Outside Education, Community Commitment The Rockfall Foundation, Part Two

“The way a child discovers the world constantly replicates the way science began. You start to notice what’s around you, and you get very curious about how things work. How things interrelate. It’s as simple as seeing a bug that intrigues you. You want to know where it goes at night; who its friends are; what it eats.” — David Cronenberg

Being outdoors on a field trip, even a walk outside of a classroom can ignite questions, thinking, observations – and sow seeds for lifelong learning – science, history, design, even career choices.

Walk and/or explore in the lower Connecticut River Valley to uncover connections. From the magnificent Wadsworth Falls (big falls and a little waterfall along trails in what is today known as Wadsworth Falls State Park) to an arboretum of trees that can be enjoyed on a walk along Long Lane in Middletown – to outdoor classrooms and field trips – many connections past and present stem back to the support, decisions, actions and vision of the people of The Rockfall Foundation.

Learning at Indian Hill, a Macdonough School outing. Photo courtesy Principal Damian SH Reardon, Macdonough School, Middletown, Connecticut.

In addition to operating the deKoven House as a community center, several other components work together to fulfill the mission of The Rockfall Foundation (TRF), which is to “promote and support environmental education and conservation in the lower Connecticut River Valley.”

“A repeat grant we gave out is to the Commodore MacDonough Elementary School — Middletown’s only true urban school and it is a neighborhood school,” said Tony Marino, TRF executive director. (Part one of this story is linked here.) “They have a grant program that utilizes green space behind the school to learn about nature and travel by bus to other Middletown locations for additional environmental learning experiences. We also have granted to the Valley Shore YMCA funding a week-long summer camp program as well as funding several raised growing beds in their large community garden where they grow produce that is donated to a local food pantry. The summer camp has approximately 13 students and the children learn about growing vegetables, about the nutrition found in vegetables, and at the end of the week they harvest those vegetables and make lunch.”

Another grantee is Indian Hill Cemetery in Middletown, one of the cemeteries built as a park-like setting.

“Indian Hill has a group of notable trees and they hold several events a year some of which are funded by the Rockfall grant which the public is invited to learn the kind of trees that are on the grounds. Also, as part of the grant, elementary school and a middle school students from two local schools are brought in an receive additional environmental educational experiences and a geology lesson.”

Work on shad nets. Image courtesy Connecticut River Museum, Essex, where the mission is to “celebrate the cultural and natural heritage of the Connecticut River…”

“We are very proud of this program, now in its 46th year. Through a competitive process, we fund projects for other nonprofits, schools, or a municipality — they must have an environmental impact on the Lower Connecticut River Valley. Grants generally range from $500 to $15,000. Multiple grants are awarded; however, only one grant in excess of $10,000 can be funded in a given year. The priority area that we look to fund are environmental education – broadly defined – and not limited to school curricula. Programs can target any age from preschool through adults. Activities that engage young people, provide hands-on experiences, or offer creative approaches to learning are encouraged.”

Categories include: Responsible Environmental Planning. Projects approached with consideration for the natural environment and those that support sustainable communities. Preservation of the Connecticut River Watershed. To protect and benefit the water quality of the Connecticut River watershed and raise awareness of responsible living in the watershed. Internships. Proposed internships must provide a significant environmental education and/or research opportunity.

In the lower Connecticut River Valley, “Colonel Clarence S. Wadsworth” seen at Essex Steam Train & Riverboat. Images courtesy of Maureen Quintin, Essex Steam Train.

“Each year we receive applications with budgets that far exceed what money that we have budgeted. The review process is done by the grants committee of the foundation. They have a very difficult charge going through each one, determining focus of and how they match our priority areas. Then deciding which grants can be funded and which cannot. So we do have some happy applicants and some disappointed applicants every year. You can reapply for a grant the next year if you are not successful. There is no lack of applications each year. Last year we received 22 applications and we funded 10.”

Shad exhibit at Connecticut River Museum in Essex. Note the photograph of Spencer’s Shad Shack.

“We also granted to the Connecticut River Museum in Essex, where they will establish a recurring American shad exhibit including a shad-rearing tank. They will also create education lessons on shad for local school children. A grant given to the Brainerd Library in Haddam to run a series of environmental education talks and participate in the ‘Source to Sea’ – The Connecticut River Conservancy program that promotes the cleaning of the Connecticut River, which runs 412 miles from the source on the Canadian border to the sea at the mouth of the Connecticut River in Old Saybrook. That’s just a sample.”

Shad. This is the cover for The Founding Fish by John McPhee. From geology to rivers to science, reading this book is like walking beside the author to learn about shad. Cover is linked to publisher’s description of the book.

