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One man from Wilton’s mission to turn Allen’s Meadow into a pollinator magnet

Joe Bear at Allens Meadow. (contributed)

Until recently, for anyone who wanted to see an unsightly sagebrush sea, there was no better place than Allen’s Prairie just west of the Community gardens. But now, thanks to the efforts of the Wilton resident Joe bear, a local environmentalist, gardener and bird watcher, things have started to change.

Mugwort – officially Artemisia vulgaris – is an extremely aggressive non-native Eurasian plant that quickly outperforms native flora, so much so that it has earned a prominent place on the invasive plant lists of most states, including including that of Connecticut.

Mugwort’s invincible root system, which spreads quickly even in the most unwelcoming soils, makes it nearly impossible to eradicate – even a root sliver left in the ground will sprout into a new plant. To make matters worse, its pollen is a major contributor to hay fever.

Bear has been watching Allen’s Meadow since he and his wife, Barbara, moved to Wilton 20 years ago. He worried about the inhospitable habitat that the invasive mugwort created, especially for native pollinators. Many butterflies, bees and other native pollinators are in severe decline, largely because native plant species are being supplanted by non-native ones, such as sagebrush.

As an expert ornithologist and gardener, Bear had previously jumped on the Pollinator path running and created a pollinator garden in his home. Now at Allen’s Meadow, Bear saw the opportunity to throw another lifeline to pollinators.

“It’s so gratifying to see so many native butterfly and bee species pollinating native plants,” he said. “This is how it’s supposed to be.”

It was after signing for a community garden plot at Allen’s Meadow in 2020 that Bear decided to expand his business.

“I realized after selecting a patch along the back edge that the backdrop was the unsightly mess of sagebrush. That’s when I thought, hey, wouldn’t it be great if instead it was a meadow of native pollinators! “

Bear sought approval from City of Wilton officials in developing a meadow restoration and management plan, which was subsequently approved by the Parks and Recreation Commission as good as Conservation Commission. After some delays related to COVID, the Wilton Selection Council gave the green light to the project at its May 17 meeting.

The Wilton Conservation Commission has always supported this project.

“Joe’s commitment to [the] The creation of the pollinator meadow at Allen’s Meadows is a gift to the community and wildlife that make this park their habitat, whether they are there year-round or pass through during migration, ”explains Jackie Algon, President of the Conservation Commission. “This restoration – and its process – is a model for the residents of Wilton who realize that the beauty of our native plants would enhance their own properties while providing much-needed food and habitat for insects, birds and other animals. wild. “

Bear’s plan consisted of two parts. First, with the green light from Director of Parks and Recreation Steve Pierce, the large barbon meadow nearby was mown in March for the first time in over 10 years. In what will become an annual maintenance effort, this mowing will prevent encroachment of trees and shrubs in native grasslands.

“What a rewarding sight to see Allen’s Meadow look like, well, a meadow. Blackbirds finding food in the brush, a few scattered killers, tree swallows and bluebirds entering and leaving the nesting boxes we set up with the help of the Girl Scouts, ”said Bear.

Bear led a group of volunteers in Part 2 of the Plan: Using a combination of tarps to smother intractable plants and mowing frequently to stunt their growth and ability to photosynthesize.

While Bear has done much of the heavy lifting – literally – he doesn’t hesitate to thank everyone who lent a hand: the Norwalk River Watershed Association, which serves as the sponsoring organization; local ecologist and community gardener Jamie van acker who has partnered with Joe from the start; the Town of Wilton, Parks and Recreation and the Conservation Commission; and the Connecticut Ornithological Association and the Hartford Audubon Society, who provided mini-grants for the project.

Bear said Allen’s Meadow is “a special place,” a place that has become his favorite birding spot and has led many birding walks there for CT Audubon and other local organizations.

“Now, as a gardener, I am very happy to help Allen’s Meadow be part of the pollinator trail. Whether it’s birds, bees, butterflies or native plants, it’s all linked. I am honored to provide this prairie restoration stewardship to a city park that has given so much to me and my family.

To reinforce this point, Joe shared one of his favorite quotes from naturalist John Muir: “When you shoot just one thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

A fundraising campaign for the Bear’s Allen’s Meadow restoration project is supported by Sustainable CT. Residents of Wilton can help bring the project to fruition with an online contribution.


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