A Friends of NACD District Grant Helps the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District Establish Trails and Habitat at Outdoor Education Center

By Dan Mullins, Executive Director, Eastern Connecticut Conservation District and Candice Abinanti, NACD Southeast Region Representative

The Eastern Connecticut Conservation District (ECCD) considers itself fortunate to own 85 acres of land in Brooklyn, Connecticut. The land features a wide variety of habitats and natural resources, and the ECCD is currently working to develop an outdoor education center on it, named the Milo Appley Conservation Showcase and Education Center.

Over the past year, with the support of a 2021 Friends of NACD District Grant, the ECCD developed a framework and began to implement actions to help move the district forward in creating this outdoor education center.

A priority for the center is developing trails for visitors to enjoy. To that end, ECCD has worked on creating an educational trail with interpretive signs to educate visitors to the center about habitats, wildlife, invasive species, agriculture, land management, climate change, and water quality. This work is being carried out by EECD staff and students from the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA), who also conducted a bird survey on the land (pictured).

ECCD has also created a Letterbox Trail on the land. Like geocaching, letterboxing encourages fun outdoor treasure-hunting, but instead of trinkets, letterboxes contain stamps. Often, these stamps are unique and hand carved. Letterbox finders, equipped with an inkpad, add the stamp to their own personal logbook, and then leave an imprint of their own personal stamp behind on the letterbox’s visitor or logbook. The letterboxes on ECCD’s Letterbox Trail highlight natural resources. Volunteers placed the letterboxes throughout the property, and The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor helped ECCD promote the Letterbox Trail through its annual Walktober event.

The Friends of NACD District Grant also helped ECCD, along with partners and volunteers (pictured ) plant milkweed at the center to establish a Monarch Waystation. The waystation provides habitat for migrating monarchs and educates center visitors about pollinator habitats. ECCD received a certificate from Monarch Watch recognizing these efforts to create and maintain a Monarch Waystation. ECCD also worked with volunteers to remove invasive plants on the land.

To continue to develop the outdoor education center, ECCD has submitted a proposal to the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut for funding to construct an outdoor classroom, design and manufacture trail signs and kiosks, and develop an   educational program, aligned to Connecticut science standards, to attract local schools to the outdoor education center. If the grant funding is awarded, ECCD will be transforming the property into a full-fledged environmental center over the next 1-2 years. If the funding is not awarded, ECCD will continue to seek funding while slowly transforming the property into an education center.

“Once developed,” says ECCD Board of Directors Chair Bill Jorsz, “the Milo Appley Conservation Showcase and Education Center will be a public venue accessible to individuals, families, and schools. At the Center, the public will learn about different habitats, the environment, ecosystems, flora and fauna, and threats to our natural resources, which will support regional efforts to protect the environment in eastern Connecticut.”

The Friends of NACD District Grants Program awards grants of up to $2,500 to conservation districts to conduct new activities or test novel approaches to their operations. The grants are made possible by individual donations and sponsorships to the Friends of NACD.

Learn more about past grantees and how to become a Friend of NACD here.

Tags: Friends of NACD

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