Community Leaders Raise the Standard

With emphasis on education or protection, Ansonia Nature & Recreation Center, Branford Land Trust and Allnex are three entities working hard to make a difference in their individual communities to promote an appreciation for nature and information on how to reduce our impact on the environment.

Ansonia Nature & Recreation Center

Although part of its mission previously included rehabilitation of wild animals, the Ansonia Nature & Recreation Center (AnsoniaNatureCenter.org) is now solely focused on connecting adults and children in Ansonia and area towns with the Lower Naugatuck River Valley’s environment. In addition to managing the center’s 150 acres, the center’s employees and volunteers cultivate community interest in environmental stewardship and inform the next generation with educational programs.

Tucked away in the middle of Ansonia next to the nearly 600-acre Naugatuck State Forest Quillinan Reservoir, the center is within walking distance of two elementary schools.

“We need to balance the demand for recreation with the need for conservation. My job is to get children to connect with nature and become more comfortable being outside. You’re not going to care about something until you love and feel a connection to it,” says Assistant Director Wendy Sabol, who heads up Ansonia Nature & Recreation Center’s educational programs. In addition to going to schools to teach kindergarteners through second graders about birds, owls, reptiles and other animals, she has traveled to area schools, reaching 227 school classes with 4,189 students.

Nature camps are offered by the center during regular school breaks in addition to three days of afterschool programs for sixth through eighth graders during the school year. In addition to nature education classes or walks with local schools, the center schedules classes for homeschool groups. Family and adult programs are also offered throughout the week, including multiple hikes, Astronomy: Lunar Sketching, Mushroom Identification for Beginners, Pet Loss Grief Support Group and Soap Making with Goat’s Milk, to name a few upcoming October events.

Celebrate the fall season with the center’s staff and the Friends of the Ansonia Nature Center during the annual Autumn Fest on October 22 from 11am-4pm. Attendees can take a ride in a horse-drawn story wagon; meet bats, spiders, and owls; taste fresh apple cider and baked goods; try pumpkin painting or face painting; walk a goldenrod maze; and more.

The center continues to look into ways to be better conservationists for their natural spaces and the wildlife that inhabits or visits. “We have almost 150 acres that needs to be managed. This spring, Audubon came in and did an assessment of our land for better bird and animal habitats; they gave us suggestions about what we could do. With help from staff, volunteers, and local scouts, we will make the recommended changes,” Sabol explains.

The assessment of the property’s large weed and sediment-filled pond showed that it needed dredging to create more habitats, such as distinctive shallow and deeper water areas for various species. In order to better ensure safety and accessibility for the center’s pond-related classes, several areas also needed to be rebuilt.

In addition to the school classes, 3,675 people have participated in 157 family and adult programs during the 2015-2016 fiscal year. With the addition of 25 Nature Day classes and 14 outreach presentations, the Ansonia Nature & Recreation Center has reached over 31,000 participants in just one year. Nearly 2,600 hours were clocked by adult volunteers and 732 hours by youth volunteers, demonstrating the commitment the community members have in supporting the center.

Branford Land Trust

Preserving open space is a key component of the Branford Land Trust’s (BranfordLandTrust.org) mission. Since 1967, the organization has become a game changer for the community by acquiring and protecting nearly 1,000 acres of open space in Branford. In addition, the trust holds conservation easements on 400 additional Branford acres of publicly owned tracts of land. Although the tracts are government-owned, the easement provides a layer of extra protection with legal standing and resources in case elected town governments consider changing an open space’s use or selling it.

“We’ve done a remarkable job on our own and in partnership with the town and neighboring land trust and regional water trust to establish natural spaces,” says Dr. Bill Horne, a former Branford Land Trust president. “Over the course of 50 years, we have accumulated a good open space system, which includes a 28-mile walking trail route that circumnavigates the town.”

