Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Other Half of Our Mission


by Beth Sullivan

Our Mission: We preserve natural habitats in southeastern Connecticut by acquiring and protecting lands, and by communicating the value of these irreplaceable resources.

Communicating the value of these
irreplaceable resources.
Everyone who is aware of Avalonia as a land conservancy in southeast CT,  understands the first part of that statement,  about preserving, acquiring and protecting.  Over the last several years Avalonia has acquired, or is in the process of acquiring, almost 1000 acres.  Now, over 4,300 acres are protected for the future, for generations of wildlife and people. From our shoreline, which is imperiled by rising sea level, to coastal forests that are being lost to development;  from small vernal pools, to swamps and bogs,  ponds, streams and rivers;  from meadows and thickets to forests with rocky ledges and towering old trees;  Avalonia has a wonderful and diverse cross section of habitats to share.

An illustrated sign captures the
interest of a young hiker.
That’s where the second part of the mission comes in: sharing these resources, communicating and educating all who will listen, about the importance of habitat conservation and diversity. Many of us took refuge in nature over this past year.  Our trails saw enormous increases in traffic.   It is always my hope that people truly think about where they walk, see with different eyes, keep their ears alert, when they are on a trail in the woods and not merely walk for exercise with ear phones securely plugged in! You can learn so much, just on your own, by paying attention.

However, sometimes we are lucky to be able to truly, actively, educate people about our preserves, and sometimes they educate us!    A few preserves have informational signage to point out special elements  along the trail.  We are hoping to do a little more of that.  There is a lot of information on our website about each of the preserves, and links to articles that may offer more insight. Hike and Seek has remained popular with children, families and even older adults who have found our trails and preserves to be sources of learning, respite and  exercise.

The students become the educators
This is the time of year when we also begin to think about some special programs that offer different levels of education.   The Conn College Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment will be joining forces with Avalonia for the ninth year!  Since 2013 I have worked with some of the brightest  young minds, enthusiastic, hopeful and eager to participate in some aspect of Avalonia’s work.  Over the years we have had projects from stewardship and on the ground research, to fundraising and social media efforts. We never quite know what direction their projects will take, but in the next semester, you will be introduced to some of them as we learn together.

I am also so very lucky to be working with a great team from UConn on the Hoffman Project.  Through these connections, I myself am learning a lot about forest management, climate change and also ways to impart that knowledge to others.  We are creating more informational signs for trail side learning.  Under the leadership of a Stonington Town Committee member, a professor from GWU,  Avalonia will be offering a series of webinars about how changing climate is influencing our forests and their ability to adapt.  Entitled “Finding the Right Trees for the Right Time”,  the seminars will discuss the planning and planting we are doing to ensure a resilient coastal forest at the Hoffman Preserve.   Find out more on our website here.  We are also planning to work with the local schools and teachers to offer Hoffman as a living laboratory for learning and field work.   At a time when classrooms are often challenging to keep safe, an outdoor classroom may prove perfect!

Putting heads together to explore
life found in a  vernal pool.
(Photo credit:Kim Bradley) 
There are also many Citizen Science opportunities for students and families to participate in, providing opportunities to learn,and to contribute data to the knowledge base about wildlife in our area.   There is an ongoing opportunity to record bird sightings on eBird   We have just finished the Great Backyard Birdcount   and Project Feeder Watch continues.  Both websites offer great information about observing birds wherever you may be.   Believe it or not, next month we will be watching for the return of the Osprey to their nesting sites. Osprey Nation offers great information and opportunities to monitor these magnificent birds. We will also begin to listen for and report,  those first sounds of spring, from frogs and toads in the Frog Watch Program,  sponsored locally by the Mystic Aquarium.

We may still be in the middle of winter, but we can think forward to spring. Avalonia provides the land and opportunities to communicate the value of these irreplaceable resources.

At Hoffman, educational signage helps
visitors understand conservation practices.

Citizen science activities can start early and last a lifetime.
Photo credit: Nick Young

Education and outreach can take many forms.