Robbins Preserve will safeguard struggling species

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Wed., Nov. 14, 2012
The preserve is a major site for the endangered variable sedge. Photos by D. Coffey.
The preserve is a major site for the endangered variable sedge. Photos by D. Coffey.

Andy Rzeznikiewicz has started posting signs along the boundaries of the Wyndham Land Trust's Robbins Preserve in Thompson lately. A member of the WLT Board of Directors, he is also making plans to manage the land and improve it for the rare species there. The 124 acres provides habitat for variable sedge, the frosted elfin butterfly and the blue spotted salamander, all species considered to be in need of protection in the state of Connecticut.

That was why WLT wanted the property in the first place. With assistance from the Nature Conservancy, a matching open space grant from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the cooperation of land owner Malcolm Robbins, the land will remain protected.

“That property has a lot of things going for it,” said Holly Drinkuth, director of outreach programs for the Nature Conservancy. “It has multiple endangered species. It has a nice diversity of habitat. There are beautiful wetlands with the Five Mile River running through it. There is forested land and big open areas of grassland, which is unusual in this part of the state. It's very important for a variety of species.”

It took two years to complete the deal. “When you go for state money, it takes forever and a lifetime to get,” said Rzeznikiewicz. “It's very stressful, but it's the only way to get a chunk of money to protect land.” WLT knew they were getting the money within six months of application, but it took months to finalize the paperwork for the state and TNC. “We had lots of extra layers to work through to get it done, but in the end, it got protected,” he said.

“There is a lot of due diligence to land protection,” Drinkuth said. The layers to that process included getting approvals from the state, making sure the land wasn't contaminated and that there were no encroachment issues. “You want to make sure the conservation project is a good one, that you don't run into additional problems in the future,” she said.

Rzeznikiewicz plans to cut trees in some areas to open it up to sunlight, which is critical to variable sedge. The semi-open habitat is also good for other rare species. He plans to take out white pine from the evergreen forests in order to give the spruce some room to grow and prosper. Volunteers have already started helping with the task.

“It's really beautiful property,” he said. “There are big meadows, lots of pine, hemlock and spruce. It's different than what you find in much of Connecticut.” He's also convinced the land provides habitat for whippoorwills – a jay-sized, nocturnal bird that is rare in this part of the state. It was part of the pitch for the grant application. Rzeznikiewicz is the sanctuary manager at the Connecticut Audubon Center in Pomfret. Birds are his forte, but he hasn't heard the call of a whippoorwill in 20 years. This purchase will help ensure he won't wait another 20 years to hear their signature call.

The property is open to the public. Motorized vehicles are not allowed. For more information on the Wyndham Land Trust or stewardship opportunities, call 860-963-2090 or e-mail info@wyndhamlandtrust.org.


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