While many Yale students were studying in a library or eating in a dining hall, just miles away, a group of New Haven residents took advantage of Saturday’s warm weather to explore a new ecosystem.

In an effort coordinated by the New Haven Land Trust, Ranger Joe Milone from the New Haven Parks and Recreation Department led 14 city residents on a walk through the Pond Lily Nature Preserve, welcoming the first signs of spring to the community.

The “Signs of Spring” walk aimed to increase awareness about the West River ecosystem and its importance to the fish and wildlife in the area. The event was coordinated by the New Haven Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that promotes community engagement in land stewardship and cultivation through land conservation, community gardening and environmental education.  The New Haven Land Trust oversees six nature preserves and nearly fifty community gardens, all within city limits.

“[The Land Trust is] connecting nature to an urban environment for people who wouldn’t have access otherwise,” said New Haven resident Ivette Lopez. “It’s nice to see the improvements they’re doing for this area.”

As the group walked through the Pond Lily Nature Preserve, they encountered early indicators of spring. Sunlight streamed through a canopy of branches as the babbling of the West River intensified and red cardinals flew overhead.

Events like the “Signs of Spring” walk are held throughout the year, but most often in the spring and summer. Milone pointed out some of the natural signs to look for, including new shoots coming off plants, buds on trees, and birds migrating back up to Connecticut.

“We’re all part of the same world,” Milone said, as the group bid farewell to the nature preserve and its wildlife.

Arabelle Schoenberg ’20, the Nature Preserves Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Land Trust, said the Land Trust aims to maintain ecological integrity in New Haven, adding that it also wants to increase food sovereignty and agency in the Elm City.

Schoenberg’s role at the Land Trust involves managing the nature preserves, coordinating volunteer efforts in trail maintenance and reaching out to rangers and professors to lead community events. Schoenberg is a junior in Pierson College, currently on leave to pursue her work with the Land Trust.

The New Haven Land Trust is mostly funded by private grants from organizations like the Community Foundation, the Quinnipiac River Fund and Audobon CT. It plays a unique role in the Elm City, protecting a small area of land that faces the mounting pressures of urban pollution. The land is threatened by what Milone describes as a “snowball effect” of ecological deterioration — when the fish die, the birds die and so on.

The Land Trust’s conservation efforts have produced some promising results. According to Milione, bald eagles are beginning to nest across the river, a positive indicator that predators are returning to the ecosystem.

“Nature’s restoring itself after centuries of being dammed up,” said John Champion, a New Haven resident. “There’s a wide-ranging group of people that lend themselves to the effort, but the Land Trust has really taken leadership”

The New Haven Land Trust was founded in 1982.

Sophia Nam | sophia.nam@yale.edu