The Last Green Valley: Outdoors is answer to pandemic bluesJan 21, 2021 12:21PM ● By Rob Lee
The Last Green Valley is saying “Opt Outdoors” for invigorating and scenic trail hikes, as the wait continues for an all-clear for regular programming offered by the organization
Life these days is not much different for Assistant Director Fran Kefalas, Financial Officer Nick Velles and their fellow staffers at The Last Green Valley, than it is for other residents and businesspersons of South County and northeastern Connecticut.
Much of what would typically be happening by way of events in communities served by the Danielson-based organization have been scaled back or put on hold because of the pandemic.
There is a positive note despite the toll taken by COVID-19 that management at TLGV is glad to witness, however, Ms. Kefalas said in a telephone conversation on January 7.
“We’re seeing a lot more trail use, definitely a lot more people getting outdoors,” she said, echoing remarks made earlier by Mr. Velles (one advertisement that TLGV has placed promotes the theme “green by day, dark by night!, come explore our wide open spaces and historic northeastern downtowns and villages”).
“We have been running programs. We had a successful Walktober,” Ms. Kefalas said.
This is not to say activity is anywhere near normal.
The Sturbridge Trail Committee is responsible for the upkeep of eleven paths at the Lead Mine Trail, an 880-acre conservation area.
“Our nine Massachusetts towns (including Webster, Dudley, Oxford, Southbridge and Sturbridge), that has been one of our biggest challenges, operating in two states,” she said. Under Massachusetts guidelines, “we cannot do a Massachusetts program because it’s not considered essential.” Also, “with COVID-19, not a lot of our volunteers are jumping up and down to do walks.” A number of these volunteers are elderly and vulnerable to the virus. Between this and the restrictions the organization faces in Massachusetts, “we are not in Massachusetts as much as we want to be,” Ms. Kefalas said. “We are encouraging DIY hikes and stuff like that. We’ve worked with the Opacum Land Trust (in Sturbridge).”
TLGV’s partnership with the Opacum Land Trust has been beneficial for both parties. Recently, TLGV awarded more than $22,000 in a new grant program to a number of recipients “to help nonprofits build capacity during challenging times.” Among these were the Avalonia Land Conservancy in Mystic, Chamberlin Mill in Woodstock, CliCk in Windham, Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution in Lebanon and the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District in Norwich.
The Opacum Land Trust was allocated $1500 of this money “to expand remote communications through its website and other digital platforms to better promote its properties,” Ms. Kefalas said.
Meanwhile, efforts are being made to publicize events like a Bald Eagle Hike in Plainfield and Acorn Adventures in Woodstock.
“We had a great turnout for (one of) our Acorn Adventures programs, run by (Chief Ranger) Bill Reid at the Lead Mine Trail, twenty people that day,” Ms. Kefalas said. “We had hoped to do that again but we can’t.”
Nevertheless, “it’s important to us,” she said, “to let people know we can provide the space. We did a winter solstice hike that drew nineteen people. The thing we can do is get people outside to enjoy the great outdoors.”
The hope with the dawn of 2021, she said, is that things will “get better” so that TLGV’s “Spring Outdoors” and other programs “from the spring equinox to the summer solstice” will able to be held as scheduled.
“Guidance from the governors of Connecticut and Massachusetts is critical to us,” Ms. Kefalas said. As TLGV awaits further instructions, “we are trying to strike that balance to keep people safe.” One way of doing this, Mr. Velles pointed out, is to require pre-registration and to limit attendance to “twenty-five to thirty people,” with masks and social distancing.
In Connecticut, events cannot be hosted on private property, he said, “but [they can] in public space. People are making their own decisions” in regard to what opportunities to take advantage of.
Normally, Ms. Kefalas said, “we have three hundred different opportunities for people to get outdoors in the spring. Even if we have one hundred this coming spring—that would be good.”
To the inevitable question “is The Last Green Valley (which is part of the National Heritage Corridor) okay financially?” Ms. Kefalas said, “oh yeah, we’re fine. We shifted gears to a pay-what-you-can membership, to keep people engaged. Actually, our membership is climbing. It’s working out. We extended our partner organizations a full year. We are able to do that because we get funding from the National Park Service. We are secure for the last fiscal year.”
A brief pause in our talk prompted Ms. Kefalas to say, “Sorry! A red-tailed hawk just landed in a tree in front of me!”
That particular sighting is a sure sign that things are indeed good in The Last Green Valley.
---------------------------------------Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999