“A shad in clear water, seen from above, is very dark greenish-blue, with an almost metallic lustre. Its flashing sides are silver, its belly white. The body is deep, meaning that in outline it more closely resembles a zeppelin than a snake. … The scales are deciduous, diaphanous, and the size of dimes. In their treelike rings and other markings a practiced eye can discern the age of the fish and whether it has spawned before…” – John McPhee, page 14, The Founding Fish (2002, Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

“Our environmental education program are anchored with our annual symposium, geared towards planners, other land use officials and municipal leaders to discuss environmental topics, which affect our towns and cities. Over the last several years, we have focused in on changing climate and how that effects municipal infrastructure. If we can’t agree on the reason we can agree that our weather patterns are changing. We now have long period of drought, deluge rain and an increase in the severity of storms. The infrastructure put in place years ago was not designed for these types of events. Through our program we look at innovative ways that municipalities can mitigate the problems caused by our new weather.”

Upcoming events include: Meet Your Greens, Thursday, Feb. 21, guest speaker Senator Matt Lesser, who will talk about the state’s budget and issues facing Connecticut, from insurance to environment. Senator Matt Lesser is serving his first term representing the 9th State Senate District: Middletown, Cromwell, Rocky Hill, Newington and Wethersfield after serving five terms in the House. He’s chair of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, vice chair of the Public Health Committee, and serves on the Appropriations, Judiciary, Energy & Technology, Labor & Public Employees and Education Committees. Matt is an active member of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. Part of a series of Middletown Green Drinks, this is a monthly networking opportunity for those interested in making connections and exchanging news about emerging environmental issues regarding the lower Connecticut River Valley communities. It is also an official location of Green Drinks International, an informal monthly gathering of people drawn from the community, nonprofit groups and the business world offers time to “brainstorm ideas and plant seeds for collaboration.” Open to the public, no admission fee (unless otherwise noted). For events and programs, visit www.rockfallfoundation.org.

All Things Green is TRF’s monthly radio show on iCRV, a program to provide a dialogue for environmental activities in the region, plus updates and information from grantee organizations, and tips for sustainable living. The program airs live the second Thursday of the month, 4 p.m. Here is the link to the radio archives.

TRF 2018 grants awarded to (left to right): Connecticut League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, Middletown; Connecticut River Museum, Essex; Estuary Council of Seniors, Inc., Old Saybrook.

Should you need more inspiration, here is a link to the story about recipients of the 2018 TRF Environmental Awards and Certificates of Appreciation, presented to the Town of Killingworth and the Parmelee Farm Committee; the Town of Portland and the Air Line Trail Steering Committee; and East Haddam teacher Shaleen Thody. And this link leads to TRF 2019 grant application (PDF).

Growing understanding, knowledge, commitment to communities. TRF 2018 grant recipients (left to right) Brainerd Memorial Library, Haddam; Commodore Macdonough Elementary School, Middletown; Connecticut Audubon Society, Middletown, Chester.

For additional information and events, visit www.rockfallfoudation.org.

Learning about geology, history, environment in the field. Macdonough students at Indian Hill.

“The great heroes and heroines of our society are of course the teachers, and in particular the teachers of kids in their first years. Once a child has been shown what the natural world is, it will live with them forever.”
— Sir David Attenborough

Note: As reading always leads to learning about land, rivers, people, places, time, business, how things works and connect, this passage was gleaned from The Henry deKoven House: History and Architecture by John Duell and The Rockfall Foundation A Brief History (2002), a booklet about TRF and their headquarters, the deKoven House:

“Wadsworth Falls State Park, the Colonel’s gift to the people of Connecticut of the ‘Rockfall Tract of Great Falls Region’ –267 beautiful acres of wooded park land lying in Middletown and Middlefield — was donated by the Rockfall Corporation to the Connecticut State Park and Forest Commission in 1942. Three tracts of land were donated for public use under the trusteeship of Mrs. Wadsworth: Bible Rock, across the highway from Seven Falls State Roadside Park in Haddam; Pike’s Ravine, now a wooded park and pond in Middletown; and a plot known as ‘Trolley Ramp’ near where the Coginchaug River crosses the Meriden Road. Other properties that The Rockfall Foundation continues to maintain in the area are the ‘Captain’s Field property south of the Great Falls along Cherry Hill Road, the land on Wadsworth Street where the ‘Great White Oak’ stood from 1776 to 1985, and the nearby ‘River Grove’, a wooded area with a majestic stand of trees that straddles Forest Street along the Coginchaug River.”

1 2 3 315