The Legacy of Decades Long Activism
Kids inside the bears den at Leonard Schine Preserve Natural Playground at Aspetuck Land Trust.
Photo by Aspetuck Land Trust
Fairfield County has a longstanding history of environmental activism, with a number of our homegrown organizations celebrating milestone anniversaries this year.
Flashback to spring 1966: Joy Shaw, a young mother, horrified at the sight of a bulldozer razing the trees along the Mill River, plants herself in front of it. The driver stops. That year Shaw founded the Mill River Wetland Committee, and began extensive research on the history and ecology of the river. This would become the foundation for the River Lab program, now part of the Fairfield school curriculum, with more than 400 volunteers leading study trips each year.
Sara Jannot, who did the program as a child, became a parent guide, and is now the fifth-grade co-director of River Lab. Judy Prill’s experience on the river inspired her to pursue an environmental career working for Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “My conviction still is that this is what elementary education should be about. We should know that we live in watershed systems, so we grow with the sensitivity of what we do to the land--knowing that in everything we do there will be a curiosity about what watershed am I in?—and then being motivated to being a good steward,” explains Shaw.
Good stewardship is also at the core of Aspetuck Land Trust’s mission. Founded 50 years ago by Barlow Cutler-Wotton, ALT has expanded to 1,800+ acres in seven towns in Easton, Fairfield, Westport, and Wilton. Executive director David Brant notes that ALT has three focuses: acquiring and saving land, conservation, and community engagement, especially young kids and families, for which they created a children’s nature trail and natural playground. With over 1,000 local members, ALT accepts volunteers at every level, from trimming blueberry bushes to trail stewards who monitor the land.
The Nature Center at CT Audubon’s Roy & Margot Larsen Wildlife Sanctuary in Fairfield is celebrating 45 years. The center houses classrooms, live bird and animal exhibits, a greenhouse and a Nature Store. Milan Bull, director of science and conservation, began working there that year, and recalls it as a turning point in their mission not only to conserve, but also to educate. “Once the building was up we were open to doing all kind of educational programs. Schools would come every day of the week to have a walk on the sanctuary led by a trained guide,” says Bull.
In 1986, Dick Harris bought a wooden dory and ventured out into Long Island Sound to test the waters—literally. He soon began recruiting students and other volunteers to monitor pollution in Long Island Sound in a unique form of citizen science. He met up with Pete Fraboni of the Westport Nature Center, now Earthplace. Harbor Watch became part of Earthplace in 1993, complete with lab.
Harbor Watch director Sara Crosby notes, “Fundamentally what we do is really important: keeping our coastal waters clean for the people who live here.” Since Harris first set out in his little boat 30 years ago, Harbor Watch has trained over 1,000 students, interns, and volunteers. Luke Stewart, a New Canaan H.S. student, says. “I have learned that we must all use our expertise to protect our valuable natural resources, starting with the water we drink and the important food webs of the Long Island Sound.”
Fairfield’s Earth Day Celebration also had a humble beginning—the parking lot of Independence Hall. Organized by Ed Boman and Mike Zembruski of Public Works, it drew only a handful of exhibitors, and fewer visitors. One attendee, Larry Kaley, volunteered, became chair and was inspired to get students involved. Parents got involved; local business got involved. Flash forward 20 years to 2017 and FEDC is a force of nature, with over a thousand visitors from neighboring towns and almost 100 exhibitors at last count. Under Mary Hogue’s chairmanship, FEDC’s mantra has become “Make every day Earth Day,” with the all-volunteer group working year round to promote environmental awareness and sustainability by partnering with groups such as the Fairfield Bicycle and Pedestrian committee and the Clean Energy Task Force.
Think Local, Act Local
Help celebrate. Get involved. Make a world of difference
aspetucklandtrust.org / 203-331-1906
ctaudubon.org / 203-259-6305
earthplace.org / 203-557-4400
fairfieldEarthday.wordpress.com / 203-259-1847
river-lab.org / 203-259-1847
Joy Shaw (left), Milan Bull (right), and Dick Harris (below) all share a common goal: educating the youth of today about environmental issues affecting us here in Connecticut. Their hope is to pass the torch to this new generation and to ensure they will go on to carry out the work they began. More money is always needed to fund educational programs that have this goal in mind.