Remembering Mel Bristol

Melvin Lee Bristol, known to friends and family as Mel, passed away on June 10 at the age of 86. Mel served on the board of Naromi Land Trust (now NCLC). Mel was a dedicated steward of his land, Bloomingfields Farm, located in northern Sherman and contiguous with the Wimisink Preserve. His careful stewardship of his land helped maintain the ecological integrity of the Wimisink Preserve and in 2019 he granted an easement over the portion of his lands that abut the preserve, extending the buffer of protection around this special place.

On Saturday, June 10, Mel Bristol passed away at the age of 86.  Until recently he resided at his beloved Bloomingfields Farm, where he had lived and worked since 1970. Mel is survived by his wife of 40 years, Diana Knapp Bristol; his three children Ann Crawford, Ben Bristol and Peter Bristol; his two stepchildren Hannah Knapp and Jeremy Knapp; his seven grandchildren: Jennifer, Justin, Bellamie, Emery, Elena, Alice, and Owen; and the two children of his late sister Irene Bristol Allen: Mark and Jennifer.

Mel was an active member of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association and brought the spirit of agrarianism to everything he did. He had a strong connection to the land. He believed in doing things in the old ways and being a good shepherd of his small farm. He loved to share his rich experiences with the local terrain and waterways. He nurtured plants, food, soil, and his flocks. By doing so, Mel helped to build a local movement in Connecticut about rethinking our relationship with the land, our farms, and our communities.

The son of Herman and Merle Bristol, Melvin Lee Bristol was born and raised in Collinsville, Connecticut. In addition to running a tree farm, his father worked for the Collins [Axe] Company, through which the family established ties with a number of salesmen and friends in South America. These connections in turn led directly to a formative year abroad for Mel in Sao Paulo, Brazil at the age of 14, which he often reflected on as a life-changing event that put him on a new trajectory as an explorer and naturalist. After returning from Brazil, Mel finished high school at Northfield Mount Hermon, became an Eagle Scout, and then went on to Harvard.  As an undergraduate, his prior international experience in Brazil combined with his budding scientific interests earned him a coveted spot on an 18-month Harvard/Yale bird research expedition to India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh which was sponsored by the luminary ornithologist S. Dillon Ripley and led by Ray Paynter. Subsequently, Mel studied with Richard Schultes, author of The Plants of the Gods and a professor at Harvard who is widely considered the father of modern ethnobotany. Under Schultes’ guidance, Mel completed his PhD in Ethnobotany.  His studies and dissertation focused primarily on the medicinal and shamanistic uses of certain plants by the Kamsá people of the Sibundoy Valley in Colombia, which have been published in the Botanical Museum Leaflets of Harvard University.

Just prior to leaving for Cuba for a summer of botanical research in 1959, Mel met Josephine Hart. They were soon married and starting a family, and lived in Cambridge, Colombia, Samoa, and Hawaii before eventually returning to Connecticut ten years later. During this period, Mel conducted sponsored research on the medicinal properties of plants and worked as a Professor of Botany at the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu.

In 1969 the family settled down in Sherman, Connecticut, where Mel set out to reclaim his agrarian roots and embrace the homesteading zeitgeist. With Josephine and her parents, Mel acquired 25 acres of fertile ground in northern Sherman and initiated the work of building a house and barns and tilling the fields. His family grew, crops were experimented with, a landscaping business came and went, and a new focus on daylilies and organic markets emerged.

Around 1980, a local architect introduced Mel to Diana Knapp and their relationship quickly solidified.  With Diana, her children Hannah and Jeremy joined the family and farm. Together, Mel and Diana honed a singular vision for their home, meadows, sheep, chickens, daylilies, and kitchen gardens; and in so doing they helped to inspire a new generation of young farmers in Connecticut, with their focus on maintaining a small and balanced homestead and farming in harmony with the surrounding land and ecosystem. Together, Mel and Diana became leaders of and contributors to the New Milford Farmers Market, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, the Saugerties Garlic Festival, and the conservation efforts of the Naromi Land Trust, the Audubon Society, and more.

