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Group established to support fish and wildlife refuge

By Kimberly Drelich

Publication: The Day

Published April 03. 2013 4:00AM

Old Lyme - A new group is forming to support the Roger Tory Peterson unit of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

The unit spans 56 acres of woodlands and wetlands bordered by Saunders Hollow and Neck roads. It comprises the majority of the land once owned by Peterson, the ornithologist and author of works including the 1934 "A Field Guide to the Birds."

The recently formed group, named the Friends of Roger Tory Peterson Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials held an informational meeting Tuesday to update about 30 residents on the refuge and suggest ideas for how the entities could work together.

The Nature Conservancy bought the land in 2002 and transferred it to the Fish & Wildlife Service, a Department of the Interior bureau, in 2011.

Officials are conducting a 15-year comprehensive management plan for the Conte refuge and will have a draft this summer available for a 60-day public review, according to refuge manager Barry Parrish. The entire Conte refuge comprises 7.2 million acres of the Connecticut River watershed, according to the presentation.

When the plan is finalized, expected by the end of this year, the Peterson refuge will officially open to the public. The plan will outline the allowed uses of the property.

Park ranger Shaun Roche presented ideas at the meeting for the property, such as restoring York House, a building that Peterson once used as an office, and recreating a room to reflect how it appeared when he used it. Roche also suggested developing part of the house into a welcoming station for visitors.

The Fish & Wildlife Service will manage the property, and the Friends group - whether as a nonprofit or as an advisory and advocacy group - would support the refuge through fundraising efforts and community input.

The group now has a steering committee with Margot Burns, environmental planner for the Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency, acting as the interim chairman. The committee is seeking members and will meet in three weeks at a time to be posted on the Old Lyme website.

Burns expressed enthusiasm about working together to make the region's conservation efforts even stronger.

"Now we have this iconic figure of Roger Tory Peterson to be our shining star," she said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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