This year’s wild weather changes have offered opportunities as well as challenges, and four enthusiastic volunteers took advantage of a great Saturday, February 12. They gathered to continue the development of the Suffield Land Conservancy’s new educational property across from Suffield High School. The 23-acre parcel is the John and Madeline McClean Outdoor Education Preserve, the result of careful planning and generous support over several years, which was first announced in 2020. It’s already in limited use by high school classes, but there are plans for much more.
The spot is well suited for studying nature, with a variety of what educators and researchers call biomes, but common folks know as regions of land type and living things ― flora and fauna ― forming a community. SHS science teacher Joe Grimard, who is also a board member of the Conservancy, is in charge of the project, for which a careful plan has been prepared with help from a professional landscape designer. The acreage, now generally overgrown, once included an orchard and vineyard among other agriculture. It is in a mixed-use region, with homes along Sheldon Street, as well as farm fields and the high school. The preserve is well back from the road, with only a 23-foot wide passage about 200 yards long connecting to the main acreage, a good deal of which is wetland.
Initial work has laid a narrow gravel roadway in the entrance passage, suitable only for utility vehicles. Wood chips being copiously produced by careful clearing is being spread on a bit more roadway and some walking trails. One prefabricated open-faced shelter was donated and has been assembled by volunteers; another is planned, along with two learning decks, a composting toilet with solar power, and a high, roofed, observation platform. Plans call also for two stretches of raised walkways over wet regions near a vernal pool, and a bridge will span a small brook that crosses the southwest corner of the property. The brook wanders southeast to where it feeds Devine Brook, which in turn leads to Stony Brook not far from Hale Street.
This is a considerable project, supported so far by its major donors as well as other donors and fund-raising events. The SHS Earth and Outing Club has contributed its effort, and project manager Joe Grimard hopes that generous support will continue.