At Bloomingfields Farm, Mel worked diligently to keep the old methods of farming alive. He embraced non-electric, non-mechanized methods as much as possible in the way of the Amish. He built a well-sweep with a stone counterbalance in the manner used for thousands of years in the Middle East. He cultivated a “living fence” in the farm’s East Pasture, made of cedar trees. Some years, he even scythed and raked acres upon acres of fields with his daylily workers.

When not working on the farm, Mel loved to spend time with family and friends exploring the waterways and terrain of the Hudson Valley, the Adirondacks, and Northwestern Connecticut.  Mel was most in his element while in his canoe, paddling through marshes and other backwaters; while on cross-country skis, traversing the windswept cornfields of Dutchess County; while in his boots, ambling through the hill country of Litchfield County and beyond; or while sauntering around Bulls Bridge in Kent with his trusty hand-carved walking stick in hand, which he would use to point out the slow march of walking ferns through the landscape, or any other such botanical curiosities to a lucky companion or passerby.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Mel’s memory to either the Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy or the Seed Savers Exchange:

 

https://ctland.org/donate/

https://www.seedsavers.org/donate

Five Ways Forests Create Healthy Communities

Last year all of us on Earth lost over 56 million acres of critical forests – an area larger than all of New England and California combined.  While tropical forests are particularly vulnerable, northern forests are also under attack from wildfires, suburban sprawl, and industry. Scientists say we need to increase and maintain forests to combat the effects of climate change. Here are just five of the ways that trees help protect us:

  1. Forests help reduce the frequency, intensity, and extent of flooding events: Forests are like sponges. The variety of tree species and non-tree vegetation creates a complex and multi-level canopy that intercepts rainfall.  These plants also have a complex root system and deep layers of leaf litter, which can soak up water from rain and give it space and time to be gradually absorbed. Read more here.
  2. Forests help keep our drinking water clean: The complexity of vegetation that slows rainfall and reduces flooding also protects sources of drinking water. The slow infiltration speed reduces pollution in both surface water and groundwater and the trees and other vegetation remove pollutants. Read more here.
  3. Forests help fight climate change: A recent report from Harvard indicates that “New England’s forests are an underrated asset in the fight against climate change, already sequestering the equivalent of 14 percent of carbon emissions across the six states and capable of much more.” Read more here.
  4. Forests prevent species extinction: Forests are home to over two-thirds of the species that live on land.  When we reduce forest size or raze them completely, we lose more than the trees – we lose the plants and animals that depend on those forested lands. More importantly, we destroy the life-giving biodiversity that supports all of the world’s ecosystems.  Read more here.
  5. Forests keep us healthy. There is increasing scientific research that human health depends on large, intact, unfragmented forest ecosystems. From preventing infectious diseases to improving mental health, human well-being is linked to the health of our forests. In short, protecting and conserving forests makes us healthier. Read more here.

Conserving Northwest Connecticut forests is part of the global effort to protect 30 percent of the world’s lands and waters by 2030.  NCLC is committed to accelerating the pace of conservation to help protect these critical ecosystems and the species that depend on them, including our own.

 

PRESS RELEASE: Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy, Save the Sound reach agreement with MDC to protect 5,500 acres

PRESS RELEASE: Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy, Save the Sound reach agreement with MDC to protect 5,500 acres

COLEBROOK, CT—A groundbreaking win for conservation in Northwest Connecticut is being celebrated by the Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy (NCLC) and Save the Sound, who have reached a Memorandum of Understanding with The Metropolitan District (MDC) to protect 5,500 acres of land with a permanent conservation easement.  A recent decision from the CT Department of Public Health (DPH), along with the MOU, instructs MDC to grant a conservation easement to NCLC on approximately 4,300 acres of pristine, forested lands surrounding the Colebrook River Reservoir in Connecticut and an additional 1,200 acres in Massachusetts.

