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A few minutes into a hike Thursday along one of the old farm roads in Babcock Ridge preserve in North Stonington, Bruce Fellman stopped to point out evidence of the pileated woodpeckers that make their home there.
"These rectangular holes are the test holes," said Fellman, volunteer naturalist and hike guide for the Avalonia Land Conservancy, pointing to a chain of openings down one side of an oak tree.
At eye level on the other side of the trunk, a black insect crawled into the gaping cavity the woodpecker had gouged out, leaving a pile of wood chips on the ground below.
"That's what he's after - carpenter ants," said Fellman.
Crow-sized, uncommon birds with the signature red crest, pileated woodpeckers require large forest blocks like the 80-acre Babcock Ridge, which adjoins the 72-acre Henne Preserve to the south and the 90-acre Erisman Woodlands to the north. Avalonia has been working for the past year and a half to raise the funds through grants and donations to complete the purchase of Babcock Ridge, and is now just $34,000 from its goal.
"We're almost there," said Mac Turner, North Stoninton town director for the conservancy, which preserves land in eight towns in the region. "We will close on this before June 30."
On Saturday, Fellman and Turner's wife, Pat, also an officer with Avalonia, will lead a 2.5-mile hike through the Babcock and Henne forests, calling attention to the pileated woodpecker holes, the vernal pools, wildflowers, spicebush swallowtail butterflies, warbler songs and stone walls along the way to enlist support and appreciation for Avalonia's latest conservation achievement. With grants and private donations, the conservancy has raised about $256,000 toward the $290,000 needed to buy the property, said Heather Milardo, executive director of Avalonia.
The Babcock-Henne hike is one of the 258 events being offered statewide during Connecticut Trails Day Weekend Saturday and Sunday. The annual event, sponsored by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, includes hikes and paddles in many area towns, plus the dedication Sunday of the Southern Gateway of the New England Trail, a National Scenic Trail, at Chittenden Park in Guilford. The New England Trail extends 215 miles, connecting Long Island Sound to the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border.
Turner said once the Babcock purchase is completed and trails marked, hikers will be able to follow a continuous path from the Erisman Woodlands through Babcock to the Henne Preserve. More importantly, wildlife will have the kind of large woodland habitat they need.
"These three properties together form a real wildlife corridor," said Turner.
As he hiked past pits dug for test wells by would-be developers, Fellman recalled how close the forest came to being felled for roads, houses and yards.
"This property came within a hair's breath of being McMansions," he said, leaving the trail to zigzag between saplings and mature hardwoods toward the largest of several vernal pools in Babcock Ridge.
Hoots from a barred owl greeted him as he approached the pool and pulled on a pair of waders.
"Let's see who's home," he said, sloshing into the pool, swinging a long-handled net.
He emptied three scoops from his net into a shallow pan. After picking out the leaves, he identified his catch: a large, squiggling wood frog tadpole, some water tiger beetles, a gelatinous mass of spotted salamander eggs and a wriggling larval salamander. Salamanders, he noted, are a species that need not only vernal pools but also many acres of forest uplands to survive.
"These kinds of connected woodlands and wetlands are critical for healthy wildlife populations," Fellman said.
Bozrah: Maples Farm Park, 45 Bozrah St. (Route 163), 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Activities will include hiking and mountain biking on a new 2.4-mile trail and geocaching. For information, visit www.facebook.com/BozrahFarmersMarket or call Kitty McCue at (860) 889-2689 and press 5.
Colchester: 7-mile Salmon River Trail hike, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, meeting at Comstock Covered Bridge parking lot, north side of Route 16. For information, contact Dave at (860) 228-3875 or email@example.com.
Colchester: 2-mile guided nature walk, 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Babcock Pond Wildlife Management Area, meeting at parking lot next to pond on Miles Standish Road. Registration is required. To register, contact John at (860) 659-7386 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deep River-Essex: 5.5-mile hike, 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Canfield-Meadow Woods Nature Preserve, meeting at trail entrance on Route 154, six-tenths of a mile north of Exit 4 on Route 9. Registration is appreciated. To register, call Bob at (860) 388-8834.
East Lyme: Educational walk, 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve, meeting at trailhead at Veterans Memorial Park on Memorial Drive. For information, contact David at: email@example.com.
Essex: Half-mile hike, 9 to 10 a.m., Saturday, The Millrace, meeting at Ivory Street entrance. For information, contact Judith at: (860) 581-8108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Essex: 2-mile paddle, 9:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Essex harbor and South Cove, launching from town boat launch at the end of Main Street. Registration recommended. To register, contact Bill at (860) 767-8269 or email@example.com.
Groton: Guided tours, opportunities for kayaking, fishing, birdwatching, 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sparkle Lake Conservation Area, meeting in parking lot at 155 Thomas Road. Pre-registration required by contacting (860) 536-5680 or at: www.groton-ct.gov/depts/parksrec.
Groton: 5- to 6-mile cross-town hike through open space areas, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Saturday, meeting at Bluff Point State Park parking lot. Registration required by contacting Sydney Van Zandt at (860) 572-5715 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Groton: 2-mile paddle, nooon to 1 p.m. Saturday, Bluff Point State Park. Registration is required by contacting James at (860) 447-8448 or email@example.com.
Groton: 2-mile educational walk, 10 a.m. to noon Sunday, Historic Sheep Farm and Fort Hill Brook, meeting at 245-255 Hazelnut Hill Road. Registration recommended by contacting Sue Sutherland, (860) 574-5111.
