Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Daniel V. Barrett, Teacher and Conservationist

In keeping with the growing season, we at the Oral History Project continue our focus this month on community leaders who have contributed to the protection of our environment:
Daniel V. Barrett
To paraphrase an old adage about teaching a man to fish, “If you want community members to preserve and protect their natural resources, teach them about the environment, and they will be stewards of the land and sea for a lifetime.” If teaching is the key, then Daniel V. Barrett unlocked the door to environmental stewardship for the thirty-eight years during which he taught and led the science department at Greenwich High School.
The results of his efforts continue to this day. Many of the students who passed through his classes went on to careers of their own in the sciences. Many of the properties today preserved in the Land Trust of Greenwich were acquired during his tenure as both executive director and environmental director of that organization. Much of the background work that went into making the Innis Arden Cottage Research Center at Greenwich Point was completed with his help and insight. These are but a few of the ways in which Mr. Barrett has made a lasting contribution to the environmental health of our town.
Dan Barrett was interviewed for the Oral History Project in December 2007. That interview was published as a book, Teacher and Conservationist in 2009, and in it Mr. Barrett makes clear his lifelong commitment to both the sciences, particularly marine biology, and to teaching.
In addition to teaching, Mr. Barrett headed up the Conservation Commission for a time and, with Lucy Jinishian and others, he formed the Shellfish Commission, which was officially underway by 1986. The purpose of the Shellfish Commission was to prove to the state that the waters were clean and that the shellfish were save to eat. After a period of at least five years, the beds were once again open, after having been closed since 1960.
How does a teacher impart to his students the importance of clean waterways? He appeals to their stomachs, of course. And that is just what Mr. Barrett did in his classes. Along with the customary lessons in bivalve anatomy, he taught his students the wonders of mussel stew, steamers, and oysters on the half-shell.
Dan Barrett with students
Additionally, he often took them to the Fulton Street market, to see all the stalls, to haggle over price, to buy the fish, and to fillet them. And then back at school, in the two ovens in his classroom, they would bake the fish. According to Mr. Barrett, “It was a whole experience of knowing about fish, and their requirements in the ocean.” In other words, once the students knew and appreciated this vital food source, they would be more aware of the need to protect their habitat.
Of all the inventive and innovative teaching techniques Mr. Barrett brought to his students over the years, he is probably most remembered for the development of the oceanography program at the high school. Built with his vision and the support of town benefactors, he was able to accumulate the equipment and supplies necessary to develop a program through the Educational Oceanographic Foundation, Inc. that would enable students to obtain a rich background in marine science—at the high school level. The program was so successful there were four teachers required to accommodate the demand.
Mr. Barrett’s hand can be seen to this day in many of the innovations he first envisioned. Before the Innis Arden Cottage at Greenwich Point, there was the Queen Anne Building, in the same location. It was, at the time Dan Barrett first saw its usefulness, in a general state of disrepair. He remedied that by appealing to the First Selectman, allowing the building to be outfitted with sinks and heat in the winter. As our interviewer astutely observed at the time, it was Mr. Barrett who got the Queen Anne Building “out of mothballs.”
In recent years that old building has been beautifully transformed, becoming the new home of the Seaside Environmental Education Center, spearheaded by the Greenwich Point Conservancy, in collaboration with the Conservation and Shellfish Commissions and the Bruce Museum.
In addition to oceanic conservation and education efforts, Mr. Barrett’s work by no means slighted the land. In 1986 he was recruited to join the Greenwich Land Trust, becoming the Executive Director shortly thereafter. At the time of the interview, the trust had a hundred and nineteen properties under its care, over six hundred acres of property. It owned Shell Island, had eighteen meadows, and five apple orchards.
Greenwich Land Trust apple orchard
Over the years, this much and more is still true. The Land Trust has continued to grow. Mr. Barrett was honored for his work and contribution in 2012, and shortly before that event, he told the reporter covering it of the importance of cherishing the land for the benefit of future generations. He then quoted Ansel Adams:
"Let us leave a splendid legacy for our children. Let us turn to them and say: ‘This you inherit; guard it well, for it is far more precious than money, and once destroyed, nature's beauty cannot be repurchased at any price.’"
Therein lies the legacy of Daniel V. Barrett, teacher and conservationist.
The Oral History Project book, Daniel V. Barrett: Teacher and Conservationist, is available through the Greenwich Library’s circulating collection and is for sale through the Oral History Project office, lower level of the library.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Conservation in Greenwich

We are in full spring finally in Greenwich, and since Earth Day is in April, we at the Oral History Project find our thoughts turning to the environment and to conservation. We have many interviews in our collection on these subjects by narrators who have worked tirelessly to preserve and protect the natural heritage of our town.