The Memorandum of Understanding and the conservation easement protecting the lands were prompted by MDC’s move earlier this year to seek an abandonment permit for a 10-billion-gallon (BG) water storage space in the Colebrook River Reservoir. DPH granted the abandonment permit on July 20. Open space land surrounding drinking water supplies is currently subject to protections under state law. An abandonment permit could result in the 10 BG no longer being considered a potential drinking water supply by the DPH. Environmental organizations were concerned that such an abandonment could set a precedent that would potentially jeopardize the status of the land surrounding the reservoirs, which is currently open space.

“The permanent protection of these 5,500 acres of natural lands and forests surrounding the Colebrook and West Branch Reservoirs is exceptionally important to the region’s conservation future. The best way to protect our high-quality reservoirs, rivers, and streams is to protect the forested lands around them,” said Catherine Rawson, executive director of NCLC. “Through the vision and partnership of MDC and the state’s leading environmental organizations, these essential lands and waters will be protected for the public benefit forever.”

“Water supply lands are of tremendous value for the present and future generations of Connecticut and Massachusetts residents,” said Roger Reynolds, senior legal director for Save the Sound. “These lands are currently quasi-protected yet vulnerable to development, as their conservation is contingent on use of these reservoirs for water supply. This agreement adds an important layer of protection for human health, wildlife habit, water quality, and recreational access. The best way to protect the purity of future water supply is to permanently conserve the lands necessary to protect them.”

“It is important to note that each of the four Colebrook Reservoir towns—Barkhamsted, Colebrook, New Hartford, and Hartland – have submitted letters of support of the MDC’s abandonment application to DPH. For decades, these towns and their residents have partnered with the MDC and its staff in ensuring that the land surrounding the Colebrook Reservoir is maintained as a protected watershed and available for passive recreation,” stated Scott Jellison, MDC Chief Executive Officer. “We are not abandoning that partnership. Our environmental stewardship of this critical land area has been and will continue to be among the highest priorities. MDC and the watershed towns recognize the 10 billion gallons of future potential emergency drinking water would not be available during a drought and that the best use is for recreational and river benefits. The towns do not support diverting the reservoir for drinking water supply.”

MDC’s rights to 10 BG of water storage space in the Colebrook Reservoir/West Branch Reservoir system come through a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Upon termination of the contract, MDC will no longer have rights to the storage area nor the financial obligations that follow.  If an abandonment permit is granted, MDC will continue to hold rights to 6.5 BG of water between the two reservoirs. A permanent conservation easement would ensure that this abandonment permit (if approved by DPH) and any future changes to the status of the remaining water resources in this watershed do not result in changes to the conservation status of the surrounding lands.

Under the terms of the new agreement, NCLC will purchase a conservation easement on 5,500 acres of MDC-owned land for $1 million. MDC will be permitted to continue its existing uses of the property. New public access to the property will be allowed for passive recreation such as hunting, fishing, hiking, and boating, subject to NCLC and DPH approval. Residential, industrial, commercial, and other forms of development will not be allowed. Save the Sound and Rivers Alliance of Connecticut requested and were granted a public comment period on the abandonment permit, given the importance of the decision for both drinking water supply and source protection land conservation.

Save the Sound, NCLC, Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, Farmington River Watershed Association, Connecticut Land Conservation Council, and The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut jointly submitted comments to DPH in support of MDC’s move to give up a portion of its water rights, noting the environmental benefits—particularly the potential for unrestricted water flow downriver, which, especially during low flow conditions, could improve aquatic life, river water quality, and ecological diversity within the downstream reaches of the river. In addition, the conservation easement on the lands will help to maintain “raw drinking water quality” in the remainder of the reservoir’s supply for potential future use. DPH is expected to issue a decision on MDC’s abandonment permit request on or about July 20.

“Protecting this large forest tract in its current state will forever preserve and protect the water in Colebrook Reservoir as a drinking water source but will also forever be a pristine source of freshwater downstream for the West Branch of the Farmington River,” said Aimee Petras, executive director of the Farmington River Watershed Association. “For over 50 years, the Farmington River has benefited from the augmented cold-water releases provided by the Colebrook Reservoir through Goodwin Dam, often at a flow rate higher than upstream in-flows. These flows, and their reliable high quality, have fostered a recreational fishery that is one of the best in the nation as well as a vibrant paddling community. Today we celebrate that these lands will forever protect what our Farmington River Community has grown to rely upon and will be forever protected for future generations.”

