Mr. David Brant — March 6, 2014

David Brant, Executive Director of the Aspetuck Land Trust (“ALT”) spoke on the holdings and activities of the Land Trust. The ALT was founded in 1966 when Barlow Cutler Wotton, a native Westporter and staunch environmentalist, fought to save a patch of marshland from development.  The Leonard Schine Preserve, acquired in 1967, was the ALT’s first property, located off Ford Road and Rte. 57 in Westport. The ALT now maintains 45 trailed nature preserves and other conservation-only properties on over 1,700 acres of land located in Westport, Weston, Easton, Fairfield, Redding, Wilton and Bridgeport.

Mr. Brant gave an overview of many of the acquisitions that the ALT has made and the work that has been done on them, including:

Their largest holding, Trout Brook Valley, when combined with the adjacent Crow Hill and Jump Hill Preserves, encompasses 1,009 acres of blueberry and apple orchards, teeming vernal pools, and hillside and valley trails.

The Allen Salt Marsh on six non-trailed acres on the west side of the Mill Pond in Westport provides access for viewing the wildlife and scenery of the Mill Pond.

The Benjamin Wildlife Preserve in Weston offers a great variety of ferns, wildflowers and trees.

Great Salt Marsh Island in Bridgeport offers 10 acres of great bird watching.

At the 4-acre Butkus Pond Preserve in Fairfield, the ALT introduced fish to consume the invasive vegetation that had overtaken the pond, a catch-and-release pond with a variety of fish.

The 14-acre Eno Marsh Preserve, mostly wetlands, off Saugatuck Avenue in SW Westport, features a large tulip tree.

At Kensie Point near Sasco Beach, the ALT entered into a conservation restriction agreement with the owner of a large estate safeguarding 6.4 acres, including 1,850 feet of waterfront.

Caryl and Edna Haskins donated the 16-acre hidden gem of a preserve in Westport off Compo Road South that bears their names, as does a lecture series inaugurated by the ALT.

Recent preservation projects include the 39-acre Newman-Poses Preserve alongside the Aspetuck River off Bayberry in Westport, owned by the town and managed by the ALT, preserved in 2011; the 34-acre Randall’s Farm Preserve in Easton, one of the last old open-meadow farm fields in the area, preserved in 2012; and 10-acre Southport Park, also managed but not owned by the ALT, where the ALT constructed trails and added trees and a variety of plants intended to encourage wildlife, opened in 2013.

Mr. Brant discussed a mapping project undertaken in conjunction with the Fairfield County Regional Conservation Project, where they create a map with overlays identifying land ownership and habitat patterns so that they can identify potential wildlife corridors between existing preserves to guide future acquisitions. The plan is to create connecting greenways to protect wildlife, allow connecting trails and protect salt marshes. Using a map, he showed the possibility of connecting Trout Brook Valley, Devil’s Den, Honeyhill Preserve and the Norwalk River Trail.

Mr. Brant emphasized that the Trout Brook Valley Preserve (“TBV”) is important not only for its 1,009 acres of varied topography and wildlife, but also because it is at the center of ten square miles of contiguous forest, the largest such in Fairfield County. The ALT and Connecticut Audubon Society conducted their first wildlife survey of TBV in 2011 and the ALT completed a forest management plan for the preserve in 2012. The survey showed the surprising variety and worrisome fragility of the preserve’s wildlife. As a result of the survey, the ALT eliminated one trail through an area replete with vernal pools that harbor fragile wildlife, consolidated other trails, and began to require dogs to be leashed in the greater part of the preserve, a move that irked many dog owners accustomed to letting their dogs bound unleashed throughout the preserve. The survey and plan reinforced the ALT’s determination to maintain and protect healthy species and habitat diversity.

Mr. Brant completed his discussion with a description of the ALT’s efforts related to its 3.2-acre Taylortown Salt Marsh Preserve on the Saugatuck River in Westport.  The ALT has a project to remove the tall, invasive phragmites weeds that thrive along the river north of downtown. The weeds spoil the view, kill off native plants such as cattails and sedges, and deplete the biologically rich tidal marsh. The project to cut back the weeds and use a herbicide to kill them off will extend beyond the preserve to additional acres of infested wetland.  Mr. Brant believes that this project will transform Westport by creating a greatly more attractive wetland in the midst of the town. Mr. Brant noted that they have $15,000 in grants to cover a portion of the $60,000 cost of this project, may get $10,000 from Newman’s Own and are looking for more support. The ALT is also looking for additional acquisitions along the Saugatuck River.