Colchester Land Trust hike explores Larson's Farm

By Merja H. Lehtinen - ReminderNews
Colchester - posted Mon., Feb. 10, 2014
Hikers were cautioned to wear thick boots and heavy-duty long pants, as the terrain is considered difficult. Photos by Merja H. Lehtinen.
Hikers were cautioned to wear thick boots and heavy-duty long pants, as the terrain is considered difficult. Photos by Merja H. Lehtinen.

As DEEP-trained wildlife conservationist Al Petell explained on Feb. 2, "a walk on what is left of Larson's Farm - at the very end of Scoville Road - is a reminder of how important it is to save the natural habitat in town."

The Larson forest is considered a mature one, with little underbrush - a critical characteristic of land that offers a thriving environment for birds and wildlife. Once the underbrush of a forest is blocked out by the canopy of mature trees or by cutting, the natural habitat for native wildlife disappears. Forests need to have underbrush for wildlife to thrive and the environment to remain balanced, Petell explained. It was a wet and mushy walk up to and around the former farm after passing through several miles of rural housing.

Development impacts everything, including the local microclimate, as well as what thrives and what does not.

The now small, intact part of the former Larson Farm that remains undeveloped is protected. There is a large commercial caged chicken farm adjacent, where expansive solar power installations required the clearing of trees and underbrush. The access road, however, is one of the few remaining dirt roads in town.

Petell said so many farmers' descendants do not wish to farm and protect their own food-producing land. "They want to be bankers and move to Fairfield County," he said, and that leaves the land vulnerable to developers who strip the property of critical underbrush so that the potential for businesses or housing is clearly evident. With that comes a loss of homes and habitat for song birds and other critical and small wildlife, which is why our local bird populations are declining, he said. "Development strips the habitat and all that remain are mature trees and parking lots. Nothing thrives in that," Petell said.

The surge of development has unintended surges of inappropriate wildlife migration. Bear and deer end up on roads or near malls, seeking food and water they can smell from the restaurants, after streams and even rivers are channeled into underground pipes.
"Think it is not possible here?" asked Petell. "I had a bear in my back yard a short while ago," he said.

The deer population has exploded as well. There were so few deer after the Indian and Revolutionary War period that many people are not aware deer hunting itself was banned in Connecticut until the mid 1970s. When bird populations decline, so do bees, and other critical components of food generation. Today, the danger is increasingly from new housing and business development. Forests are critical assets, Petell said.

The Larson Farm was also once a destination for beagle owners who would run their dogs in trials based on a maze, said a walker, who used to visit in the place in the 1950s. Today, it is public property maintained by DEEP and used to nurture birds and small wildlife. It is open for hunting by special DEEP-issued permits in appropriate hunting seasons.

Most people who took the Colchester Land Trust’s “Discover Colchester” walk were interested in local history as well as the physical exercise. Kathy Barnowski accompanied her husband John, who organized the hike, and counted about 26 people walking alongside dogs and family members.

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