The first of our histories tracing efforts to safeguard the land and water of Greenwich is to be found in one of our published anthologies with interviews spanning the 1980s, entitled appropriately enough, Conservation in Greenwich. It is comprised of oral history interviews with citizen-conservationists, Eugene Curry, Anne Hubbell French, Barbara Kitchel Girdler, Howard Hennington, and Phoebe Milliken.

In the first interview, narrator Barbara Girdler describes the origins of conservation efforts in Greenwich. Going back to the 1940s, she cites the establishment of the Audubon Center, crediting it with the start of conservation education in town. “They started with birds,” she says, but soon discovered, “it’s all of a piece and they’d have to just look at the whole picture.”

In the 1950s the center became a liaison group with the garden clubs, soon beginning conservation work on Greenwich Point. At the time of the interview, 1982, members of the Greenwich Point committee were working on a master plan for which they had secured the blessings of the Parks Department.
Eagle Statue, Greenwich Point
Today the eagle has a nest on its top. The bronze eagle was originally placed in 1979

Other instrumental conservation efforts she cites include the opening in 1968 of the Greenwich Point Advisory Committee’s exhibition center, the state Coastal Wetlands Act of 1970, the Greenwich Environmental Action Group whose work began in 1970. (More on that to come.) These efforts and more formed the basis for laws and ordinances that guide the care and handling of our natural resources in Greenwich today.

The second interview in this collection is with Phoebe M. Milliken, conducted in 1986, about the Byram River Gorge Preserve.  Ms. Milliken begins with expressions of deep appreciation for the land, noting the native American Indians and the Quakers who long ago had stewardship of the land. Of the Quakers, who settled the lands of the Byram River in the 1700s, she says, “They knew very well where to place their houses, not down close to the river. They took the best advantage of where the sun rose and set and where the prevailing winds were coming from. They were not going to be caught in floods.”
Scene from the Gimbel Sanctuary

The intentions of those involved in the Byram River Gorge Preserve were to keep the land as preserved and protected as it had been under the care of its previous settlers. The key was to secure private lands into the hands of the Land Trust overseen at the time by the Greenwich Audubon Society. These early planners also included the Nature Conservancy in their efforts. One of the first land donations came from Mrs. Alva B. Gimbel. The Gimbel Foundation gave thirty-seven acres to the Audubon Society Greenwich Chapter in 1972.  John Fereri gave another forty-three acres in 1995. Today eighty acres of this land is called the Gimbel Sanctuary, connected to the Nature Conservancy’s Byram River Gorge Preserve to the north.

Another of the interviews is by a narrator with a similar love of the land, Anne Hubbell French, whose family had lived near the Mianus River Gorge for many years. Her interview on the Mianus River Gorge Preserve is co-narrated with R. Eugene Curry, who came to the project after its inception. As Ms. French tells it, the purpose of the preserve was “to set aside this land surrounded by the steep hills to be protected in perpetuity, forever wild.” She goes on to call the preserve a “wilderness island in a suburban sea.” While the land was to remain forever wild, it was not to be unavailable to the public. Instead, it was designed to provide hiking trails open to the public, the only restrictions at the time, “no picnics or dogs.” The narrators credit Gloria Anable, among other interested citizens, for having created the preserve, with work on the project going back to the early 1950s. The Mianus River Gorge was the first of the land projects of the Nature Conservancy.

In another interview, Howard H. Hennington (interview conducted in 1987) describes how the Greenwich Audubon Society of Greenwich went from being about birds only to contributing to the preservation of lands, such as the Byram River Gorge Preserve. Similarly, in an interview in 1982, Barbara Girdler describes how the Land Trust went from being under the auspicious of the Greenwich Audubon in the early 70s to later being set up as a separate entity, its purpose, too, to acquire private lands, mostly by gift. Today the Greenwich Land Trust has more than 737 acres of diverse woodlands under its care.
Greene Preserve, Greenwich Land Trust

In the final interview of the collection, Barbara Girdler focuses on what were in the 1980s ongoing efforts to ensure regulations protective of air, land, and water quality. She comments on the Audubon chapter and its educational programs, the garden clubs, the members of the Greenwich Point committee, all active and committed to the preservation of our natural resources. At one point she makes a distinction between those she calls “aesthetic conservationists,” who save things because they are beautiful and those who have come to appreciate “the oneness of nature.” She explains the concept thus: “It’s just all of a piece, and you mustn’t rend the fabric anywhere. You pull one thread, and the whole thing comes apart.”

Lucky for us, these early committed citizen-conservationists were of the second kind.

photo credits:
Greenwich Roundup
Greenwich Audubon
Greenwich Land Trust