Striking up a conversation on conservation

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Discovery Day will invite students to explore the outdoors at Matthies Park on Oct. 14.

BEACON FALLS — Conservation is about more than picking up litter and buying organic produce at the grocery store. It is a philosophy that affects the quality of life for a whole community. It takes planning and consensus, an effort the Conservation Commission hopes the whole community will join.

On Oct. 13 and 14, the Conservation Commission is hosting a slew of community events to get people thinking about the environment and how they interact with the land around them.

This is the second year the commission is sponsoring a Community Forum, but the first year the group will hold a Discovery Day for middle school students in conjunction with the event.

“I really wanted to present a program that would get our younger stakeholders involved,” said Anita Georig, the commission’s vice-chair.

“I hope that the community and our younger stakeholders take away the value of what our natural resources have to offer. I don’t want them to forget. I want them to be amazed at what we have in our community,” Georig added.

At the Community Forum, which will be held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 13 at Woodland Regional High School, keynote speaker Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, head of the science programs at Post University, will lead off a conversation about conservation in Beacon Falls.

“She’s going to speak directly to the students and she’s going to talk about the soil, which is the very fabric of the earth,” Georig said.

Following Johnson, Phil Goss, senior planner with Alta Planning, will make a presentation on greenways. His firm led the routing study for the greenway from Thomaston to Derby, which includes a section currently under construction in Beacon Falls.

“It really will be something to be seen once it’s developed,” Georig said. “I just want the community well aware of what’s the next step.”

Georig, a proponent of the greenway, said it will bring businesses into town as a bridge between communities.

“So many communities have reaped benefits by having a greenway as a central focus in their town,” she said.

Landscape ecologist Dr. Charlotte Pyle from the USDA will be on hand to talk about invasive plants in the area.

“It’s just something that we all need to be aware of and try to eradicate the invasive species from our natural resources,” Georig said.

Before the forum starts, a staff scientist from the Connecticut Science Center will host three interactive science exhibits for children in first through eighth grade in the Woodland cafeteria from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Pizza and soda will be on sale and forum sponsors and vendors will have a trade show in the hallway outside the auditorium starting at 4 p.m. The forum itself starts at 6 p.m.

Georig said the forum will not be a stuffy business meeting.

“It’s very informal. These are all naturalists,” she said.

Audience members will have a chance to ask questions of the speakers and start a community conversation on conservation, Georig said.

That conversation will continue Oct. 14 with Discovery Day in Mathies Park. Students from Woodland Regional High School will team up with sixth grade students from Long River Middle School for a hands-on approach to conservation and environmental education.

“It will be a great collaborative effort, I think,” said LRMS Assistant Principal Kristin Reichelt-Bernier. “I think any time we have an opportunity to work together, it’s a wonderful thing.”

Students will learn about the environment in six science stations, and then use their knowledge to complete a scavenger hunt, Georig said. Students will apply the scientific method they’ve learned in class to explore a soil pit, read a compass, and identify vegetation, among other activities.

“I think it’s really a nice opportunity that we don’t have to travel very far to take advantage of some of these things our communities offer,” Reichelt-Bernier said.

Georig said she hopes the day will get the students outside and get them disconnected from their cell phones or iPads.

“That to me is so important that they enjoy both sides of what the 21st century has to offer them,” Georig said.

Reichelt-Bernier said her students are really looking forward to the event and she hopes it will reinforce concepts learned in the classroom.

“I hope that they come away with a greater appreciation of environmental science,” she said.

Georig wanted to thank the event’s sponsors for making it possible.

“It really wouldn’t have gone off if they didn’t donate,” Georig said.

As the event rapidly approaches, Georig is hoping for good turnout.

“This is really, really geared to the whole community. I’ve invited every commission within the surrounding towns,” she said. “The presentations are going to be really powerful. The presenters are extremely educated. You’re not going to be talked down to.

I think it’s going to be a fun event.”

With the Naugatuck River, Naugatuck Forest, and other parks nearby, the Beacon Falls community is a wealth of natural resources, Georig said.

“Having the event at Mathies Park is just going to be amazing. It’s a treasure trove of our natural resource opportunities,” she said.