Open Space — Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone Forever

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Egret Taking Flight in the Floating Meadows — Photo by Phil LaMontagne

The Jonah Center for Earth and Art invites the public to learn about the importance of conserving local open space through a program on Tuesday, October 4, 7- 8:30 p.m. at the deKoven House, 27 Washington Street, in Middletown.  Presenters will be Michelle  Ford, Environmental Planner for the City of Middletown; David Brown, Executive Director of the Middlesex Land Trust; and Patrick Comins, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Connecticut.

Forests, streams, meadows, and the wildlife that inhabit them are essential to the rural character of Connecticut that most of us treasure.  And yet, suburban sprawl in the form of strip malls, housing tracts, polluted waterways and traffic jams has spread dramatically in recent decades.  Now, with a state budget crisis and limited resources for open space conservation, it is more challenging than ever to protect farms, scenic vistas, and wildlife habitats from further encroachment.

Some of the questions to be addressed in our program are: How much land in Middletown has been conserved and how can additional land be protected from development, given funding limitations? What characteristics make a property worthy of protection and how are those qualities prioritized?  How do private land trusts work and how can each of us support the long-term preservation and management of protected lands? What changes have occurred to wildlife habitat in Connecticut over the years? How can open space conservation provide the most benefit to birds and other wildlife?  Why should open space preservation be a high environmental priority?

A related program on open space management techniques and projects will be offered on Tuesday, November 29, 7 – 8:30 p.m. at the same location.

Co-sponsors for both events include: Middletown’s Conservation Commission; Ecoin (Environmental Collective Impact Network); Middlesex Land Trust; and The Rockfall Foundation.

Water Chestnuts Threaten The Floating Meadows

water chestnut pull July 22The aquatic plant known as the water chestnut (trapa natans, not the kind you eat in Chinese food) showed its invasive potential this past summer at many points along the Connecticut River and its tributaries. In our own Floating Meadows, the freshwater, tidal marshland formed where the lower Coginchaug and Mattabesset Rivers converge, the presence of these plants was first recorded in 2009.  The Jonah Center has been monitoring the area closely since 2013, pulling out a few plants each year.

The summer of 2016 was different! Water chestnuts abounded as we have never seen before, forming expansive, dense patches at multiple locations.  The Jonah Center and its partners removed approximately 48 canoes full in the course of 8 separate work parties.  The most productive effort was on July 22, when we had 14 canoes, 2 motor boats, and 16 kayaks deployed. Each canoe was filled at least twice, yielding a total estimated haul of 30 canoes full on that single afternoon. Teams of boaters have been summoned to remove these tenacious plants from many other sites along the Connecticut River. Continue reading

Changes To Route 9 & Main Street Are Coming

Evening commute back-up on Route 9 southbound at Hartford Avenue

Evening commute back-up on Route 9 southbound at Hartford Avenue

The CT DOT plan to remove the traffic signals from Route 9 in Middletown seems likely to go forward in some fashion, based on the public meeting held on July 26, 2016 and the subsequent comment period.  There is broad, enthusiastic support for the main goal from many Middletown residents and elected officials, including Mayor Dan Drew. The pollution, accidents, wasted time, and constant irritation caused by the lights all add up to something now deemed intolerable, so the wheels of state government are starting to move. To view the project on-line, go to www.ct.gov/dot and click on the link “Rte 9 Middletown Projects” on the left side of the home page.

The specific proposal does, of course, raise concerns, as any project of this scale would.  The most often-expressed concern on July 26 was that increased traffic on Main Street north of Washington Street will make peak congestion even worse. The second most-voiced concern was that the elevated southbound highway near Washington Street will block views toward the river and aggravate the existing visual and psychological barrier between the downtown and the riverfront, the same barrier that we have been decrying and seeking ways to mitigate for the last several decades. Continue reading

Public Input Sought For Wilcox Preserve

Wilcox PropertyThe Wilcox Conservation Area is a 126-acre forested, City open-space property located off Atkins Street and Footit Drive. The City is in the process of developing a management plan for the area and is looking to engage residents on their use (or lack thereof), concerns, and thoughts about the property.

On Wednesday June 15 at 6:30 pm, the City’s Department of Planning, Conservation and Development in conjunction with the Conservation Commission and the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association (CFPA) will hold a public forum at CFPA, located at 16 Meriden Road (Route 66) in Rockfall, to discuss the conditions and future vision for the Wilcox Conservation Property.

Residents are strongly encouraged to attend to share their views on the property and to provide input on future management activities. Citizen hopes and concerns will shape and support forest and trail management efforts at the property.

See A Turtle? Take A Photo and Become A Citizen Scientist

CT Turtle AtlasAll you need is a digital camera and an internet connection to take part in an exciting turtle-tracking project. The Bruce Museum in Greenwich is looking for Citizen Scientists to record observations wherever they occur in Connecticut  The project is called the Connecticut Turtle Atlas. There is an iNaturalist smart phone app that makes it even easier. To learn why this is so important and how to get started, see below. Continue reading

Common Council Adopts Complete Streets Ordinance

Logo-v01-OTOn Monday, March 7, 2016, at its 7 p.m. meeting, Middletown’s Common Council unanimously adopted the Complete Streets Ordinance proposed by the City’s Complete Streets Committee. We wish to thank the many citizens who attended the meeting to show their support. The ordinance requires the City to consider the needs of all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, users of wheelchairs, and public transit riders when planning transportation improvement projects. The text of the draft ordinance can be viewed here.

In practice, passage of the ordinance means that the Complete Streets Committee will have an official role in planning these improvements, insuring that our streets and roadways are modified (wherever possible and where costs are justified by the likelihood of significant community benefits) to make them safer, more usable, and more attractive for all residents, not just those driving cars and trucks.

Bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly improvements are expected to be made when roadways and sidewalks are scheduled for work as part of road bond projects, with priority given to areas around schools and commercial districts.  The Complete Streets Committee is already working with Middletown’s Public Schools to encourage more students to  walk or bike to school. The construction of multi-use trails to connect various parts of the city for non-motorized transportation and recreation is another goal of the Complete Streets Committee and the Jonah Center.  For more information on these plans, click here.