“The Nature Conservancy is thrilled that this new MOU will help protect such a large set of forested lands in the headwaters of the Farmington River,” said Sarah Pellegrino, Land Protection and Strategies Manager for the Connecticut Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “In protecting these forests we are protecting not only their own rich biodiversity, but also one of the highest quality river systems in the Connecticut River watershed.” Amy Blaymore Paterson, executive director of the Connecticut Land Conservation Council, said, “On behalf of the Connecticut Land Conservation Council, I commend the Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy, Save the Sound, and the Metropolitan District Commission for their visionary collaboration in preserving Connecticut’s precious natural resources. This momentous land conservation partnership has the potential to safeguard one of the state’s largest remaining contiguous blocks of forested land, ensuring clean drinking water, purifying our air, protecting wildlife habitat, and helping to mitigate the climate crisis by absorbing and storing greenhouse gases, among many other benefits. Their dedicated efforts are a shining example of how strategic partnerships can create a sustainable and resilient future for Connecticut.”

Margery Feldberg Elected Board President

The Board of Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy elected Margery Feldberg to serve as president for the next three years. Margery, a resident of New Milford and owner of De Hoek Farm, has served on the board for 7 years.
For her part, Feldberg is looking forward to her new role. “ The magic of our area has become more known and there is new pressure, but we are confident we can smartly preserve and protect our region’s natural lands. We are scaling up to triple our pace of conservation between now and 2030 and we look forward to the challenge,” she said.

Our Greatest Thanks to Hiram Williams

This January, after 12 years as board president of NCLC, Hiram Williams stepped down. He will continue to serve on the board. Hiram guided the organization through two mergers with Brookfield Open Space Legacy in 2019 and Naromi Land Trust in 2020 and built a resilient organization ready to meet the challenges of regional conservation work.

Under Hiram’s extraordinary service, the land protected by NCLC grew by over 4,500 acres, making NCLC the 22nd largest land trust in the United States by the number of lands protected. Landscape-scale conservation is a process that often unfolds over many years. With dedicated leadership, it creates lasting protection that safeguards water quality, habitat for wildlife, and farmland soils for future generations.

In December, we asked Hiram to reflect on his tenure with the organization. Hiram said, “I am proud of all that we have accomplished and excited about the future for NCLC and conservation in the northwest corner.”

Among his proudest accomplishments have been building an excellent staff led by Executive Director Catherine Rawson and a dedicated board of directors. “The combination of the two will enable us to meet some pretty significant conservation challenges in the next ten years,” he said.

 

