, a new Stewardship manual has been authored and printed for ongoing distribution. It will soon be available on our website for our many volunteer stewards to access. This will augment the many Avalonia Policy and Procedure enhancements that have been made as a result of the recent Land Trust Alliance accreditation Standards and Practices reviews.

Development Committee Chair Richard Conant has been heading up our fundraising planning and implementation efforts for an expected upcoming multi-million grant application and capital campaign to fund acquisition and stewardship of additional marquee properties that have been identified. Property owner requests for Avalonia to preserve their land and the soft real estate market have provided a number of environmentally valuable properties which qualify for possible acquisition.
We will always rely on our dedicated volunteers.
Please see additional articles on our Annual Appeal that Executive Director Heather Milardo has underway. The Annual Appeal is the backbone of funding for our ongoing operations. Our Endowment fund has nearly doubled in the past year thanks to significant one-time donations, and these generous donors will be honored at our Annual Meeting next June. Other greatly appreciated one-time gifts and challenge grants, including BOD raised pledges, have also enabled the perpetual stewardship costs of current year acquisitions to be fully funded within the current year, making an Avalonia historical milestone.
We will continue to collaborate and educate as we maintain our preserves.

On February 21, 2017 Avalonia marks the completion of 49 years of fulfilling its mission. As we embark on our 50th year, we acknowledge all our tremendous donors, members, volunteers, staff and other supporters who have brought us to this point. Our 50th Anniversary Committee will be working to coordinate a full and diverse calendar of celebratory events as we mark this momentous milestone. Please put June 22, 2017 on your calendar for the Annual Meeting to celebrate with us.

Dennis S. Main,