Letter: Bristow Bird Sanctuary a ‘Most Treasured’ Hidden Gem

We in New Canaan are truly blessed with Waveny, Irwin, and Mead Public Parks as well as our many Land Trust Preserves, but one of our most treasured hidden gems must be The Helen and Alice Bristow Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve. Yet, in spite of this, I suspect many of you might rightly ask – where is it, I’ve never even heard of it? Answer: Bristow Park is located right next to Mead Park. A little history lesson: Way back in 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act made hunting migratory birds illegal – a practice mostly done to harvest brilliantly colored feathers to adorn women’s hats. Thanks to a group of far sighted New Canaan conservationists seeking to encourage interest in bird-life and protect native birds, the Bristow land was acquired in 1924 creating the third oldest private bird sanctuary in the nation.

Podcast: Restoring New Canaan’s Long-Forgotten Bird Sanctuary

This week on 0684-Radi0, our free weekly podcast (subscribe here in the iTunes Store), we talk to Chris Schipper, chairman of the New Canaan Conservation Commission. The appointed body this year will unveil a master plan for the restoration of a 17-acre bird sanctuary and wildwood preserve—one of the very first in the United States—that’s been largely forgotten by locals. The plan, which is expected to start in earnest next fiscal year, will culminate with the centennial anniversary of the town-owned Bristow sanctuary. This week’s podcast is sponsored by Pet Pantry Warehouse, your local, family-owned, community-based pet specialty retailer. Here are recent episodes of 0684-Radi0:

Conservation Commission Lays Out Broad Vision for Restoring ‘New Canaan’s Historic Nature Park’

Town officials say they’re hoping by the end of June to have the wetlands marked within a little-known bird sanctuary that adjoins Mead Park, the early stages of a larger effort to develop a “master plan” for the 17-acre parcel. With pedestrian entrances from Old Stamford Road to the south and Mead Park to the north, the 1924-created Bristow Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve is “a little hidden gem” of New Canaan, Conservation Commission Chairman Chris Schipper said during the group’s most recent regular meeting. The town has engaged local landscape architecture firm Keith Simpson Associates to develop a master plan and bid packages have gone out for wetlands marking as well as topographical surveying that will include trails, trees and “any noted spots” within Bristow, Schipper said during the April 11 meeting, held at Town Hall. “We have gotten our first returns on bids, but more importantly we have been fortunate in reaching out to some local foundations to say, ‘Hey would you support us with some seed money so we can develop a master plan for the Bristow preserve?’ And the thinking is that with a master plan developed we would start a process of rehabilitation, with a goal of having it done by 2024, which would be the centennial, the 100th anniversary of Bristow. So we have given ourselves a little time in how we would improve or rehabilitate this 16.8 acres at that point.

Op-Ed: Remembrances of Bristow Bird Sanctuary

As a young child in New Canaan after WWII, I had the privilege of living in the Justus Hoyt House on Main Street, where my mother and grandfather had been born, as well as generations of Hoyts dating back to 1770. The house stood directly opposite New Canaan Library. A bonus of living there was that my grandfather’s flower shop and greenhouses—S.B. Hoyt Florists Est.1908—was next door. My grandparents, Stephen and Anna Hoyt, lived on a property adjoining ours that fronted on East Maple Street. I had aunts and uncles and cousins up and down East Maple Street and Hoyt Street. One of the perks of being frequently in my grandfather’s orbit, is that when he made trips to the New Canaan Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve he would often invite me along. The Preserve was both a sanctuary and a mission to “Grampy Hoyt” who, as president of the Bird Protective Society of New Canaan, had solicited the funds from Mrs. Barend van Gerbig and other concerned citizens to purchase and fence the 16.8-acre property in 1923. Once through the entrance gate to this haven, my grandfather would engage in conversation with Clinton Bartow, the caretaker, leaving me to explore.