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January 2021 E-News

Resolution: For the Birds


                                                                                 Photo: Peary Stafford
Happy New Year everyone. I hope this finds you healthy and doing well. Winter has set in along the Shepaug River. It’s cold, dreary, the news is chaotic, and the pandemic has limited our ability to go about normal activities. So what can we do? Don’t despair. This year resolve to take care of yourself by enjoying Nature. A growing body of research indicates that observing the natural world in general, and birdwatching, in specific, can be just the antidote the human species needs for our wellbeing. Watching birds at our feeders or listening to their harmonies while on a stroll in the woods has significant positive effects on our moods and can bring joy, happiness, and well-being in times of stress. And you may also stumble upon unexpected wildlife neighbors in the process.

Steep Rock stewards a bevy of biological diversity on our lands, including nearly 1,000 acres of critical ecological habitats and over 30 state-listed threatened and endangered species. We recently documented 18 species during our annual Christmas Bird Count and our mid-winter Shepaug River eagle survey (see below) recorded an abundance of eagles.

So join me in resolving to make 2021 for the birds! I can’t think of a better way to start the day than sitting at our breakfast nook enchanted by the host of sparrows, party of jays, and charm of finches fidgeting, flinching, and feasting at our feeders. Try it! It’s easy, no experience necessary, and I guarantee our feathered friends will make you smile.

See you on our Trails!

Brian Hagenbuch, Ph.D., Executive Director

Bountiful Bald Eagles and Citizen Scientists
to Start the New Year


(Top) Photography by Sal DeFini – An adult bald eagle perched beside the Shepaug River in Roxbury, CT.
(Bottom) Photography by Owen Quatrano – Citizen scientists Joe Shea and Mila Limson (left) and Suzanne and Ed Martano (right) surveying upper reaches of the Shepaug River in Warren and Washington, CT.
2021 marked the fifth consecutive year of Steep Rock Association’s involvement in the nationwide Midwinter Eagle Survey designed to track trends, distribution, and habitat use of eagle populations over time. Conducted in January every year, the survey captures northern birds that move south to Connecticut’s waterways and waterbodies in search of open water to hunt fish and waterfowl through winter.
Thanks to an unbelievable effort by 47 (yes, I said 47!) volunteers who endured the frigid morning, almost the entire Shepaug River was surveyed over the target 4-hour period. Datasheets are still rolling in, but it is safe to say a record was set with several sightings of both adult and juvenile birds. Results continue to show that the Shepaug River serves as important wintering habitat for bald eagles, a state-listed threatened species.

Trail Talk : A Time for Reflection


                                         Photo: Mike Giapponi/Steep Rock Association
On occasion, a trail hike becomes so much more than just simple exercise or the opportunity to be outside; sometimes, and especially if you keep your eyes and ears open, that walk in the woods is a transcendent experience, positively brimming with the beauty and grace of the natural world. On a recent monitoring visit of one of our nature preserves, I had just such an experience when I came face-to-face with a young white-tailed buck resting underneath a nearby hemlock. With the call of ravens echoing above and the stillness of the woods and this deer immediately before me, the moment was a vivid reminder of why the hard work we do at Steep Rock Association is so important. Without the thousands of acres of protected landscapes and the 45 miles of trails that crisscross these lands, so many of these serene moments would be lost to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And so, I enter this new year with a renewed vigor to steward these lands so that this inspiring connection to nature will be available for you and me not only for the year to come, but also for the generations to follow.  If you would like to join me in this effort, check out our volunteer opportunities at

Garden Resolutions


                                                                                  Photo: Denise Arturi

After a busy gardening season, I am often asked, “What do you do in the winter?” My usual response is, “I take care of all the things I put off during the busy season,” but the reality is that Judea Garden is never far from my mind.  I spend the winter learning new, sustainable ways to grow, perusing seed catalogs for possible new or better varieties, reviewing the last season and thinking how to make next season better.
My garden resolutions for 2021:

  • Remember to focus on the soil.  The soil test and consultation done in the fall means the amendments can be applied early in spring.  Cover crops, mulches and compost will help nourish the billions of microorganisms responsible for healthy plants.
  • More compost! Volunteers are leading the way with our composting program and I have already registered (check!) for the Master Composting class.
  • Do not plant every tomato seedling that comes our way. It is hard to let any little seedling go when planting in the spring, but I must become a bit more ruthless.  Too many plants can crowd the garden and put a strain on volunteers at harvest time.
  • Plant more flowers.  They make everybody happy: the pollinators, the gardeners and the recipients
  • Start even more of our own seedlings this year and take advantage of our cold frames to start and harden off those little plants.  Added benefit: we can play in the dirt way before the snow is off the ground.
  • Stop and smell the tomato plants (I love that smell!) and remember to enjoy the beauty around me.
  • Thank the amazing Judea Garden volunteers again and again.  I could not grow and deliver over 3,000 pounds of food without them.

Is it spring yet?

Washington Gives


                                                 Photo: Washington Parks and Recreation
Monday, January 18, 2021

Join us for this town-wide virtual event to engage families, friends, and neighbors in civic initiatives. This year’s event will include exciting presentations and events such as:

  • Donation to a Collection/Food Drive; drive up in front of Town Hall to drop off to help families in need – Non perishable food and toiletries, pet food, hats and gloves.
  • Learn About Local Service Organizations; Join Jim Brinton, Michelle Gorra and representatives from local service organizations for a virtual introduction to the services they provide to our community and opportunities for volunteers to participate. Organizations include: ASAP!, Washington’s Council of Congregations, Steep Rock Association, The Gunn Memorial Library & Museum, The Judy Black Memorial Park & Gardens, Washington Ambulance Association, Washington Environmental Council, Washington Art Association 
  • Meet the Director; Join Director Joyce Chopra for a screening of “I have a Dream” followed by a live Q&A session
  • Conversations with Youth in Our Community; The Judy Black Memorial Park & Garden in collaberation with Conversations on the Green and Shepaug Valley School will host a conversation with local students who strengthen our community through service. Presented via Zoom.

Link to the Zoom presentation, and more information can be found at

“The History of Steep Rock Association:
The Jewel in the Crown”


                                                                               Photo: Carol Santoleri 
 Have you read The History of Steep Rock Association: The Jewel in the Crown by Carol Bergren Santoleri? (to preview a few pages click here)

If not, this beautifully-crafted book filled with reflective pictures from the past 100+ years, including some “then and now” comparisons with photos from the archives of the Town of Washington’s Gunn Historical Museum is still available for purchase for you to enjoy. 
Reflect on your own experiences as you read the engaging and entertaining stories about each of our preserves and the Shepaug River. If you and your friends love nature, history, and Steep Rock, this will be a welcome addition to your library.
The History of Steep Rock Association: The Jewel in the Crown 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 (
The author (Carol Bergren Santoleri), Hickory Stick Bookshop and J. Seitz & Co. have graciously offered to forgo income from book sales. 100 % of all funds from sales will go directly to support Steep Rock Association.

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,
Happy (and safe) hiking!
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Contact your employer today to see if they will match your gift.


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Mailing address: PO Box 279, Washington Depot, CT 06794

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Steep Rock Association
PO Box 279
Washington Depot, CT 06794