Baldwin Hill Preserve

Baldwin Hill Preserve
Washington
10 acres and 68 acres

Landscape-scale conservation is a process that often unfolds over many years, but the collective vision of neighbors can create lasting protection that will safeguard water quality, habitat for wildlife, and farmland soils for future generations. In the Town of Washington, neighbors Robert Copen, Tal Fagin, David Faber, and Jenny Harris permanently protected hilltop land along Baldwin Hill in New Preston in a two-step process that continues the legacy of the previous landowners. The result is that 78 acres on Baldwin Hill are permanently protected from development.
NCLC: Why did you decide to protect this land with NCLC?
This land has been open space in New Preston for many years and was last used as farmland in
the early 1980s. As long-time residents with homes next to the land, we had watched a
succession of sales occur over the years, with each subsequent owner drawing up ambitious
architectural plans for the construction of large homes, outbuildings, pools, tennis courts, and
more. Thankfully none of these plans reached fruition, but the risk that this beautiful land
would one day be forever altered remained.
Over this time, our two families developed both a close friendship and a shared concern for
preserving the rural character, open space, and abundant wildlife in our neighborhood. Both of
our homes are directly across the street from Averill Farm, a working farm exceeding 200 acres
which has been continuously owned and operated by the Averill family since 1746. In the
1990s, the Averill family sold the development rights of the farm’s acreage to the State of
Connecticut. The effect of this has been tremendously beneficial to the entire surrounding
area, including the historic district of Calhoun Street.
When, during the pandemic, the land sold once again our families determined that if the
opportunity arose for us to team our resources and terminate the risk of future development
we would act boldly to do so. We got lucky. Through a series of unpredictable events, the new
owners decided to abandon their development plan for building an estate from scratch, and
instead bought a local home they could move into immediately. They listed the land for sale.
Rejoicing at this potential opportunity, we were able to quickly negotiate a purchase. We then
began a multi-year process to construct a conservation plan, which culminated in the gift we
made to the land trust in December. Our local attorney, James Kelly, drove the strategy behind
the project, and Catherine and the whole team at the land trust were phenomenal to work
with. We can’t thank everyone enough and are thrilled with the result for us, our neighbors and
the Town of Washington.
NCLC: What do you wish everyone knew about land conservation?
Land conservation is typically a win/win endeavor. Residents and the town benefit in a myriad
of ways from the preservation of open space and the responsible stewardship of the land.
NCLC: Can you think of an experience you had that inspired a love of the natural world?
It is kind of hokey, but we acquired the land via a legal entity we chose to name “Scoop River
LLC”. “Scoop” and “River” are the names of our respective family dogs! Wandering out and
about over the past many years with them inspired us to appreciate nature in new ways —
through their eyes (and noses) rather than just through the human lens.

Member Spotlight: Anthony Ficalora

Long-time NCLC member, Anthony Ficalora, works out regularly sporting his NCLC cap. At 100, he has seen many changes in the landscape and understands what is at stake. We wanted to know more about why he loves this part of Connecticut.
Q: What makes Northwest Connecticut a special place?
Anthony: “In 1969, I first answered a “Land for Sale” ad in Bridgewater, Connecticut. My interest in Bridgewater goes back many years. Bridgewater was the perfect hide-away, with undulating land, charming farms, and interesting architectural homes with splashing ponds, an old-fashioned general store, a post office, and churches on two corners on Route 133. Driving through Bridgewater reminded me of the Tom Mix western movies. As a young boy I remember the scenery of tall evergreen trees in between rocky terrains and the undulation of hills in those films.
The more I toured the area, the more fascinated I became of Bridgewater. Beautiful Lake Lillinonah surrounded by green trees is an unbelievable dream setting of high willowing trees reflecting on the lake’s surfaces. Riding along Lake Lillinonah, there was an unusual Arabian horse farm. This was an unexpected sight at this colorful location. Driving further along Lake Lillinonah, I discovered Lovers Leap Park that was dedicated in 2007. The leap of Lover’s Leap is a rock formation, overlooking Lake Lillinonah where, tradition has it, the Pootatuck Chief Waramaug’s daughter, Princess Lillinonah and her lover, plunged to their deaths. This was Indian Territory with lots of history. There are many historical sites with Northwest Connecticut Land Trusts that will be enjoyed forever.
I must compliment Catherine M. Rawson, Executive Director, and talented staff, for their creative approach in expanding NCLC’s interests throughout Connecticut for generations to enjoy”

NCLC Conserves 48th Working Farm

NCLC Conserves 48th Working Farm

Along the border between New Milford and Washington, 103 acres are now permanently protected as forest and farmland, thanks to the vision and commitment of its owner, Ramanan Raghavendran, who donated the land to create the Chapin Ramanan Farm.

Every farm protected in Connecticut is meaningful. Connecticut is losing farmland at an alarming rate. According to a recent study published by American Farmland Trust, the State’s agricultural lands rank in the top three for most at risk of loss to development in the country. Since 1965, NCLC has been dedicated to conserving working agricultural lands, and the Chapin Ramanan Farm marks its 48th working farm conserved.

The Chapin Ramanan Farm is particularly scenic with distant views of the western horizon. Stonewalls crisscross through its fields, a reminder of the history of the land, which has been in agricultural production for hundreds of years. Today, the fields are still hayed by members of the Chapin family, who have a long history of farming in New Milford.

