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Planting for the future

Since 2013, Save the Sound has worked to improve the health of Connecticut’s Pequonnock River — which drains land from Monroe to Bridgeport — with restoration projects that prevent polluted rainwater runoff and help migratory fish like alewife and blueback herring swim from source to Sound (and back again).

On a gray Saturday in October 2016, the Save the Sound Green Projects team set out for Bridgeport’s Glenwood Park to reinforce Pequonnock River revitalization efforts with a volunteer planting event.

people planting along river Since 2013, Save the Sound has worked to improve the health of Connecticut’s Pequonnock River. (Photo: Connecticut Fund for the Environment)

Rain began to fall as we arrived at the park, pulled on our boots, and started unloading 100 potted plants — native grasses and shrubs — from a truck parked along a busy roadway. Just as it started looking as though the weather would have the Save the Sound team planting alone, volunteers from Viridian, a local green energy firm, arrived wearing raincoats and ponchos over their bright green t-shirts.

Slowly, the planting crew grew. Volunteers huddled under canopy tents, bundled in rain gear and gloves, as Anna Marshall, green projects associate for Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, introduced the day’s project and passed around photos depicting the planting site at various stages of development.

Volunteers from BuildOn Bridgeport, the Easton Cub Scouts, the Bassick Lions football team, and other groups quickly settled in with shovels, trowels, and buckets to bring new life to the riverbank.

I watched as a little boy taught himself how to pull a plant from a pot, and an older boy taught his teammates how to dig a hole twice the size of a new plant. Even the sun made an appearance as the group picked up trash, planted shrubs, and removed invasive species like bittersweet and pokeweed.

“Planting native perennials along the banks of an urban river benefits more than just the Sound — this colorful oasis of grasses, shrubs, and trees beside a busy stretch of highway and along a concrete lined section of the Pequonnock River has a lot of educational value, too,” said Kendall Barbery, green infrastructure program manager for CFE/Save the Sound at the time.

“Every volunteer that braved the weather today got a hands-on opportunity to learn about the role that native plants play in reducing stormwater runoff and restoring the Pequonnock River and Long Island Sound.”

people plant along river in CT Save the Sound’s Pequonnock River restoration efforts at Glenwood Park started with the installation of baffles and pools in 2013. (Photo: Connecticut Fund for the Environment)

Urban restoration plantings, rain gardens, and other hands-on projects help Save the Sound engage and educate our community about steps we can all take to protect and restore the Sound and its tributaries.

Just a month before the planting, a multi-generational group of a dozen volunteers, including Save the Sound members and Beardsley Zoo Conservation Corps students, learned how to plant a rain garden at the Beardsley Zoo, about a mile upstream from Glenwood Park.

Save the Sound’s Pequonnock River restoration efforts at Glenwood Park started with the installation of baffles and pools in 2013 to help fish navigate past a shallow concrete area that had impeded their migration for years. The fishway has helped increase fish population by providing a safe pathway for alewives to swim upstream and spawn, offering a healing benefit to the entire Pequonnock River ecosystem.

Efforts continued in 2014 with a riverside plant-a-thon. That day, local youth and other volunteers put 2,100 native plants into the ground along the Pequonnock River — the site of our rainy day revitalization planting.

The Beardsley Zoo project, which includes a walkway and rain garden that work together to soak up and filter parking lot runoff before it reaches the Pequonnock River, broke ground in April 2016. After the heavy lifting wrapped up in mid-May, youth volunteers came together to plant native perennials in the rain garden and to plant trees in other spots surrounding the parking lot.

Phase two of the project, completed in 2018, resulted in more than 50 percent of the zoo’s parking lot being sustainably managed. We collaborated with the Connecticut Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, who co-led a hands-on professional development workshop for landscapers and construction contractors interested in green infrastructure installation techniques.

The addition of new riverside plants has helped further stabilize the riverbank and create additional habitat for birds and other pollinators. These new plants will also help filter hundreds of thousands of gallons of stormwater runoff a year, preventing pollutants and debris from reaching the Pequonnock River and reducing the amount of nitrogen and bacteria that reach Long Island Sound.

A river with people planting alongside The addition of new riverside plants has helped further stabilize the riverbank and create additional habitat for birds and other pollinators. (Photo: Connecticut Fund for the Environment)

Buffer plantings also deter troublesome geese from flocking on the riverbank and help filter the bacteria-laden waste they leave. Excess nitrogen contributes to low-oxygen dead zones (think: dead fish and sea turtles) and is currently the leading water quality challenge in Long Island Sound.

Dan Conrad, a volunteer from Barkhamsted, stayed in constant motion throughout the event — pushing wheelbarrows, wielding shovels, and picking up trash:

“I feel like not enough is being done for our environment,” Conrad said. “I always want to help, but don’t know how, so this is a good way to start.”

Work to restore the Pequonnock River and its banks has been funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund, Long Island Sound Study, CT DEEP, Restore America’s Estuaries, NOAA, and the Jeniam Foundation.

- story by Ariel Shearer

This story was originally published on October 28, 2016 on CFE/Save the Sound’s Green Cities Blue Waters blog. It has been updated to ensure accuracy of date references.

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The mission of Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound is to protect and improve the land, air, and water of Connecticut and Long Island Sound.

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