Oswegatchie Hills – Treading lightly, for nature’s sake

While we continue to fight for the protection and preservation of 236 acres of undeveloped coastal forest in East Lyme, Conn., the human need for access to outdoors and fresh air is bringing new challenges to volunteer stewards who maintain the adjoining Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve (OHNP).

Susan Gonzalez, Greg Decker, Kris Lambert work to upkeep the kiosk area.

“The Hills are a ‘nature preserve,’ a safe habitat for wildlife, both flora and fauna, as well as a place for recreation. It is a delicate balance,” says Kris Lambert, Friends of OHNP president. Maintaining the preserve is never-ending work for the Friends, who repair trails, maintain trail markers, install and fix bridges and walkways, stop or prevent soil erosion, and scout for and remove invasive species.

Don Danila, Susan Gonzalez, and Greg Decker work to clear invasives.

As playgrounds and sports fields have been closed due to COVID-19, more people have turned to hiking and biking for exercise. To protect both people and nature, the Friends of OHNP have posted new Social Distancing guidelines on the nature preserve’s website.

While “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” is still the golden rule in nature preserves, efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus bring some novel practices. Few might expect to need a mask in the great outdoors, but hikers should be prepared to put theirs on before getting within six feet of people not in their own party.

OHNP recommends hiking during quieter times of the day, and rescheduling if the parking lot is more than half-full.

Watch out for poison ivy.

Staying on the trail has always been a wise practice, and with good reason: step off the trail anywhere in Connecticut, and you’ll probably bring home at least one deer tick. In some spots, poison ivy is waiting for you. Moss, lichens, and native plants just off of the trail are home to insects and creatures, too. So walk single file and yield or back up on the trail. Whether on mountain bike or foot, use your bell, whistle, or call out before heading into a blind corner.

Dogs have always been required to be on leashes in OHNP and need to be kept on the trail. Even on-leash, a dog nosing around in the underbrush disturbs and can kill nesting birds and wildlife. Unleashed dogs can pose a threat to other dogs on-leash, hikers, and wildlife. Always pick up your pet feces and deposit in the trash or carry it home with you to dispose.

And if you are lucky enough to be startled by a coyote out for a trot, or see other wildlife in OHNP, enjoy the nature. Remember, it’s their world; tread lightly—we are only guests.

Please sign on to our Save Oswegatchie Hills Coalition and watch for updates.

Beautiful Canada Mayflower blooming in Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve.

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