Friends

   Branford is surrounded by “Friends.”  Look around and you will find the Friends of the Farm River Estuary in the west and the Friends of Outer Island in the east. Both groups keep watchful eyes on two of our beautiful, valuable and environmentally sensitive areas. The groups have identical goals of advocacy, protection and education. Both are managed by volunteer Boards of Directors with small groups of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers.     

   Networking is one of the secrets of success of groups like the “Friends.” The protection of the Farm River Estuary is a tri-town effort. Members from Branford, East Haven and North Branford have joined forces to monitor the health of the ecosystem by organizing annual clean-ups and helping to counteract the pressures of a growing population by protecting land from overdevelopment and misuse.   Both organizations are closely affiliated with town governments, Land Trusts and other environmental groups. In 2005 FFRE members worked with the Branford Land Trust to add Saltonstall Mountain to the Beacon Hill and Pisgah Brook properties, resulting in approximately 800 acres of protected open space. The Friends of Outer Island, established in 2001, is dedicated to preserving the legacy of Elizabeth Hurd, whose donation of the island ensured its continuing protection. FOI works cooperatively with The Branford Land Trust, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Stewart B. McKinney Refuge and the Faulkner’s Light Brigade to protect their island’s fragile ecosystem.

   The Farm River  is the natural dividing line between Branford and East Haven, but it unites the two communities in working to protect it. The area includes a variety of natural habitats from wooded uplands to fresh water and tidal marshes. It provides food and shelter for an immense variety of wildlife. It is an ideal location, so close to densely inhabited areas, for environmental educational programs.  Through an agreement with the CT DEP, Quinnipiac University oversees the management of the Farm River State Park, providing educational programs and facilitating access to the river by “car-top” boats.

    Outer Island is located off the coast of Stony Creek, accessible by personal watercraft and water taxi.  It is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, which spans 70 miles of the Connecticut coastline from Westbrook to Norwalk.  Granite based Outer Island’s five acres are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, giving an ideal opportunity for research and education. There are some changes happening at Outer Island. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has hired an intern who is on duty to help with maintenance and security. The main house is currently undergoing renovation. Funding from the Hurd Foundation has made it possible to build an outdoor classroom pavilion. A grant will enable students from the Walsh Intermediate School to continue their environmental studies.

   Several special events take place on Outer Island each year. The season begins with a major clean-up event, with special permission for a controlled bonfire if needed. Geology walks are always a favorite. Big Brothers and Big Sisters hold a fishing derby in mid-July, and Open House is tentatively scheduled for August 23rd this year. Two volunteers have added their own touches. “Leave No Trace” signs are the contribution of Paul Donoski, and Chris Hague has installed a tamper-proof container for visitors’ donations.

   The number of FFRE volunteers varies according to the season and special events. Members turn out for an annual clean-up, this year to be held on September 20th, Estuary Day. “We go out on foot or in kayaks,” reported president, Marlene Cenotti. “Last year two boats helped us pull a huge tire out of the mud.” Volunteers worked with Peter Borgermeister of the Branford Land Trust to build and erect several osprey platforms in the marshes along the river. A few volunteers have had the pleasure of banding young osprey under Peter’s supervision. Bird walks are held in the spring and fall. Off-season programming has included slide presentations such as the History of the Farm River Estuary, by Jane Bouley, Town Historian.

   To understand the duties and pleasures of working as an Outer Island docent it is helpful to read an excerpt from an article by Brian Cooper, which appears in its entirety on the FOI website. After the pleasure of an overnight assignment he reported, “I open the cabin and call the Refuge office. I raise the American flag to signal the island is officially open. There are signs and brochures to put out, and some housekeeping chores. Then, I head out for a walk around the island for a security check. I also use the walk to pick up any garbage that has washed up on the beach.” Some days will see only a few visitors to the island, some days as many as forty, depending on the season and the weather. Docents are trained to greet visitors, show them the unrestricted areas, tell them about the history and the rules, (no swimming!) and answer questions. At this time docents are trained through a buddy system, but more formal training may be offered in the future. Brian Cooper ended his essay on a high note – “…to think people spend money for such times!” The docents’ schedule for this summer is published on FOI’s website. President Lynn Dorsey welcomes now volunteers – “The more docents we have the longer the season can be.”

    There are many other opportunities to get involved, including research, publicity, mapping, and helping with events and activities.  The FFRE and FOI maintain active and informative websites, publish newsletters and hold regular meetings which potential members and volunteers are welcome to attend.  You will be greeted like old friends! Thank you, volunteer friends of the Farm River and Outer Island for your involvement and care. “That’s what friends are for!”

   ( This reporter has discovered some real evidence that both FFRE and FOI could use more volunteer help. Both groups have sponsored art shows in the past few years, and both have had to cancel their shows this year. This would seem like an opportunity waiting to happen! Can’t you just “picture” a showcase of artworks from these two beautiful areas? What a warm way to spend a cold winter afternoon!)

Contacts and Information:

Websites, with maps, photos

http://friendsofouterisland.org

http://www.farmriverfriends.org

Meetings: call to confirm dates and times

 FFRE every other month at Orchard House, Short Beach Rd. 7:00 p.m. on 4th Tuesday

 Marlene Cenotti, Pres. 488-9436

FOI meetings  4th Mondays,7:00 at Canoe Brook, 

 Lynn Dorsey, pres. 488-5657


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