February 2021 E-News

Planning Season

Photo: Snowrollers in Hidden Valley Preserve, by Danielle Brightman

As the snow flies in February and the polar winds blow their seasonal chill, winter means black bears are slumbering in dens, wood turtles are nestling in hibernacula, and juncos are scurrying to scoop seeds off the ice-covered ground. At Steep Rock, winter means it’s planning season! Working to preserve the natural and historical landscapes of the Washington area is a year-round effort. While most of our field efforts are seasonal, winter offers our staff the opportunity to reflect on previous efforts, assess what went well, troubleshoot where needed, and map out an action plan for the coming year.

In early winter, Rory and Mike are monitoring all our preserves and easements and documenting signs of natural or human-caused threats, important information that gets incorporated into our property management plans. Mike is designing new initiatives to enhance our trails and recruiting volunteers to monitor and work on projects. Rory is analyzing data, engaging our community in nature study, and introducing local children to winter play time in nature. At Judea Garden, Denise is poring through seed catalogs looking for high quality, native veggies to grow this year and finishing up our composting initiative. Kelly, our office manager, has been mapping out SRA’s 2021 event calendar and updating new software to facilitate our administrative processes. SRA’s Board of Trustees and I have been working diligently on a new strategic plan and several other exciting initiatives and collaborations that we will let you know about in the coming months. And we are all thrilled to introduce Monica Roberto as SRA’s new Development Specialist. She brings a wealth of energy, enthusiasm, and fundraising experience to Steep Rock and is already planning a strategic agenda.

While winter conveys a quiet serenity over our pastoral landscapes, it is busy season in the Steep Rock office. The largest part of our success, however, is because of you. Your financial support enables SRA to fulfill our mission, keep our preserves open for everyone to enjoy, and implement our exciting plans in 2021. As you pore through your own seed catalogs and track wildlife in your backyard, I hope you will donate to our efforts today.

See you on our Snowy Trails!

Brian Hagenbuch, Ph.D., Executive Director



Meet our Development Specialist, Monica Roberto

Photo: Monica Roberto

Steep Rock Association is please to welcome aboard our new Development Specialist, Monica Roberto.
Monica is a marketing and development innovator who is fiercely passionate about the environment, fundraising and engaging the community in the Steep Rock Association (SRA) experience.  She would love to meet up with you on the trails, for coffee, or over Zoom to learn more about how you personally connect with our land trust, as well as to share with you SRA’s inspiring vision.  Monica brings more than 20 years of experience in Development and Marketing for both non-profit and for-profit businesses. She lives in Woodbury, CT and spends most of her free time outdoors on her mountain and road bikes. She graduated from the University of Connecticut with a B.A in English, magna cum laude. Monica can be contacted directly at monica@steeprockassoc.org.


Spring Interns at

Steep Rock Association

 Photo: Julia Gardow

Ever wonder who creates our social media posts? Sometimes they come from our interns. Meet Julia Gardow, a senior at Miss Porter’s School. For her internship, Julia is creating social media posts featuring Steep Rock’s history and some of the historical elements within our preserves. With Julia’s dedicated research, creativity, and tech savvy skills, we are excited and thrilled to have her aboard. Thank you Julia!

Congratulations on Completing the 
3 Peaks Challenge!

Congratulations to Jory Lockwood, Teemu Jones, and Jo Hubbard for completing Steep Rock Association’s 3 Peaks Challenge! These participants ascended all three peaks: Hidden Valley Pinnacle, Macricostas–Waramaug Rock, and Steep Rock Summit. Amazing job! To learn more or to sign up for one or both Steep Rock Associations “Challenges” please visit us at www.steeprockassoc.org.



Nature News and Timely Tips

Photo: SRA

Down by the River 

  • Now is the best time to see our most impressive bird of prey, the bald eagle. Breeding season is underway and northern birds are still here in search of open water for hunting. Our recent survey documented 5 individuals in Washington and another 3 in Roxbury. 

  • Hooded mergansers are a staple winter resident. Take awe in their showy plumage and ability to dive for crayfish. They are often found perched on exposed, mid-stream boulders and along icy edges. 

  • Riverine weasels stand out against a snowy backdrop. Look for the dark, lanky bodies of mink and otter loping along the riverbank. 

  • On warm days, winter stoneflies emerge from their aquatic environment. Scanning the snow and woody debris along riverside trails will surely provide encounters with this insect. 

Deep in the Forest 

  • “WHO-COOKS-FOR-YOU, WHO-COOKS-FOR-YOU-ALL!” Sound travels farther through the seasonally cold air and open landscape. Listen for the hoot of barred owls who are especially vocal this time of year. 

  • Bobcat, coyote, and fox are all on the move to make end’s meet. Follow their tracks through the snow and ask yourself, what are they doing, how are they moving, and why? 

