LITCHFIELD — When Edith Chase bequeathed her Tudor Revival getaway home and 510 acres of forest and open meadow to the people of Connecticut in 1972, she had just one request — that it be “kept in a state of natural beauty.” No doubt she would be pleased with the dedication to that caveat that has been provided by The Friends of Topsmead State Forest, Inc, a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve, protect and enhance the experience of her beloved Topsmead.
Janet Blauvelt, a Friends board member and Chairwoman of the Education Committee, has been instrumental in partnering with area schools including Explorations Charter School in Winsted, Wamogo High School in Litchfield, Torrington Middle School, and Litchfield Montessori School to reestablish the bluebird box trail that runs through Topsmead.
The project is funded by the Friends of Topsmead State Forest and private donations. Blauvelt said, “In addition to the bluebird box trail project, restoration of the butterfly garden has begun, and plans are in place to create a temporary welcome center in the carriage shed.”
The students’ responsibilities are to inspect nesting boxes and record data on the bluebirds and other birds using the boxes, determine cleanliness of the boxes, and report results to the Connecticut Bluebird Next Box Survey. Students are also responsible for building new boxes, repairing old ones, and recording nesting and egg status, which is vital to monitoring how the bluebird population is faring. They identify unwanted species, especially tree swallows, who kill the bluebird eggs and attack mother birds.
Ten to 15 new nesting boxes will be built by Janet and John Blauvelt, with lumber donated by Iffland Lumber Company in Torrington, and assembled by the students who earn community service hours. The boxes will be built to specifications created by Art Gingert and Peter Piccone, who designed the original bluebird trail at Topsmead.
“Visitors walking the bluebird trail will be welcomed; bluebirds seem to like being around people since they build nests on golf courses,” Janet Blauvelt said.
With 31 students involved in the bluebird project at Topsmead, Litchfield Montessori School also has its own State Scenic Reserve that abuts the school property. Ed Thorney, a Gestalt-Certified therapist with more than 30 years of experience as a wilderness guide and a pioneer in developing the field of Wilderness Therapy, directs the Outdoor Education program at Montessori and is also affiliated with Explorations Charter School, where he leads students on a weekly outdoor adventure.
Thorney shared that “Montessori School will be taking on the responsibility for three of the bluebird boxes. I find that youngsters learn more about biology by firsthand observation and listening in the outdoor classroom of Nature.”
Head of School Cara Johnson said that Montessori has a big commitment for students to spend time in nature with fun expeditions for leaf collections and building an outdoor shelter in the Reserve, then identifying all the trees within 25 feet.
Johnson said, “Younger students are very involved with the new butterfly gardens at Topsmead, especially the efforts to save the Monarch butterflies since their habitats are being destroyed. They will be looking for butterfly eggs, which are very tiny.”
Topsmead, located on Buell Road in Litchfield, is open to the public year-round at no charge, from 8 a.m. to sunset. Amenities include walking trails, open meadow, outhouses and one indoor bathroom, picnic tables and a drinking fountain. Free guided tours of Edith Chase’s summer house are offered on the second and fourth weekends from June through October. To volunteer, become a member or make a donation to support the mission of the Friends of Topsmead State Forest visit https://bit.ly/2Vyooyl.