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Excitement Around Homegrown National Park Effort Draws Dozens To Kickoff



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April showers outside didn’t dampen spirits inside Newtown Congregational Church, which hosted dozens eager to learn about Newtown’s local kickoff of the Homegrown National Park initiative.

The well-attended community-building event April 29 was presented in collaboration with Newtown’s Protect Our Pollinators (POP) nonprofit, Pootatuck Watershed Association (PWA), the host location, and Trinity Episcopal Church.

Following a presentation at Newtown Senior Center and a virtual program provided through C.H. Booth Library, POP and PWA are working to broaden local outreach to “get everyone on the map,” according to one event co-organizer.

Attendees departed the event a couple of hours later toting folders filled with information about Homegrown National Park, invasive and native plants, and instructions to help them create their own native plant garden.

Fifty early birds also received tickets to collect complimentary native plants after the event, courtesy of Earth Tones Native Plant Nursery in Woodbury.

Inside the church’s Great Room, numerous booths were set up highlighting local conservation efforts such as the national and Connecticut Audubon societies. The environmental efforts also extended to the concessions, where vegan baked goods were offered alongside coffee and tea.

The combined efforts of Lisa Shirk (POP) and Diane Saraceni (Sweet Caroline’s Chocolates & Confections) were well-received and demonstrated another often overlooked way to conserve — going plant-based.

Among officials attending were State Representative Mitch Bolinsky and First Selectman Dan Rosenthal.

During previous lead-up coverage in The Newtown Bee, Doug Tallamy, co-founder of Homegrown National Park said, “the solution is in the collective action of many people to make small actions.” Most land in Newtown is privately owned, so home and business owners are in a unique position to help curate the local ecosystem.

Pootatuck Watershed Association President Randy Walker, who led the movement to bring the Homegrown National Park initiative to Newtown, challenged folks to “put themselves on the map,” referring to the organization’s website (homegrownnationalpark.org). He reminded everyone that “the only time you can conserve anything is when you still have it.”

Holly Kocet, president of POP, added that community members “need to think outside the big box store,” as she urged homeowners to consider the needs of wildlife, especially pollinators like bees and butterflies. “All parts of the landscape are interacting with our local ecosystems,” she said.

One way to think outside the box is to begin using cuttings from existing native plants or collecting local seeds instead of buying them.

Keynote speaker and Earth Tones owner Lisa Turoczi encouraged folks to “say yes to less lawn” and promoted seed diversity, which creates much stronger plants.

Why Plant Native?

Turoczi noted that “the best way to provide for native fauna is to give native flora.” At their all organic nursery, she and husband Kyle, a soil scientist and wetlands ecologist, rely on the good insects to eat the bad, and the birds and frogs to work together to keep everything in balance.

The topic then aligned with the day’s forecast as Turoczi discussed the importance of rain gardens and being mindful of runoff while Saturday’s storm continued outside.

According to the Earth Tones website, “a rain garden is a shallow depression created in the ground that will allow water, directed by slope or pipe to enter. The water collected is runoff from a building’s roof, a driveway, a patio, or any other surface that has a high runoff situation. The water captured in these rain gardens is slowed, allowing water to percolate back down into the ground.”

Another option is to simply plant some native species under the shade of a tree or even consider converting your driveway to a greener version that is permeable to the ground below.

Unfortunately, DEEP biologist Peter Picone was unable to attend the event, but Cathy Hagadorn, director of the Connecticut Audubon’s Deer Pond Farm sanctuary, was able to step in with some advice.

Hagadorn stressed the importance of doing everything we can to “save our ancient oaks” in times of drought instead of focusing on our lawns. These “legacy trees” take about 10-20 years to produce acorns and will take more than just a season to grow back.

She also advised against putting your garden to bed in the winter, as many insects rely on this leaf litter for shelter so it’s better to leave it messy. For example, milkweed ropes, when not cut down, can be stripped by birds to use in nest building in the spring.

Hagadorn advised those who do not own property to work with what they have.

Hanging hummingbird-friendly plants or working with your condo board on landscape management are a couple of options. Even removing just one invasive plant or planting one native plant is an action that contributes to the whole.

The ripple — or butterfly effect— could be felt for years by the ecosystem.

POP's president Holly Kocet mentioned that the timing of the event was about more than just Earth Day.

“We’re just trying to get our town to pay attention,” she said.


Jackie Genovese is a freelance Newtown Bee reporter/photographer living in Easton.

The Great Room at Newtown Congregational Church (NCC) attracted dozens eager to learn about Newtown’s local kickoff of the Homegrown National Park initiative April 29. —Bee Photo, Genovese
The local kickoff of the Homegrown National Park initiative April 29 was presented by the Newtown Congregational Curch in collaboration with the Pootatuck Watershed Association (PWA), Trinity Episcopal Church, and Newtown’s Protect Our Pollinators (POP) nonprofit, whose co-founder Mary Wilson was featured during the speaking program. —Bee Photos, Genovese
Cathy Hagadorn, Director of Connecticut Audubon's Deer Pond Farm Sanctuary in Sherman and an impromptu keynote speaker during the April 29 event stands with Randy Walker, President of the Pootatuck Watershed Association, Lisa Turoczi, keynote speaker and owner of Earth Tones Native Plant Nursery in Woodbury, and Holly Kocet, President of Protect Our Pollinators.
Newtown’s Homegrown National Park kickoff featured a number of booths hosted by local and regional environmental causes and vendors. Here, Laura Mitchell, a Protect Our Pollinators member chats with one of the dozens of attendees who turned out for the April 29 activity. Barbara Wood, Office manager for Connecticut Audubon’s Deer Pond Farm Sanctuary in Sherman was also among those sharing information about that 125 year old organization.
Thanks to displays like this at the Homegrown National Park kickoff April 29, visitors were able to quickly familiarize themselves with pollinators they might encounter on their own property.
Protect Our Pollinators (POP) volunteer Dottie Evans supplied this image of some of the 50 native trees and plants that were distributed to early bird attendees to the April 29 Homegrown National Park kickoff event.
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