After I became The Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut River Program director in 2003, my first meeting wasn’t in my Northampton, Massachusetts office with one of my Conservancy colleagues. It was about 25 miles up the Connecticut River—at the Turners Falls, Massachusetts office of Andrew French, the project leader of the Service’s Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. I sometimes joke that I should have used a line from film history that day: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The Conte Refuge was established in 1997 to conserve the abundance and diversity of native plants and animals and their habitats in the 7.2-million-acre Connecticut River watershed in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. As the only national wildlife refuge dedicated to a river’s entire watershed, the Conte Refuge is unique. Its vision of melding values of conservation, recreation, education and economic opportunity in large and healthy working landscape is a crucial vision that resonates deeply with both the Conservancy and the Friends of Conte.
As I alluded to above, in my role as Conservancy Connecticut River Program director, we’ve had no more important partner in the watershed. It’s also hard to overstate the significance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in helping the Conte Refuge achieve its ambitious vision. Since the refuge’s founding, more than 35,700 acres have been protected and brought under Conte’s management. Much of this was made possible with financial support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This is just one example of why the Conservancy is a strong supporter of LWCF.
What does this sort of land protection achieve? It supports clean drinking water for millions of people; the Quabbin Reservoir—metropolitan Boston’s primary drinking water source—is fed by the Connecticut River watershed. It protects floodplains, which in turn absorb floodwaters and help keep human communities safe. It provides habitat for animals and plants, many of them rare and at-risk. And it helps secure beautiful forests, fields, marshes, mountains and more that give people places to fish, camp, hike, and simply take in the beauty of the natural world. These are just some of the reasons groups like the Friends of Conte and the local Friends’ groups that focus on a single unit of the refuge work so hard to support the Connecticut River watershed.
If you haven’t visited some of the incredible places in the Conte Refuge that were protected with support from LWCF, please do. Check out Conte’s Pondicherry Division in the shadow of New Hampshire’s stunning White Mountains. Catch a glimpse of a moose feeding in the wetlands of the Nulhegan Division in northern Vermont. Enjoy a stroll through grasslands and floodplains on the Massachusetts Fort River Division’s soon-to-be-completed (October 2014) trail that will be accessible for people with disabilities. See the gorgeous lower Connecticut River system at the Salmon River Division in Connecticut.
Regardless of which place—or places!—you pick, consider making the trip. After all, you’re helping protect these places for you, your family, your friends and all of us. Thank you.
Maybe I’ll see you out there.