Letter: Roger Tory Peterson Center Will Enhance Not Blemish Old Lyme

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To the Editor:

No site selected by the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center (RTPEC) will ever be without controversy. What must be weighed are the needs for a center, which includes the community, versus the concerns of those who might be affected, due to increased traffic, lights or noise.

As a supporter of the RTPEC and former board member, I understand the need. As a former owner of a home on the estuary in Old Lyme, I have some sense of the concern. And, as someone now retired and living across the River in Essex, I recognize there are never perfect solutions to all needs and concerns.

The site selected is on the south side of Ferry Road in Old Lyme, just to the west of Sand Piper Road. The 1.1-acre lot abuts two property owners on Sand Piper Road, and the town-owned Shippee Pond Open Space property. At the foot of Ferry Road is the Town Dock and at the end is DEEP, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Most of us who moved to this area did so because of the proximity to the Connecticut River and its marshes, Long Island Sound and the land that surrounds them. We wanted to be close to the wildlife that lives in or migrates through this area. We were fishermen, sailors, kayakers, rowers, naturalists, or just lovers of the outdoors. We see this estuary as an oasis on the New York-Boston corridor, a place we want to conserve, but also about which we want to learn what we can and, most important, to have our children and grandchildren grow up to know and appreciate what they are so fortunate to have.

It was on the principles of education, research and advocacy that the RTPEC was founded about five years ago. And it was in honor of Roger Tory Peterson, a world-renowned ornithologist, artist and naturalist who for many years made his home in Old Lyme that the center was named and then affiliated with the Connecticut Audubon Society. In a short time, the organization, led by Claudia Weicker, John Forbis and Eleanor Robinson (as the first director) and with limited resources and without a permanent home, has done a remarkable job. They have brought environmental science programs to thousands of school children throughout lower New London and Middlesex Counties, lectures to hundreds of interested adults in southeastern Connecticut, and they founded a scientific board. 

While I no longer am a board member, I have been assured the school programs will continue as they have – bringing instruction to the schools, not only because it is easier and less expensive than transporting students to Old Lyme, but because doing so allows students to see nature in their own backyards. As for the lectures, they will continue to be held in venues such as the Old Lyme Town Hall, Essex Meadows and the Lyme Art Association. This fall, one of the lectures will be held on the campus of Connecticut College, in an effort to bring the lectures to more area towns. 

The new building will contain offices and storage space for prints, papers and research documents. As well, there should be space for a couple of scientists and a few kayaks. Because of its proximity to the town-owned Shippee Pond, the town dock and state-owned DEEP, the area will allow scientists to conduct research and small groups to have access to those attractions. In all likelihood, the education building at DEEP, with its abundant parking, will be available and, hopefully, a path will be built from DEEP property, through the town-owned land and past Shippee Pond, to the RTPEC center, a path open to all who want to commune with nature.

The land bought by the RTPEC had been available for purchase for almost ten years. It did not just suddenly appear on the market. As unused space, the property was pleasant for those who are its neighbors, but of no value to those who were not. The RTPEC is an organization grounded in environmental concerns. It will not blemish the area. In fact, it will enhance it for the rest of us. 

Sydney M. Williams
Essex, CT

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