Gypsy Moth Damage Forces Closure of Trail Wood Sanctuary in Hampton

The Trail Wood Sanctuary in Hampton will be off limits for a few months and gypsy moths are to blame.

The caterpillars significantly weakened many trees, particularly oaks, over the last three years. They’ve caused repeated defoliation, even killing some of the trees.

"This is a big guy, a beautiful one, that’s leaning directly towards the writing cabin," said Sarah Heminway, referencing a giant tree posing a threat to the property. Heminway is the director of Northeast Corner Programs for The Connecticut Audubon Society.

Because of the gypsy moth caterpillar damage Connecticut Audubon – that has run the property as a sanctuary since 1993 – is closing it down for the first time on Dec. 1.

Several trees on the 168-acre sanctuary impacted by the gypsy moth caterpillar pose a potential hazard to the public and wildlife. They’re marked in blue, a sign that they might need to be chopped down.

The tree removal project is scheduled to start mid-December and be completed by March 2018. The project is being conducted in winter to reduce potential impact to birds and their spring breeding season.

Wind, snow or another storm could easily push some of these trees down, Heminway said. There was already debris from the storms over the last few months. The main concern is about the safety of visitors and local ecosystem.

"This is not the way we wanted to manage the woods here. Unfortunately the gypsy moths recognized some of our biggest white oaks as the most tasty, and those are the ones that have clearly been affected the most," Heminway said.

Connecticut Audubon and its forestry consultants, Ferrucci & Walicki of Midddlefield, and foresters from Hull Forest Products in Pomfret, are working collaboratively on the project.

Trail Wood is a known site for writers, artists, hikers, and cross country skiers.

"There’s a lot of dead wood that we don’t want coming down on our heads. It’s just an awful thing," said Roxanne Steed of Mystic.

Steed was part of the artist in residence program at Trail Wood Sanctuary. She teaches art there once a month and even cross country skis there. She won’t be teaching classes in Hampton this winter, but instead at Connecticut Aubudon’s property in Pomfret.

"I have a feeling that things will be different when we go back," Steed said.

Heminway said there’s no count on the number of trees coming down, yet, but the plan is to improve the environment for visitors and wildlife.

The project will be funded by The Connecticut Audubon Society. If some of the trees can be harvested for wood, it could help cover some of the cost, Heminway said.

Trail Wood is the former home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and naturalist Edwin Way Teale. After he passed, his wife donated the property to Connecticut Audubon.

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