  • White-tailed deer can be seen in numbers. They form herds in winter and rely heavily on cover provided by the preserve’s vast coniferous stands.  

Out in the Open 

  • Snow is an amazing insulator and accumulates the most in meadows. Mice and voles primarily tunnel beneath the surface, but still are detected by aerial predators like red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, and great-horned owls. If you’re lucky, you might see wing imprints from a plunging hunt attempt. 

Right in the Backyard 

  • Keep those suet feeders stocked to help downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, and red-bellied woodpeckers fatten up and maximize energy reserves. 

  • Clean eastern bluebird nest boxes. A significant number of these thrushes stay through Connecticut’s winter and find refuge from the elements in empty cavities. Plus, breeding season will be here before you know it. 

  • Ensure trash is still inaccessible to wildlife. Raccoons are extremely opportunistic and not all black bears enter a prolonged state of torpor through the season. 

  • February is an ideal time for forest and vegetation management. Pruning and timber harvest is best when woody plants are dormant and have a low moisture content.  

Another Way to Give….Volunteer!

 Photo: Katie/m3mediapro.com

With the frigid, snowy days of winter, a quiet calm seems to settle over SRA’s nature preserves. Some animals, like the little brown bat, enter a period of hibernation during these cold months, a deep sleep wherein the animal’s body temperatures are reduced to near freezing as their energy needs are reduced by as much as 98 percent. For SRA’s staff and volunteers, however, the work of stewarding over 5,000 acres of protected lands and 46 miles of trails continues without pause. During this time, SRA monitors its properties for changes in environmental condition, reflects on the previous year, and plans for exciting upcoming projects, including building a new trail system at what will be SRA’s fourth public preserve! Help us maintain these lands you treasure and protect species like the little brown bat for generations to come, sign up to be a volunteer at www.steeprockassoc.org/volunteer

Seed Starting – An Easy Resolution to Keep

Photo: Denise Arturi

It may be too early to start most seedlings but it’s not too early to peruse those beautiful seed catalogs and get some tips on the best ways to start seeds. 

For Judea Garden, I like to use seed grown in, and therefore acclimated to, New England and its crazy weather conditions.  High Mowing Organic Seeds of Vermont and Fedco Seeds of Maine have interesting organic seeds (High Mowing has donated seeds to Judea Garden and many other non-profit projects). Of course, you can’t get much closer than John Scheepers with seeds grown in northwest Connecticut.  Seeds can connect you to history when you plant heirloom seeds from around the world. One of the largest collections can be found within Baker Creek seed catalog. Catalogs also have a lot more than seeds.  There are tools and supplies and a lot of advice found on their website.  That’s where I found this helpful seed starting guide. 

Of course, there is nothing better than learning directly from an expert and the Gunn Memorial Library is providing that opportunity with a lecture by Enya Cunningham, Farm Manager for Helmstead Farm. Enya will lead a presentation on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 6:30 pm over Zoom to give us her best tips, tricks, and best practices for starting a kitchen garden. She will teach us about seed starting techniques and the best timetables to start seeds for popular kitchen garden crops like tomatoes and peppers, along with other information to help you produce your best garden yet! For more information and to register, go to the Gunn Memorial Library.  

What seed catalogs do you enjoy?  Share with us on Facebook.

Mark Your Calendar…

 Photo: Carol Bergren Santoleri

Rossiter’s Riverside Retreat
Monday, March 15, 2021, 6:30 pm on Zoom

Join author and historian, Carol Santoleri for the illustrated presentation “Rossiter’s Riverside Retreat”. This program is being co-sponsored by the Gunn Historical Museum and Steep Rock AssociationRegistration is required to receive the Zoom link, which will be sent to your provided email address. Visit the Museum’s registration page to sign up: https://www.gunnlibrary.org/gunn-museum/museum-registration-page/

The History of Steep Rock Association: The Jewel in the Crown, written by Carol Santoleri, is available at The Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2 Green Hill Road, Washington Depot, CT (cash and check) and J. Seitz & Co., 9 E Shore Rd., New Preston, CT  (checks only). Need to pay with a credit card? The book can also be ordered online from the Steep Rock website (www.steeprockassoc.org).


Winter Hiking Safety

Photo: Rosalyn Pinney

Steep Rock Association does not perform winter maintenance on its trails, so please use extreme caution. Many of our trails may have icy patches. Winter traction devices, such as snowshoes, crampons, or microspikes, are strongly recommended. Always remember to tell someone where you will be and your expected time of return. Please follow all state and federal safety guidelines:

  • Wear a mask, especially if you are within 6 feet of other people (keeps your face warm)
  • Practice safe social distances– say hello, step aside
  • Do not engage in large group activities
  • Leash and clean up after your pets
  • Take pictures, leave footprints
  • Report dangerous trail conditions to, steeprockassoc.org/report-trail-conditions/

Happy (and safe) hiking!

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