Local Organizations and COVID-19: New Canaan Nature Center

For today’s Q&A with the head of a local organization, we talk to Bill Flynn, executive director of the New Canaan Nature Center. 

Here’s our interview. 

New Canaanite: The trails at New Canaan Nature Center recently reopened. What are your overall operations like right now? Bill Flynn: Currently, because we are a public park, the trails are open. So people can come and visit the Nature Center on the trails, maintaining social distancing. Our buildings are currently closed.

‘Thank You, Ms. Marianne’: Marianne Kay To Retire from New Canaan Nature Center Preschool

It is with great sadness and joy that the New Canaan Nature Center is announcing the retirement of our beloved Preschool Director, Marianne Kay.  While we are sad to lose such a dedicated and loving early childhood education professional, but we are happy that she was able to make the decision that will allow her to travel, spend time with her family, and have fun pursuing her hobbies. Marianne Kay began her association with the New Canaan Nature Center 21 years ago, when her daughter, Elisabeth, attended the New Canaan Nature Center Preschool.  Marianne loved the program so much, that she agreed to come on as a part-time teacher just six months later.  From there she became a full-time teacher and then taking on the role of Assistant Director of the Preschool.  In 2011, Marianne was hired as the Preschool Director.  

In her 9 years as the Director, Marianne has poured her heart and soul into our Preschool.  Early childhood education is an exhausting challenge and takes a special kind of person to dedicate their life to cultivating and nurturing young minds.  She comes to work every day with a huge smile on her face, making our parents feel secure that their children are in such loving and capable hands.  

Marianne has grown our preschool not only in numbers, but its integrity as well.  Nature-based preschools are the fastest growing form of early childhood education, and the New Canaan Nature Center was the first nature-based preschool in the country.  Marianne and the teachers work tirelessly to ensure that our program lives up to the high standard they have created.  

The New Canaan Nature Center was extremely lucky to have Marianne Kay for the past 20 years.  As we begin our search for the next Director, we know the program will march on next year, since she has helped create such a strong program, and recruit and train such a wonderful teaching staff.  We know she will still volunteer and be part of our organization, so this is not a good-bye, but a heart-felt thank you and see you soon!

‘They Are Such Lovable, Amazing Animals’: Donkeys Move In at New Canaan Nature Center

Bill Flynn, executive director of the New Canaan Nature Center, has watched these past five days as visitors to the beloved 13-acre property have gravitated toward a newly installed barn near its well-known “sugar shack.”

There, in a paddock flanked by chickens and goats, four rescued donkeys that have lived for years on a private property New Canaan have taken up residence. “People are just flocking to them,” Flynn said on a cool, overcast morning as preschoolers from the Nature Center’s program as well as First Presbyterian next door gazed on Poppy, Charlie, Tilly and Chipper. 

“It was a struggle for a year and the little bit to get through all of the red tape of them coming here, but people have been really excited and will have a great relationship with them because they are such approachable animals and so social,” he said. “It’s easy to have a connection with them.”

It’s been nearly one year since Flynn and the Nature Center applied to the town to install a new barn for the donkeys, whose longtime owner on North Wilton Road made arrangements for the animals (and still visits them twice daily) as she downsized to a different home within New Canaan. Plans for a single new structure that would house chickens and goats as well as the donkeys gave way, over time, to physically relocating the donkeys’ own original barn on North Wilton Road to the Nature Center itself. 

They moved in last Thursday. 

“The most exciting part is that it feels like this is just what it should be,” Flynn said. “The barn looks exactly the way it should be, it looks great, it fits in with the rest of the farm with the chickens and the goats and we’ve got the Sugar Shack, and groups just gravitate toward them.

New Barn for Donkeys at Nature Center Delayed

The New Canaan Nature Center’s construction of a barn for donated donkeys has been delayed due to pending approval from various town bodies, officials said, but is expected to break ground in the fall. Because the land is owned by the town, more approvals are needed before construction can begin, according to New Canaan Nature Center Executive Director Bill Flynn. “It’s a town-owned property so it’s a lot more complicated than just getting the normal planning and zoning permits,” Flynn told NewCanaanite.com. “It requires another level of approval.”

The Board of Selectmen in May unanimously approved an initial request to begin planning construction. However, the Nature Center must gain approval from municipal bodies including Inland Wetlands, Health and Planning & Zoning, he said.

‘Fantastic’ GreenLink Trail Attracts Athletes, Nature Lovers

It has been a little less than three months since the grand opening of New Canaan’s “GreenLink” trail and “greenway,” a walkable loop that includes, Irwin Park and the Nature Center. It traverses three New Canaan Land Trust properties, allowing citizens to take full advantage of their bounty. Some say that you can’t take the GreenLink path without seeing at least one fellow resident taking a stroll, so we took it upon ourselves to peruse around and find out how people are feeling about it. Jogging down the trail, New Canaan resident Katherine Mettler said the quality path for her knees helped with running. “At some trails, like Waveny, running on the pavement can be really hard on your knees,” she said.