The land entrusted to the organization includes a variety of natural environments, such as shoreline tidal salt marshes, river wetlands, forests, meadows and several small islands in Long Island Sound. Employees and volunteers are active on a slew of projects, such as maintaining and monitoring osprey platforms, mowing meadows to increase grassland habitats, building bluebird and wood duck boxes, and restoring fishways and breeding areas.

To continue with its change-generating role, members of Branford Land Trust’s acquisition committee target undeveloped environmentally significant areas, with priority given to ones with a diverse, abundant wildlife population. With sea levels on the rise, spaces near tidal marshes have become increasingly important to ensure a high marsh zone is established for species that depend on the habitat.

Volunteers enable the organization to continue to protect the land. Tract stewards keep an eye on legal property rights and easements, ecological monitoring of the protected lands, and maintenance of the land tracts and trails. Community members contribute their time through monthly work parties to help maintain and clean up trails as well as remove invasive plants.

In order to ensure continued interest in protecting the land, the trust’s education and community outreach efforts include summer camps, a nature explorer program and a library project established 18 years ago that provides books and other resources annually to Branford libraries.

Allnex

Moving from environmental preservation and education to reducing environmental impact, Allnex’s Wallingford specialty chemical plant has several non-mandated initiatives underway and planned to reduce its impact on the water and air around the location. Allnex, an international company with $1.5 billion in sales and 29 facilities around the globe, manufactures resins and additives for various industries, include architectural, industrial and automotive.

The Connecticut plant began using large black plastic balls to cover a waste water treatment holding tank in December 2014 instead of the more cost-prohibitive full covering or dome. The hundreds of thousands of balls keep more of the butanol and methanol, both alcohol solvents, in the basin so they can be consumed by the biomass and become non-toxic rather than slowly evaporate into the atmosphere.

The Wallingford plant’s site manager, Frank DiCristina, emphasizes that this move was not mandated by regulatory requirements but was rather a proactive investment by the company in reducing emissions that affect the environment, an environmental strategy set by the international company’s top leadership.

In order to reduce nitrate emissions to help the environment, the plant also underwent upgrades in 2014 with new computerized control systems to combat ammonia, a process by-product. Previously the plant did not have the ability to monitor and tweak the feed level of the ammonia that went into the biomass, potentially causing too much to be added in. The more ammonia that is in, the more excess nitrates are generated. Being able to put in the minimal necessary amount needed to maintain a healthy biomass enabled the plant to greatly reduce nitrate emissions, explains DiCristina.

Butanol, which became another process by-product, was previously discharged according to permit limits into the local waste water treatment system to be consumed by microorganisms whenever an excess imbalance occurred at the plant. The company knew it would require so much energy to recover the butanol stream that it would not be cost effective. Allnex instead redesigned the protocol to re-use the excess butanol in its own production process even though the recycling process was cost neutral from an operational perspective.

“It may not be cost effective to make some of the changes but, because it reduces our emissions, it is the right thing to do,” declares DiCristina. “It is still a cost but it is inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things and worth the positive environmental benefits.”

To continue its proactive environmental efforts, the Allnex Community Advisory Board (CAB) was recently launched by Allnex. CAB has a mix of representatives from area businesses and charitable organizations as well as local officials and Wallingford citizens. The committee, currently consisting of 21 members, had its first meeting in August and plans to meet bimonthly.

“We are trying to have an active, ongoing process in place with our community as opposed to engaging when needed,” says DiCristina. “We obviously have to be open and more willing to be engaged with concerned citizens and environmental groups so we are not trying to work out agreements and work on obstacles at the last minute.”

In celebration of the community and the plant’s 75th anniversary, the Allnex Community Open House will be held on October 15 from 10am to 2pm (rain or shine). The variety of activities include bus tours, bike safety tips, a touch-a-truck, safety-related demonstrations, fingerprinting and more.

Ariana Rawls Fine is editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County and New Haven/Middlesex Counties. She resides in Stratford with her family.

2016-12-17T00:45:11+00:00 Community Service, Green Living, Local Articles|