Aaron Lefland stepped into a hilltop clearing amid beech, chestnut oak and American holly trees in Silvermine on Wednesday morning, and began to unroll about 80 feet of plastic tarp in a strip over the cold, hard ground.
Together with local volunteers Susan Bergen, Catharine Sturgess and Peter Bergen, Lefland—executive director of the New Canaan Land Trust—laid the plastic over the footprint of a house that had stood here until about 18 months ago. That’s when the nonprofit organization acquired this 6.35-acre property from award-winning zoologist and longtime New Canaanite Jim Fowler, and began transforming the property into a publicly accessible piece of open space that features trails, seating, pond views and connection to an abutting 40-acre property that collectively form what’s being called the “Silvermine-Still Pond Preserve.”
The purpose of the plastic is to rid the site of invasive and other plant species without using herbicides or chemicals, so that a wildflower meadow may sprout there.
“We tore down the house, and now we want to convert it really into prime wildlife habitat,” Lefland said on a crisp, cool morning, the “counsel ring” seating area created by Gus Larson of Troop 70 for his Eagle Scout project, and Still Pond itself, behind him. “So we are going to be planting native wildflowers and grasses that promote bee, butterfly and bird populations.”
An effort that honors the legacy of Fowler, a Georgia native who earned wide fame as TV host of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” and called the sylvan property home for nearly 35 years. The “Silvermine-Fowler” leg of the Preserve features a rolling landscape of mixed hardwood trees, primarily of oak, birch, beech, hickory and maple, and it’s home to owls, red-tailed hawks, heron, wood ducks, mallards, frogs, fox and migrating birds, among other animals.
It opened to the public last October.
Lefland said many residents on the Silvermine side of the larger Preserve “now have access to the former Audubon property that we manage.”
“This has been a great access way,” Lefland said. “I think it’s still a little bit of a secret in terms of the greater New Canaan community. We still get a lot more use at the Watson-Symington property. So I would like to find a way to encourage people to come here, kind of split the usage, split the impact. But our trails definitely get used, and we are constantly trying to find ways to improve access and improve the trails.”