The conservation of a single property often takes decades or more. The conservation of the Chapin Ramanan Farm began in 2008 when members of the Chapin family sold over 100 acres of the original dairy farm to Mr. Raghavendran, who, in turn, granted a conservation easement over 73 acres to NCLC in 2009. Earlier this year, Mr. Raghavendran chose to give the entire property to NCLC—both the 73 acres previously protected by easement and an additional 30 acres of hayfields and forest that were unprotected and could have been developed.

The Chapin Ramanan Farm contains pristine woodlands, with mature and diverse hardwood species, that protect 2,500 feet of Walker Brook and two of its tributaries. Protecting land around rivers and streams keeps the waters cool and clean. In addition, many species, including reptiles and amphibians, depend on the land around rivers and streams for their survival. The forests themselves provide excellent habitat for numerous species, including bobcat, bear, and coyote

With the addition of the Chapin Ramanan Farm, NCLC now protects 13,158 acres in Litchfield and northern Fairfield Counties, including 21 public hiking preserves, over 40 working farms, and more than 3,000 of acres of habitat for rare and endangered species.

Plenty of Good Cheer at Annual Meeting and Holiday Party 

NCLC’s annual meeting and holiday party was a time to celebrate volunteers, partnerships, and share conservation goals for the region. More than 60 members from NCLC and from land trusts throughout the region gathered at the Kent Community House on December 4 and enjoyed refreshments and good conversation.

Board members in attendance included NCLC board president Hiram P. Williams and vice-president Margery Feldberg, who will assume the role of president when Williams steps down in January.

Williams, who has been the head of the board for 12 years, commented, “I feel good about where the organization is and has accomplished and I am excited about where we are going.” His proudest accomplishments have been building an excellent staff, led by Executive Director Catherine Rawson, and a dedicated board of directors. “The combination of the two is going to enable us to meet some pretty significant conservation challenges in the next ten years,” he said.

For her part, Feldberg is looking forward to her new role. “Our area has been discovered and there is a lot of pressure, but we are confident we can continue to preserve and protect space. We are scaling up to triple our pace of conservation between now and 2030 and we look forward to the challenge,” she said.

Amanda Branson, NCLC’s director of operations and finance, reviewed highlights from the year and spoke about the need to increase the pace of conservation in the coming years. The State of Connecticut has a goal to protect 21 percent of the state’s lands and water by 2023. The state intends to protect 10 percent and land trusts and other partners are tasked with protecting 11 percent. Based on the State’s current pace, it would take 65 years to reach this goal. Branson explained that land trusts have done extraordinary work to advance conservation and that any hope of reaching the State’s goal rests on land trusts.

Members of area land trusts who attended the event expressed appreciation for the help they receive from NCLC, including Julie Stuart of the Bridgewater Land Trust, who commented, “I came to the meeting to learn from the best, I appreciate everything that they do.”

Branson took the conversation a step further and reported on NCLC’s Pace of Conservation Report, an analysis of the collective conservation of the region’s land trusts within the 30×30 framework.  This global conservation goal calls for 30 percent of the earth’s lands and waters to be conserved by 2030. NCLC aggregated transaction data of 19 land trusts working in Litchfield and northern Fairfield Counties between 2010 and 2020 and found that during this period land trusts protected 9,772 acres. The Pace of Conservation Report is also evaluated the role of lands that have some protection against development but are not permanently protected.  This category includes water company lands and some privately owned recreational lands. Including these, “quasi-protected” lands in combination with the collective work of our region’s land trusts, achieving a 30×30 for Northwest Connecticut is possible. NCLC set a goal in 2021 to triple its pace to protect 20,000 acres by 2030 in concert with the area’s 22 land trusts and communities

The presentation concluded with recognition and celebration of the more than 90 volunteers who donated over 1,000 hours of their time to NCLC’s trails, preserves, and public events.

Founded in 1965, NCLC is the largest land trust in Connecticut, protecting 13,000 acres of vast, connected natural areas in Litchfield and northern Fairfield counties. The lands include 21 public hiking preserves, 41 working farms, and over 3,000 acres of habitat for rare and endangered species, and 500 nature preserves in 17 towns.