Earth Day isn’t over yet

If Earth Day slid by unnoticed in your household this year, there's no excuse for not doing something this weekend to recognize it. Educators and conservationists in Old Lyme are offering up two new events on Sunday, one for getting outdoors with the kids, the other for those of us who like some wine and hors d'oeuvres while we contemplate our carbon footprint.

Volunteers with the Old Lyme Land Trust encourage anyone, but especially families with elementary-school-age children, to join a guided trail walk of the land trust's first educational trail designed for children at the Mile Creek Preserve, a short stroll from Mile Creek School. The trail, constructed last year, has a dozen points of interest that tie together geology, native vegetation and wildlife and local history.

"It's a varied terrain that has a great deal of charm," says Roberta "Bobbi" Padgett, steward of the preserve. "It's a very manageable romp over a stream, through wetlands, a stretch of nut-bearing trees."

While the land trust's all-volunteer force maintains trails on most of its 11 preserves, this one is the first self-guided educational trail, specifically aimed at encouraging everyone, especially children, to explore the outdoors. Padgett credits Dr. Fred and Andrea Fenton, Old Lyme parents, for making the trail a collaborative effort with the local school system.

The trail markers were decorated by second-grade students at Mile Creek School. Dr. Fenton also led several of the school's teachers on walks of the trail, and plans are in the works to incorporate the trail with relevant curriculum.

"We feel truly honored that the Old Lyme Land Trust extended an opportunity for our students to leave their mark on the Mile Creek Preserve," says Patty Downes, Mile Creek principal. "Having even a small part in the development of this project fills us with great pride and promotes stewardship of this beautiful natural resource."

Connecticut College botanist Pam Hines, a fellow land trust member, will guide Sunday's tour, which starts at 2 p.m. Sturdy shoes and long pants are recommended; although the land trust's sites are pet-friendly, it's advised not to bring them along for this walk. If the few parking spaces at the front of the preserve at 191 Mile Creek Road are taken, park at Mile Creek School, two-tenths of a mile away, and enjoy the short stroll over.

Fans of author Richard Conniff, who has written seven books on wildlife and people, can hear his talk, "Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Things with Animals," on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at the Lyme Art Association. Conniff is kicking off the Lyme Old Lyme Education Foundation's annual lecture series.

Conniff, a writer for National Geographic, Smithsonian, TBS and BBC and a frequent commentator on public radio's "Marketplace" and in the New York Times, has traveled the world writing about nature and wildlife. He's lived in Connecticut more than 30 years, the last 17 in Old Lyme.

Although he plans to talk about his experiences that range from being with African wild dogs on the hunt in Botswana and trekking through the Himalayas in pursuit of tigers to chasing tarantulas in the Amazon, and, of course, the piranhas, Conniff says he finds just as much excitement, at least in terms of nature and wildlife, on the Old Lyme shoreline.

"It changes from day to day. This past winter when that really bad cold snap happened and large numbers of striped bass died off, you had bald eagles feasting on the back river - that's kind of fun," he says. "One day I watched the menhaden coming in, the bluefish were chasing them, it was a wild killing scene, with the bluefish chomping off the tails of the menhaden - they were like sharks."

Conniff, who has taken daily walks on the same Old Lyme beach for the 17 years he's lived here, says last year he was surprised to come across a mantis shrimp on the beach.

"I'd never seen one before, it's a very interesting and colorful animal," he says of the 6-inch crustacean that could be mistaken for a lobster.

A member of the Blood Street Sculls rowing club on Rogers Lake, Conniff opined in last Sunday's New York Times how the recently installed fish ladder on Mill Brook will reunite landlocked alewives with their anadromous peers - which have been migrating between fresh streams and salt water - after 342 years of separation caused by man-made dams.

Registration is recommended for Conniff's talk, which starts at 5:30 on Sunday at LAA, 90 Lyme St., Old Lyme; call (860) 434-3500 to register. Admission is $10 for LAA members, $12 for non-members. See more at www.lolef.org for more information.

When she's not gardening in Old Lyme, Suzanne hosts a weekly radio show, "CT Outdoors," on WLIS 1420 AM and WMRD 1150 AM from 12:30 to 1 p.m., or listen to archived show in the On Demand section of www.wliswmrd.net.

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