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.

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