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Betsy’s Corner: Let’s Learn about ‘The Meadows’

Have you been to “The Meadows” lately? Cross over the Interstate Highway 91 and over the train tracks and check it out! There is a lot of nature to see there in the beautiful flood plain. Almost a quarter of our town is un-built land along the river. It is among the extremely rare and most threatened areas in Massachusetts. Did you know that there are 360 acres of protected land there?

Have you heard of the names Silvio O. Conte or Fannie A. Stebbins when we refer to The Meadows?

Did you know we have a rare ecological natural landscape down there?

It is a floodplain forest, which is perfect for attracting birds and other wildlife. Rare and endangered species are attracted to this area, and the Audubon Society has designated the Meadows as an Important Birding Area. Both resident species and migrants abound. Enjoy the fresh air and our local natural treasure while hiking or walking! The length of the river is about 3 miles long in Longmeadow.

The Connecticut River is a long and winding fresh water source that is 406 miles long. In 1972 our refuge became a National Natural Landmark. It is a very special area, close to my heart. It is beautiful, peaceful and quiet. It is perfect for contemplation of nature. I wish I had seen it before the highway came through in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Imagine how it was before the highway and traffic noise cut the lowlands off from the rest of the higher part of town.

In 2013, the area became part of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. We need to learn about the history of this area. Long ago it was a place where the Native American Tribes fished and hunted. The Agawam tribe had a settlement here, and then the colonists came in 1644 as part of the Springfield settlement. In 1695 there was a disastrous flood so in 1704 the early colonists, of what was then still part of Springfield, moved up to the area of land near the green for safety and for a long-term home. There was too much flooding, that is why it is technically a flood plain.

Fast-forward 300 years to the 20th Century, when The Allen Bird Club was formed in 1912. By 1951 they saved and preserved this ecologically unique part of the Connecticut River Valley. The size of the refuge grew n the 1960s and 1970s. For more than 60 years, volunteers from the Allen Bird Club maintained the trails and mowed the fields until the refuge was transferred to the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Often this tract is referred to as The Fannie Stebbins conservation land. Research is difficult to uncover her story, but she was a founding member of the Allen Bird Club who died in 1949, at age 90. They honored her contribution, vision and foresight by naming the conservation land area after her. She had been a science teacher in Springfield and was the Supervisor of Elementary School Science. Her mother was born and raised in Longmeadow and her father was from Wilbraham.

From 2017-2019, The Nature Conservancy began a restoration project on the east bank of the Connecticut River. This involves reduction of forest fragmentation by returning seven old fields to floodplain forest; control of invasive plants; and restoration of natural water flow features.

Approximately 8,000 trees and shrubs will be planted. Work on the 223-acre section is being done with funding from the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Activities began with mowing, herbiciding and plowing some fields and replanting them with trees and bushes that are native to the floodplain forest habitat. This will provide food and shelter for more insects, birds and animals in the area.

There is some targeted use of herbicide in forested areas to control specific invasive plants. In 2019, a berm will be removed so the surface water can flow naturally again to flood areas that have been cut off. There may be temporary restrictions while some work is underway. This year is the third year of planting.

To find out more about this local treasure please visit the Allen Bird Club website and consider joining the club. They meet to follow the bird migrations here and also take field trips.

The annual dues are affordable and costs $12 per year from July-June. Members joining after April 1 can join for the upcoming season at the same rate. I would like to thank Cynthia Sommer, a member of the Friends of Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge and local resident for her assistance in helping me learn more about The Meadows.

The Friends of Fannie Stebbins group is planning some nature programs and stewardship days during the spring through fall. You can get their program news be emailing friendsofstebbins@gmail.com.

Please take a walk down there and enjoy what nature has to offer. It is truly a priceless resource and should no be overlooked in our busy lives.

Make the time for a Mindful Walking Meditation here in town and enjoy the wildlife! You will find it a peaceful and welcoming place.

– Betsy’s Corner is by Longmeadow’s Betsy Huber Port. Her column is published bi-weekly in the Longmeadow News.