‘Stay Connected with the Natural World’: New Canaan Land Trust Opens ‘Silvermine-Fowler Preserve’
Jim Fowler describes himself as the type of person who promotes the natural world as important.
An award-winning zoologist and New Canaanite for more than three decades, Fowler doesn’t mean saving animals alone by that, but also preserving open space and wilderness.
“We need, in a community like this, to stay connected with the natural world,” Fowler said on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon, seated in a foldout camping chair in the middle of the woods off of Silvermine Road as more than 200 locals gathered on the 6.35-acre property he purchased in 1984, arriving by shuttle bus or by way of leafy footpaths he knows intimately.
“And that is why it gives me great pleasure. Look at this original forest around here. To have this inside a community is rare.”
And thanks to Jim and his wife, Betsey—as well as the New Canaan Land Trust, Trust for Public Land and town government itself—that rare gift is now New Canaan’s.
Dozens of Silvermine neighbors, open space advocates and other residents, including scores of kids, joined the Fowlers for the Land Trust’s 50th anniversary and grand opening of what will forever be known as the ‘Silvermine-Fowler Preserve.’
A three-year effort come to fruition thanks to a public-private partnership and determination on the part of many—including the Fowlers—to see their singular legacy of wildlife and open space preservation cemented in New Canaan, the Silvermine-Fowler Preserve features a rolling landscape of mixed hardwood trees, primarily of oak, birch, beech, hickory and maple. It’s home to owls, red-tailed hawks, heron, wood ducks, mallards, frogs, fox and migrating birds, among other animals.
“It’s an indication of what you can do when you get an adjacent property next to a property you already own,” Art Berry, president of the Land Trust’s board, said as attendees greeted one another in a grassy clearing atop the hill at 763 Silvermine Road where the Fowler family’s Cape Cod-style home once stood, Still Pond and trailheads to more open space in view.
“This will provide access to 41 acres which is right around the corner here, and get people into the woods to sketch or take photographs, walk. And this is so good for this corner of town which doesn’t have anything like this. There are a number of other big properties which we’ve opened in the last few years in different parts of the town, so hopefully we are being fair by having one down in this corner.”
Attendees at the four-hour event were shuttled in from the parking area at Silvermine Arts Center, or parked themselves on Cedar Lane and walked from the Preserve’s trailhead there. It featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony, interactive exhibits from the New Canaan Nature Center, live music by Nick Depuy, S’mores by a campfire, wood-splitting and –cutting workshops, a catch-and-release at Still Pond and a rehabilitated wildlife release with Wildlife in Crisis. Sponsors included Walter Stewart’s Market and Franco’s Wine Merchants.
Speakers included the Fowlers, New Canaan Land Trust Executive Director Aaron Leflan, Walker Holmes and Benjamin Weiland of the Trust for Public Land, Selectman Nick Williams, Land Trust Board President Art Berry and New Canaan Community Foundation President and CEO Lauren Patterson.
Patterson told NewCanaanite.com in an interview that the organization got behind the project with a $25,000 special grant because the Silvermine-Fowler Preserve is “a great town resource and we work to connect people with the charitable causes that they care bout and we gather resources from folks all over town.”
“And so when an opportunity like this comes up, to leverage private giving with public resources, this is the perfect place for us to jump in,” she said.
The town also approved a special appropriation of $267,000 to make the transaction possible whereby the Land Trust acquired the Fowler property.
In addition to Williams, town officials in attendance included Selectman Beth Jones, Town Councilmen Kathleen Corbet, Kevin Moynihan and Penny Young, Board of Finance member Judy Neville, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kit Devereaux, Planning & Zoning Commissioner Laszlo Papp, Historic District Commission member Tom Nissley and Board of Ethics member Peggy Jay.
Fowler, a Georgia native who earned wide fame as TV host of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” said when asked about how he had come to purchase the Silvermine Road property in the first place nearly 35 years ago that he grew up in the tradition of the Society of Friends, or Quakers.
“And the King family who had this property were also Society of Friends,” Fowler told NewCanaanite.com. “The King family used to live her and then there was a gentleman named John Ripley Forbes who had the house here as a nature science center. That was his office, and he knew me down in Maryland and Georgia, and he said to me one day, ‘You know, Jim, instead of living down in New York City, would you like to live out in the country?’ And I said, ‘Boy, would I.’ So this was the Natural Science for Youth Foundation property, and he started a lot of the nature science centers throughout the country. So I moved out here in 1984 and it was just perfect. I couldn’t even see another house. I never had to live along the road. What a wonderful place for my kids to grow up.”
He added, pointing, “The house was over by that tree. Guess what? This could be a wonderful meeting place for the town.”
More information about the Silvermine-Fowler Preserve can be found here on the Land Trust’s website.