For today’s Q&A with a local organization, we hear from Aaron Lefland, executive director of the New Canaan Land Trust.
Here’s our exchange. New Canaanite: The Land Trust closed and then reopened its walking trails. What has the feedback from trail-goers been since the reopening? Aaron Lefland: Our members and visitors were very understanding about the trail closures, and like us, were happy to see the trails re-opened after the brief closure. Since the health crisis began, we’ve seen a significant uptick in visitation to all of our properties, and are thrilled that so many people are exploring the special places that the Land Trust has worked to protect.
Town officials on Sunday reopened New Canaan parks strictly for use of walking trails. Though park visitors may drive into places such as Waveny and Irwin, activities other than trail-walking—such as use of fields and playgrounds—are not permitted, with the sole exception of picking up to-go food from Mead Park Lodge, according to Emergency Management Director Mike Handler. “We trust that residents will use common sense and maintain proper social distancing,” Handler said in Saturday’s town-wide outcall. “If possible, we suggest that you wear a face covering. Again, this is just a suggestion and we leave it up to you to decide what is appropriate given your activity. We hope this reduces some of the congestion on our roadways.”
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan closed New Canaan parks March 30. Since then, New Canaan has lost an additional 17 people to COVID-19 virus, bringing the town’s total to 21.
A large crowd gathered Thursday evening to witness the release of two rehabilitated red foxes on a New Canaan Land Trust nature preserve off of Davenport Ridge Road. The young foxes, one male and one female, had been orphaned earlier this year, according to Dara Reid, director of Wildlife in Crisis, a Weston-based nonprofit organization that has been caring for the pair. “Both families were killed,” Reid said from the Colhoun Preserve, a 21-acre parcel acquired by the Land Trust in 1974. “One by cars and one by rodenticide—rat and mouse poison.”
Now about six months old, the foxes were in “very poor” condition when they were brought in, Reid said. “We had to give them fluids and a lot of rest when they first came to us but they have fully recovered and grown at this point,” she said.
When the cages were opened in a clearing away from the road, one of the foxes was eager for freedom, hesitating only momentarily before bounding into the bushes.
Of all the ways to protect ourselves against Lyme disease, planting “this” instead of “that” isn’t usually part of the conversation. And yet, knowing which plants attract disease-carrying ticks can make a difference. Japanese barberry, a non-native ornamental shrub that’s popular for its deer resistance, became established on New England’s post-agricultural lands in the early 1900s. It has invaded our forests, stifling native tree and wildflower regeneration and altering soil chemistry. Extensive research has revealed there is a link between Japanese barberry infestations and blacklegged (aka “deer”) ticks and the causal agent of Lyme disease with which they are infected.
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.