Monday, October 7, 2019

Makeover at Paffard Woods

By Beth Sullivan
The lovely Paffard Woods p off the west side of North Main Street is the first land Avalonia acquired with a big fundraising campaign. That road is often called the Gateway to Stonington because it is the main route from the highway down to the Borough. Preserving the scenic land along the road was a high priority. When Edith Paffard offered to sell the parcel for a bargain sale price, Avalonia applied for grants and then campaigned to get almost $300K in public donations. Thanks to a great team, efficient organization, and the generosity of many people, the 62 acre parcel was acquired in August of 2003. Since that time it has remained one of Avalonia’s most beloved and well-used preserves with a wide variety of habitats, vegetation, and topography. Trails go around granite ledge outcrops and glacial erratics, wind through woodlands, and border the Sylvia’s Pond Brook. Central wetlands drain into the brook, and ultimately at the southernmost tip, the preserve is salt marsh.

It started with bridges

This rustic old log bridge was beginning to rot.

New planks were added to this old bridge

Two benches were made from one of the old logs.

Originally, the first stewards created some beautiful and unique bridges. One is a rocky crossing where you can hear the brook babble and tumble below your feet. Another bridge was created from a huge, impressive log, cut lengthwise and set over a stream. Other bridges were established in other places. Over the ensuing years, with high foot traffic, wear and tear, and also recent wetter than average conditions, we noted that several of the wetland crossings were becoming muddy, and the bridges themselves were breaking down. Much to our dismay, we discovered that the huge supports under the log bridge were no longer stable, and there was rot occurring. People love that bridge.
Thanks to the generosity of the original donors, there was a nice stewardship fund available for use on the preserve, so we knew we could get materials. But we never seem to have enough strong and willing bodies to tackle big projects. Luck came our way when our connection with the Mystic Aquarium allowed us to engage volunteers from Dominion Energy. Now we had the bodies.
Two of our town stewards, Jim F and John C, got their heads together to plan out the projects. A new bridge was designed to replace the log bridge, and a plan was made to actually lift and move another bridge to a more solid location, out of the mud. Another bridge had surface planks to be replaced.
On a beautiful September day, 22 employees of all ranks gathered at Paffard Woods at 7:30 am. Our stewards met them, as did MaryEllen, our Aquarium connection, and work commenced. Materials and equipment were unloaded and set up. It was as good as a shop in the parking lot. Order and organization was the key. Teams split up, and in a relatively short time, a great deal was accomplished. The log bridge was removed, but to retain the memory of the original design, one log was cut in two to create benches, set on stones, on either end of the new bridge. They are perfect. The other span was moved and placed in a much better spot, and the wood planks were replaced on the third bridge. And still there was a lot of time left.
This bridge was lifted out of the mud and re-positioned on solid stream banks.

A rock and a hard place

So a group decided to tackle a big rock that was sticking up in the middle of the driveway entrance. It has been a danger and nuisance for quite a while now, so the plan was to dig it out and fix it once and for all. What no one knew, was that the rock was a boulder, seemed to have its roots firmly in the ground and no amount of maneuvering and leveraging would budge it. Now we were stuck with a big hole, with a big rock, in the exit, and no one could get in or out.
Several of us put our heads together and tried a few local farmers to see if their equipment would be useful. No luck. In a last desperate brainstorm, we called a local contractor who was going to do some mowing work for us. He just happened to be in town, with his big excavator and trailer, and inside of one hour, JP Moore arrived with his equipment. It was impressive. He unloaded, and the driver manipulated that machine as deftly as fingers, picked up that rock in an instant and set it aside as if it was a pebble. While he was at it, he removed a few other troublesome rocks, backfilled the big hole, widened the entry way to make an easier access, and just happened to have some perfect small stone to resurface that part of the driveway. Talk about a lucky angel. Turns out JP also had worked at Dominion Energy and knew several of the work team. It was a happy reunion of sorts.
By the end of the day, bridges were all fixed with just a few details left to complete, piles of invasives had been cut or pulled from along the stream and trail, and unexpectedly we had a total rehab of the entry way to the preserve.
We owe many thanks to the original donors, our Avalonia carpenters, our friends at Mystic Aquarium, Dominion Energy and JP Moore excavating.
Go take a hike and enjoy the upgrades.
Volunteers from Dominion work on this new bridge.

This rock was a lot bigger than expected.

But the right equipment made quick work of the rock.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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