New Canaan plans future of Bristow Sanctuary
A place to welcome both children and seniors to enjoy nature is what the Conservation Commission envisions for the Bristow Bird Sanctuary.
Enticing entrances, trails leading to destinations, a diversity of plants and a solid fence are a few of the projects the Conservation Commission wants to undertake in the preserve. The commissioners discussed putting in an entrance near the Mead Park playground to attract parents and children to enjoy the park.
The future of the preserve that abuts Mead Park, with an entrance on Old Stamford Road and another behind the ballfields, was discussed at the Conservation Commission meeting on Thursday, Sept 12.
In 2024, Bristow will celebrate its 100th anniversary and it seems fitting for park rehabilitation to be done by then, Conservation Commission Chairman Chris Schipper said.
“Our goal here is to have a master plan so we are in position to rehabilitate the preserve over the next few years,” he said.
New Canaan’s environmental consciousness — recently demonstrated by installing solar panels on town roofs and passing plastic bag regulations that are stricter than the state of Connecticut’s — dates back to 1916, when the Bristow Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve was conceived.
“The seed of conservation in New Canaan began way back in 1916 when a group of concerned citizens got together to privately form and fund the Bird Protective Society of New Canaan,” Conservation Commission Chairman Chris Schipper said.
“By 1924 they had accomplished the acquisition of 16.8 acres, which today is known as the Bristow Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve and thereby created the third oldest private bird sanctuary in the nation,” Schipper said.
He showed a list of 140 birds that he said were spotted in the park in 1931. The park was nationally known and drew as many as 15,000 visitors in one year, commissioners agreed.
Landscape architect Keith Simpson presented plans for Bristow to the commission with a master plan to improve the park’s visibility and make it more user-friendly. He included a breakdown of tasks over the next five years and emphasized the need for future maintenance once the park is back up to snuff.
He showed a GIS map of the park with trails that wander by various natural features such as a pond, a brook, a bog, and a hilltop. One trail is near the railroad tracks.
“I felt that if we were going to resurrect these trails,” that “each of these trails deserved its own destination,” he said.
“Along each of these trails we have found, almost waiting for us, begging for attention, a location which is very good for stopping and observing wildlife,” he said.
“So when you walked a trail, you wouldn’t simply walk to the end of it. Somewhere on the trail would be a carefully positioned place with some seating where you could stop, and if you quieted down, slowed down in life, take binoculars with you, you may have a really rich experience of looking at some wildlife by virtue of having gone on that trail,” Simpson said.
Bristow is on a flyway for birds from north to south and south to north, could be a pollinator pathway and could be part of the greenlink in town, which is a program to link all the parks with sidewalks and paths.
The different types of topography “all invite a different kind of bird habitat,” Simpson noted.
There is both a 66-page 1990 report done by Yale University and a 22-page report from Connecticut Audubon done on Bristow.
“There have been some absolutely outstanding technical reports produced and studies made on this property. In fact, I can’t think of a property that I have worked on that has had as much valuable information put on the table in front of me,” Simpsom said.
“I think what happened with their recommendation was frankly that they were so detailed” that “in some cases they were overwhelming,” he said.
He hoped to avoid this problem in the future by breaking down projects with a schedule of 10 items to do every year for the next five years.
Some of these projects would be opening up trails, creating sitting areas, getting rid of invasive plants, getting greater diversity of plants, adding ferns, improving entrances to make them more welcoming, repairing fencing, thinning out tree cover, obtaining funds for the project and getting volunteers.
The park fence needs to be improved since the deer and area pets have created problems for bird nesting in the past, Simpson said.
Bristow is unique since it is in a densely populated area,“In the center of town where there is not a lot of 16-acre treed properties any more. It is heavenly,” he said.
Charitable donations may be sent or gifted online to the New Canaan Community Foundation for the “Friends of Bristow” designated fund or mailed to NCCF at 111 Cherry Street, New Canaan, CT 06840.