Yale Bulletin and Calendar

October 28, 2005|Volume 34, Number 9















Beth Lapin

In trail guide, employee showcases
her hometown's natural splendors

Walking along the cliff edge high up on the 892-foot Higby Mountain, hikers can see soaring hawks at eye level.

At the mountain's pinnacle, there is a nearly 360-degree view that extends from Mount Tom in south-central Massachusetts to Long Island Sound in New Haven.

Not far from there, in the Guida Farm Conservation Area, visitors can observe spotted salamanders as they travel down a hill on a spring night to lay their eggs, glimpse fragile hummingbirds in wet meadowland and examine an exposed Jurassic rock formation -- one of less than a dozen of its kind on Earth.

These are just some of the sights awaiting visitors to two of the 25 natural attractions described in the recently published "Middletown Trail Guide," edited by Beth Lapin, a research associate at the Yale Child Study Center.

The 52-page guide, which is the first-ever compilation of most of the Connecticut city's dedicated open space areas, offers descriptions of 15 major hiking trails, a canoe and kayak route, and two bicycle trails, as well as seven "strolls and vistas" -- the latter being destinations that are small in land area but are "great places for short visits," says Lapin.

Lapin, a field biologist who formerly worked for the Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy, lives in Middletown, and says that her home city has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts.

"In Middletown, you can do everything from going on a stroll to taking a lengthy walk to taking a real hike, as well as kayaking and biking," she says. "There's something that meets the needs or interests of everybody." She notes that some 4,000 of the city's 30,000 acres are dedicated open space owned by the city, the state or by conservation organizations.

Lapin became involved with the publication after conversations with members of the Middletown Conservation Commission. Nearly a decade ago, Linda Bowers, a former environmental planner for the city, proposed publishing a comprehensive guide to Middletown's natural attractions. Commission members Sheila Stoane, Jane Brawerman and Ellen Lukens assembled information about various sites, and Lapin was invited to compile and edit the individual site descriptions and help create a format for the guide.

At Yale, Lapin helps educators around the country and particularly in Arkansas implement "Schools of the 21st Century" -- a model founded by Yale professor Edward Zigler and directed by Matia Finn-Stevenson, in which schools offer an expanded range of services and resources that support families. Her involvement with the field guide allowed Lapin to reconnect with her former profession as a conservationist.

The Yale staff member holds master's degrees in both biology (with a focus in zoology) and social work, and worked for The Nature Conservancy for nearly 20 years. She was also a grassroots organizer for an Audubon Society wetlands conservation campaign, operating out of Washington, D.C. Before joining the Yale staff three years ago, Lapin worked at a Family Resource Center in Bristol that is part of a state-funded School of the 21st Century.

The "Middletown Trail Guide," she says, was a team effort that also included volunteers, photographers, a designer and artists. The latter contributed drawings of the flora and fauna that can be seen at the sites. The trail maps were prepared by the Midstate Regional Planning Agency.

"When all of our descriptions of trails and other sites were finished, members of the team went back to field check, making sure the descriptions were accurate and following the maps," says Lapin.

Among the other sites featured in the trail guide are Lamentation Mountain, described as "one of the most scenic traprock hikes in the state"; the 120-acre Daniels-Schwarzkopf Area, a network of "gentle trails" on which visitors travel through deciduous forest; the Middletown Nature Gardens, where community volunteers have erected bluebird boxes and bat houses among the diverse trees and shrubs, including a 200-year-old sugar maple; and the 32-acre Tynan Memorial Park, a combination of meadow and eastern-hemlock forest that is populated by deer and coyote, among other wildlife. The "Strolls & Vistas" section includes such sites as Bible Rock, an eight-foot-tall granite rock so named because it resembles the shape of an opened bible. A checklist of birds commonly seen in Middletown is also included.

Lapin has been a regular visitor to some of the places featured in the book, including Spiderwood Preserve (owned by The Nature Conservancy) and Mattabesset River Canoe/Kayak Trail.

"I do a lot of walking and hiking," she says. "I like to go out and muck in the woods. It amazes me that I actually got paid to do that for awhile."

In a letter at the front of the guide, members of the Middletown Conservation Commission say the new publication is "an invitation to explore the city's important natural treasures." Lapin hopes it inspires anyone who appreciates the outdoors, and others new to hiking, to visit her home city.

"All of these are neat places to come and enjoy," she says. "It's nice to finally have them listed in one publication, and I hope it helps people discover natural environments in the city they may not have known about."

The guide, produced with funding from the city and the Rockfall Foundation, is available for $5 at It's Only Natural Restaurant, 386 Main St. in Middletown.

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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