Guilford: New England Trail Southern Gateway dedication, 4 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Chittenden Park. For information, visit www.ctwoodlands.org/NETGatewayDedication.
Ledyard-Preston: 2-mile paddle, 8 to 11 a.m., Saturday, Poquetanuck Cove, meeting at boat launch at end of Royal Oaks Drive in Ledyard. Registration is required by calling Anne Roberts-Pierson at (860) 464-8101.
Ledyard-Groton: 1.5-mile hike, 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Avery Farm/East and West Trails, meeting at 56 Lambtown Road Extension, Ledyard (access from Route 184). Registration is appreciated by contacting Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lyme: 5-mile hike, 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nehantic State Forest/Nayantaquit Trail, meeting at Uncas Pond Picnic area. Registration is appreciated by contacting Chris at email@example.com.
Lyme: 1+-mile hike, 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Hartman Park and Walbridge Woodlands, meeting at entrance to Hartman Park on Gungy Road. Registration is appreciated by contacting Angie at: (860) 434-3194 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Montville: Letterboxing, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Camp Oakdale, meeting at camp entrance on Meeting House Lane. Registration is appreciated by contacting Chris Lawton at email@example.com.
New London: Nature walk, 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Ocean Beach Park/Alewife Cove Nature Walk, meeting at Garden Gateway entrance to nature walk. Pre-registration required by contacting Louise at (860) 444-8916 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
New London: 1-mile educational walk, 1 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Fulton Park/Olde Town Mill, meeting near playscape in Fulton Park at Crystal Avenue and State Pier Road. Pre-registration is recommended by contacting Ronna at (860) 447-9823 or email@example.com.
North Stonington: 2.5-mile hike, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Babcock Ridge and Henne Memorial Preserve, meeting at parking area at 113 Babcock Road. Pre-registration is recommended by contacting Bruce at (860) 599-4867 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Stonington: 1-mile hike, 7:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Hewitt Farm Loop Trail, meeting at end of unpaved Hewitt Road. For information, contact Dick at (860) 535-0528 or email@example.com.
North Stonington: 3-mile hike, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Pachaug State Forest/Narragansett Trail, meeting at Wyassup Lake Boat Launch, 145 Wyassup Lake Road. For information, contact Doug at (860) 961-4224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Norwich: 3-mile educational walk, 9:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday, historic downtown Norwich Heritage Walk, meeting at Howard T. Brown Memorial Park gazebo. For information, contact Jason at (860) 887-6964 or email@example.com.
Norwich: 1.5-mile educational walk with dogs, 9 to 10:30 a.m. Sunday, meeting at Estelle Cohn Memorial Dog Park, 261 Asylum St. Registration appreciated by contacting Jason at (860) 887-6964 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Old Lyme: 6-mile paddle, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, Lieutenant River, meeting at Lieutenant River Boat Launch, 17 Shore Road (Route 156), near Ferry Road. Registration is required by contacting Barry at (860) 705-3828 or email@example.com.
Old Saybrook-Essex-Westbrook: Nature walk, 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, The Preserve, meeting at M&J bus lot at 130 Ingham Hill Road for shuttle to trail entrance. Registration is recommended by contacting June Sgobbo at (203) 777-7367 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preston: Educational walk to Hallville Pond fishway, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, meeting at Hallville Pond Dam, three-tenths of a mile south of the intersection of routes 2 and 2A. For information, contact Matt at (860) 887-4163, ext. 403, or email@example.com.
Salem: 2-mile nature walk, 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Smuggler's Rock Preserve, meeting at end of Salem Ridge Drive. Parking is limited; hikers requested to carpool. Registration is recommended by contacting Linda Schroeder at (860) 859-3520.
Scotland-Sprague: Half-mile educational walk, noon to 1 p.m. Saturday, Waldo Homestead, meeting at the Waldo house at 96 Waldo Road in Scotland. For information, contact David at (860) 377-1346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stonington: 3-mile hike, 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Coogan Farm, meeting at Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, 109 Pequotsepos Road. Registration is recommended by contacting Davnet at (860) 536-1216 or email@example.com.
Stonington: Nature walk, pond dipping and exploration, 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, 109 Pequotsepos Road. For information, contact Davnet at (860) 536-1216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Voluntown: 1.5-mile hike, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Pachaug State Forest/Mount Misery-Pachaug Trail, meeting at Pachaug State Forest Chapman Parking Area. Registration is recommended by contacting LaDonnah at (860) 705-0506 or email@example.com.
Voluntown: half-mile nature walk, 1 to 2 p.m. Sunday, Rhododendron Sactuary Trail, meeting at Pachaug State Forest Chapman Parking Area. Pre-registration is recommended by contacting LaDonnah at (860) 705-0506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waterford: 2-mile nature walk, 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Conover Tract, meeting at end of Old Barry Road (off Vauxhall Street Extension). For information, contact Jeff at (860) 442-0056 or email@example.com.
Westbrook: 2-mile hike, 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Horse Hill Woods and Russo Trails, meeting at parking area on Route 145 (Exit 64 off I-95, two miles north on 145). Registration is recommended by contacting Tom at (860) 575-0969 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Westbrook: 2-mile hike, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Chapman Mill Pond Trails, meeting at parking area on Route 145 (Exit 64 off I-95, two miles north on 145). Registration is recommended by contacting Tom at (860) 575-0969 or email@example.com.
For a list of all 258 events statewide, visit www.ctwoodlands.org.