Groton group, Pfizer volunteers plant greenway

Groton - The Groton Open Space Association, with the help of about 90 Pfizer Inc. volunteers, coordinated the planting Thursday of nearly 800 native species in an attempt to reclaim a former dumping ground off Lambtown Road and make it part of an extensive greenway to protect wildlife habitat in southeastern Connecticut.

Joan Smith, president of GOSA, said the ongoing Candlewood Ridge project on 91 acres of open space has been funded by $125,000 in grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Among the wildlife that will be helped by the habitat-restoration project, she said, is the New England cottontail, a rabbit species that needs brush, shrubs and densely growing young trees to survive. Nineteen bird species listed by the state as threatened or of concern, including the pileated woodpecker, also will be helped by the initiative, part of a coastal forest greenway project that advocates are working to extend from Bluff Point all the way to Rose Hill in Preston.

"It's much better for wildlife to have large, unfragmented pieces," Smith said.

The site at 351 Lambtown Road, not far from the Ledyard border, was used as a dumping ground by a developer who left about 5,000 square feet of fill on the rocky soil, according to GOSA members, including mattresses and carpeting. The planting, done after much of the fill was removed, covered about 11 acres of the site, and drought-resistant species, such as New Jersey tea plants, ninebarks, beach plums, spireas and sumacs, were chosen to minimize upkeep.

The Center Groton Fire Department filled up $50 pools purchased at Wal-Mart with 2,500 gallons of water so that volunteers would be able to ensure a good start of the native plants, many of which were ringed with stones to provide a beneficial environment for snakes.

Pfizer devoted its annual Day of Caring to the habitat project, with some workers coming for a few hours in the morning and others getting down-and-dirty in the afternoon. Dozens of workers from the company's analytics division in Groton were spread throughout the site, some taking turns at using a pickaxe to dig holes in the rocky soil.

"I love this," said volunteer worker Loren Wrisley, senior director of analytic chemistry at Pfizer. "I would do this again."

Lisa Newell, Beth Shapira and Jen Trabucco, none of whom claimed to be a gardener but each still enthusiastic after more than three hours of planting, said they were thankful that the holes they were working on had been pre-dug.

"I think we're holding up," Shapira said.

"These guys - they're all Type As," Eugenia Villarga, GOSA publicist, said. "They're self starting."

"This is the best work party we've ever had," said Marie Goe Olson, a GOSA board member.

Volunteers previously had deposited about 200 plants on the site, so the work Thursday afternoon meant GOSA is now about two-thirds of the way to its goal of about 1,500 plants total in the restoration project.

GOSA acquired the Candlewood Ridge site last year and now has its eye on completing a deal for the contiguous 300-acre Avery Farm property owned by Judy Weber. The sale has yet to close, as fundraising for the acquisition is still underway, but GOSA members said Weber is committed to setting aside her property for open space and that the deal would allow her to continue farming it as long as she wants to.

An exhibition of paintings created at the Avery Farm site will be up through Oct. 9 at the Latham Chester Store in Noank, with half the proceeds from art sales going toward the property's purchase.

l.howard@theday.com

Twitter: @KingstonLeeHow

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