Town dedicates newest natural treasure

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Mansfield - posted Tue., Jun. 7, 2011
Visitors traverse a stream during a tour of the Albert E. Moss Sanctuary in Mansfield. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Visitors traverse a stream during a tour of the Albert E. Moss Sanctuary in Mansfield. Photos by Melanie Savage.

Once upon a time (c. 1840), a farmhouse stood on the corner of Route 195 and Birchwood Heights Road in Mansfield. Imagine the surrounding land, minus the Mansfield Apartments, populated by farm animals and native wildlife. Between 1846 and 1866, a pond was created to serve as an auxiliary water source for a silk mill located a mile downstream.

Fast-forward to 2010. The town of Mansfield purchased the parcel of land, now known as the Albert E. Moss Sanctuary, from the University of Connecticut. On June 5, Mansfield held a dedication ceremony, sponsored by the town’s Parks Advisory Committee and Mansfield Parks and Recreation. With a conservation restriction held by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, the 135-acre sanctuary will be preserved as a forest and wildlife habitat. With the pond (known as Tift or Sullivan Pond) at its center, the sanctuary offers walking trails for nearby residents.

Gathering for the dedication were a variety of local leaders, including Parks Coordinator Jennifer Kaufman, Dan Donahue from the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, Thomas Q. Callahan, interim chief of staff for the UConn Health Center, Cynthia van Zelm, executive director of Mansfield Downtown Partnership, Inc., Mansfield Mayor Betsy Paterson, and state Rep. Gregg Haddad (D-54th District). According to the dedication program, the sanctuary “is named in honor of Professor Moss, the inspiring educator in UConn’s Forestry Department from 1914-1942.” Moss developed the first curriculum in forest management at UConn (in 1924) and in wildlife management (in 1932).

Following the ceremony, local naturalists Sue and Tom Harrington led a guided walk along some of the sanctuary’s trails. “Believe it or not, these pines were planted in honor of George Washington’s 200th birthday,” said Sue, as the large group entered the trail from the parking lot behind the Mansfield Apartments. According to the sanctuary pamphlet, Moss and his students planted a grove of white pines in 1932 in honor of the first U.S. president. Today, the grove is being filled in by young deciduous trees and invasive, non-native plants such as barberry and autumn olive. But the remaining pines still provide a shady approach to the pond.

Approaching a circular path around the pond, Sue recalled studying on the land as a UConn student, “though not as one of Moss’ students,” she added with a laugh. “I haven't been around that long.”

Among the zoological treasures noted during the hour-long walk were a woodchuck foraging in the undergrowth, a water snake resting along the shore of the pond, and the nest of a blue gill nestled within the water’s shallows. The Harringtons pointed out a variety of native flora, including the Christmas fern (an evergreen characterized by its stocking-shaped pinna, or leaflet), the maple-leaf viburnum, and Lycopodium (a moss commonly referred to as ground pine, for its resemblance to an immature evergreen).

“We’ve examined just a fraction of what this site has to offer,” said Tom, leading the group back into the parking lot.

There are a total of 2.15 miles of walking trails at the Albert E. Moss Sanctuary. Among the points of interest are the pond itself, which was associated with the silk mill of John and George Hanks (c. 1810). The mill was reportedly the first of its kind in the U.S., and now resides at the Henry Ford Museum, located in Deerborn, Mich. An old root cellar adjacent to the pond is reminiscent of a time predating refrigeration, when farm crops such as potatoes and cabbages would have been kept just above freezing in underground stone structures.

If you plan to visit the Albert E. Moss Sanctuary, park across the street at the Mansfield Community Center/Town Hall. Walk across the street and down the wooden staircase that bisects the apartments to the entrance of the sanctuary. For more information, go to the website

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