October 2020 E-News

Enjoying Autumn–In Perpetuity

Photo: Brian E. Hagenbuch

To date, Steep Rock Association has preserved over 5,200 acres of land in and around Washington, CT, in perpetuity. Walking our trails this month, I realize that the beauty and splendor of the sights, sounds, and smells of autumn that greeted indigenous cultures thousands of years ago are now preserved by Steep Rock for thousands of years and hundreds of generations to come. Once we acquire land, though, the hard work begins to protect and maintain its conservation and recreational value, in perpetuity. With the ever-present threat of a rapidly changing climate, the remnants of bygone practices, and increased use by visitors, Steep Rock assumes a dual role in sustaining the ecological integrity of our preserves while ensuring safe and enjoyable recreational opportunities for our visitors. In our October issue, we highlight some of our recent efforts to conserve habitats, protect the Shepaug River ecosystem, improve our trail system for everyone’s enjoyment, and provide healthy food to our neighbors in need. For more about how Steep Rock was able to accomplish these goals over the past century, we invite you to purchase our just-published book, The History of Steep Rock Association: The Jewel in the Crown, which is available at local shops and on our website. Thank you for your support of our efforts.

See you on our Trails!

Brian Hagenbuch, Ph.D., Executive Director

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


Photo: Carol Santoleri   

Steep Rock Association is excited to announce the publication of The History of Steep Rock Association: The Jewel in the Crown. Written by local author and landscape historian Carol Santoleri, the book chronicles the evolution of Steep Rock’s preserves from the original purchase by famed architect Ehrick Rossiter in the late 1800s through today.

The History of Steep Rock Association is part history book, part coffee table book, and part trail guide. Among the over 150 illustrations are historic photographs from the collection of Washington Connecticut’s Gunn Historical Museum brought to life with colorful photographic recreations of sites found ‘then and now’ along the land trust’s trails.

Those with holiday lists can give The History of Steep Rock Association to a hiker, historian, nature enthusiast, photographer, or anyone who has walked along some of SRA’s 40+ miles of publicly accessible trails in the Steep Rock, Hidden Valley, or Macricostas Preserves. In return, you will have the pleasure of supporting one of the oldest and largest land trusts in Connecticut!

The History of Steep Rock Association: The Jewel in the Crown is available at The Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot and J. Seitz & Co. in New Preston, CT. The book can also be ordered online from the Steep Rock website (www.steeprockassoc.org). We thank the author and our retail partners for graciously offering to forgo income from book sales. All funds from sales go directly to support Steep Rock Association. 

Stewardship in Our Preserves:
Your Donations at Work!


Photo: Michael Giapponi

Before and after photos of the Macricostas Boardwalk. The new boardwalk features the SRA logo, which staff hand routed into the decking.                                                  

Recently, SRA staff replaced a deteriorating section of boardwalk near the Macricostas Preserve main parking area. The new boardwalk, measuring over four feet in width and featuring an earth and dirt ramp on either end, provides improved access into the Preserve. SRA staff took great care to design and build the boardwalk using sustainable, locally sourced materials. The red cedar mud sills that support the structure and the tamarack boards that comprise the curb were all harvested from our Preserves and milled by staff using a chainsaw. The decking was sourced from a local sawmill and is primarily black locust, an invasive tree renowned for its rot resistance. Stay tuned for exciting new developments later this year, including a rebuild of the Macricostas Viewing Platform!

A Stream Reconnected at Steep Rock Preserve

Photo: Rory Larson      

Did you know that there are 168 places in the Town of Washington where roads pass over watercourses? Of these, 128 sites hold non-bridge structures, or culverts, that direct water beneath the crossing. Unfortunately, the majority of these structures present a passage barrier to fish and other aquatic organisms and impair the natural function of rivers and streams. 

Working with the Town of Washington and Housatonic Valley Association, Steep Rock Association identified a dysfunctional culvert on Curtis Brook in Steep Rock Preserve as a priority conservation target. The structure on our Brinsmade Trail was removed and a series of step pools were constructed in its place, allowing native brook trout to access high quality habitat upstream. We are extremely grateful for the generous support of the Environmental Professionals’ Organization of Connecticut (EPOC) and the Ellen Knowles Harcourt Foundation, which was critical to planning and completing the project in an unprecedented amount of time.

Busy Beavers in Macricostas Preserve


Photo: Rory Larson     

Beaver families are right on schedule having recently resumed damming activity at Meeker Swamp in preparation for winter. Beaver dams increase the impounding of water, which results in greater potential for flooding. SRA is one step ahead of our rodent friends this year. We installed a water level control device that enables us to prevent flooding of the boardwalk while still providing suitable conditions for continued beaver occupancy. Take an early morning or late evening hike for a chance to see these amazing creatures in action, and learn about beaver and our management approach from a new sign installed at the site.

Stabilizing Riverbank Along the Shepaug


Photo: Rory Larson     

The riverbank along the Shepaug River at our SR2 Campsite in Steep Rock Preserve had seen better days before Fall 2020. High water and the forces of nature had progressively eroded away a considerable portion of the bank. The alarming loss of bank structure undercut a vital maple tree that, if lost, would exacerbate the problem and accelerate the loss of more riverbank.

To address the issue, SRA harvested a 40-foot long white oak log from the nearest hillside to serve as a foundation. The log was positioned on the bank toe so that it spanned the entire eroded area with one end wedged beneath the undercut rootwad. Boulders were meticulously placed to secure the log and deflect high water away from the riverbank. The previously eroded away bank was strategically filled to withstand flood events and promote revegetation, and stone steps were built to provide users with safe and sustainable access to the river.



Photo: Denise Arturi

Two generous residents opened their orchards to Judea Garden volunteers to pick apples for our neighbors. We had so much fun that before we knew it, we had almost 400 pounds of beautiful, juicy fruit.  That should keep the doctor away for a while. A special thank you to the Holcombe/Spencer Family and the Breakstone/Garfunkel Family.

Be “Bear Aware”

There is probably nothing more startling than being on a trail and seeing a bear heading towards you. Although they are beautiful and cute we have to remember they are WILD. Like all wild animals. black bears (the only bear species in CT) need space in their natural habitat. During the fall months, bears are hungry and looking for food to carry them through their long winter hibernation. As a result, bear sitings have increased around the state and in our preserves. Here are a few helpful tips while hiking in bear territory: 
  • Make your presence known while hiking. If you see a bear, make noise and wave your arms so the bear is aware of your presence.
  • KEEP YOUR DOG LEASHED AND UNDER CONTROL! A free-roaming dog may be perceived as a threat to a bear and her cubs.
  • Back away slowly if you happen to surprise a bear nearby.
  • LEAVE NO TRACE from your visit. Do not leave litter or food waste behind that could attract bears.
  • DO NOT approach a bear for photos or a closer look.
  • DO NOT run or climb a tree. If possible, wait in a vehicle or building until the bear leaves the area. Remember to make noise, wave your arms, and be offensive.
For more information on being “Bear Aware” please visit the Connecticut DEEP website. 

StoryWalk® at Macricostas Preserve


Macricostas Preserve (124 Christian Street, New Preston, CT)

Reading is always an adventure, and reading outside in nature with children adds to the great fun! Enjoy the beautifully illustrated pages of Pumpkin Pumpkin authored by Jeanne Titherington along our 1/2 mile StoryWalk®. Much thanks to the Gunn Memorial JR Library as they continue to support this project by providing our book each season.

The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library.  Storywalk® is a registered service mark owned by Ms. Ferguson.     
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