Urban Environmental Stewardship

Urban Environmental Stewardship initiatives are on the increase in the northeastern part of the country. Just such an initiative can be found situated on the main campus of a centrally located Connecticut urban community college. 55 acres of land that was originally intended for a sports and physical fitness complex was left undeveloped after the property was more fully sited and it was determined that resources would not support the facilities.

In the late 1990s a local scout proposed to develop a two loop trail system to meet the education, recreation and fitness goals of the college and surrounding communities. Remedial clean up work was completed with the help of scouts, college staff and community volunteers and trails were cleared. Subsequent development and system maintenance resulted in the trail system evolving to the next phase. College course activities involving the trail system were integrated into science programs. Summer enrichment programs for children included orienteering classes. Non-credit introductory courses featured hiking methods and college faculty, staff and area community members began using the trail for fitness and recreation.

I hiked the circuit trail yesterday afternoon to familiarize myself with the current state of development of the system. Despite leaves covering the trails and in some cases the trail markers themselves, I was able to make my way to the wetland area, across the boulder fields, through open woods to the upper access road, back down through a large stand of Christmas ferns and below to the trailhead. The trail was not easy to follow in some areas and the terrain steep, especially near the beginning of the trail. But the land was full of signs of wildlife and an abundance of healthy native plants. Very much well worth the effort of the avid hiker or curious nature walker willing to take and hour or so to explore this, as of yet, still somewhat undeveloped trail system.

And here's the best news. This year the college prepared a long range plan for the trail system. The plan outlines a number of projects necessary for the college to meet its objective of making this valuable resource a healthy educational and recreational forest environment for students, faculty, staff, and community members for years to come. An impressive strategic master plan includes projects such as a wetlands boardwalk for observation and study, an outdoor amphitheater for classroom instruction, the development of a Science Teacher Institute to focus on the environmental sciences at the elementary and middle school levels, a management system for ongoing trail maintenance and, yes, even gardens!

How exciting to see such a creative and comprehensive plan of responsible stewardship for 55 acres of forestland located in one of the state's largest cities.

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