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Public Site
Native species, wildlife, public appeal

Update: This project has recently been significantly expanded upon request and approval from multiple stakeholders.

Site Conditions: This is a fascinating location where many elements converge. It sits between the Willimantic River, a small foot bridge, the Hop River and Airline State Park trails, forested areas, a water management area, a small floodplain, the Eastern Connecticut Railroad History Museum, and the village of Willimantic within the Town of Windham. It is also very close to the corner of Windham, New London, and Tolland counties.


Social: Many miles of trails stretching in three directions converge on this one spot. Therefore, it has high traffic and public exposure. It falls under the State of Connecticut and the Town of Windham. It is managed by the nonprofit Garden Club of Windham with assistance from students at Eastern Connecticut State University and town public works. The town is an important regional hub with common management issues including development, economic equality, and urban-rural features. Therefore, this tiny site can have an outsized impact on the region.


History: Railroads were completed here in 1849 and 1873. A large amount of track ballast was deposited to raise the elevation above the Willimantic River. Trains ran until the 1960s. They were then converted to hiking trails and the site was mowed for years. Windham public works recently provided two large piles of wood chips that are now composting, and the Garden Club planted an Amelanchier, two dunstant chestnuts (Castanea dentata X mollissima), and two groundnut vines (Apios americana). Invasive species include a large amount of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), several tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), a few small burning bushes (Euonymus alatus), and two mature multiflora roses (Rosa multiflora) entangled with invasive species of oriental bittersweet vines (Celastrus orbiculatus, smaller berries on leaf axils versus native larger terminal berries). It is therefore in the renewal stage of its adaptive cycle with intense competition between native and non-native species.


Hydrology: The site rises above a river, small floodplain, and water management area. Climate change will cause more intense precipitation events and inland floods (Dupigny-Giroux et. al., 2018). However, greenways can keep developments away from water, filter runoff, and absorb floodwaters (Daniels, 2014, 288). This project improves water management through plantings, soil enrichment, and imitating natural pit-and-mound topography. Plantings at bottom will have more water tolerance while species at the top will have greater exposure/drought tolerance.


Vulnerability Analysis (Chapin et. al., 2009, 58, 63, 67): Specific threats include overlapping management groups, damage from human activities (traffic, mowing, vandalism), and damage from environmental flooding, sun/wind exposure, and slope. Assets: well-positioned location (water, sun, slope, surrounding ecosystems), assistance (public works, club, volunteers), easy access/maintenance, potential for public appeal. Targeted interventions: secure a clearly defined plan for the site, include striking features for public appeal/support, and establish the topography and plantings for long-term stability and regeneration.


Objectives: native ecosystem, public appeal, long-term sustainability.


Native Ecosystem: This site is near water, forest, and grass areas. It can therefore exploit edge effects and function as an ecotone (Daniels, 2014, 311). It may contrast with these areas to supply critical ecosystem elements. For example, thick upland herbs and shrubs would contrast with the grass, water, wetland, and forest, contributing to horizontal and vertical diversity, which increases niche separation by specific habitats and thus increases wildlife populations (DeGraaf, 2016, 22-24). This site cannot itself constitute wildlife habitat, because that requires food, water, cover, and spatial relationships (Id., 14); and two-thirds of native wildlife species need 1-10 acres and the rest need 11-50 acres (Id, 24-25). However, herbs and shrubs can contribute twigs/fiber for nesting material; cover for small mammals and insects that feed further wildlife; diverse food sources of flowers, berries, foliage, nuts, catkins, insects, and small mammals; and a longer season of flowers and berries to support winter food and migratory assistance to birds. Also, plant drought/exposure tolerant species on top and water-tolerant species near the bottom due to flooding.


Public Appeal: Plant species for striking colors, growth habits, and interesting wildlife. Many species will produce edible parts, which should be treated cautiously, but can increase public interaction with natural areas and support socio-ecological values. Provide interesting information on-site, online, and to relevant authorities.


Long-term sustainability: Chop-and-drop invasive species (quick, cheap, low-impact, creates mulch for site enrichment, and seeds will be suppressed by later plantings). Use the composting wood chips on site to make small mounds for planting. This imitates natural “pit-and-mounds” topography that enriches soil, retains water, and encourages the regenerating ecosystem (Liechty et. al., 1997). They are quick, cheap, and easy to setup. There is no harsh impact on the site. They also help hold plants from toppling on the exposed, sloping site. Coordinate plantings to establish control over small sections that will expand to fill the site over time, which will suppress invasive species and create ecosystem advantages with soil cover, nutrient cycles, and diverse populations. Use hand tools (pruners, loppers, hatchet, shovel) and natural, low impact solutions. Avoid intense interventions like burning, spraying, machines, plastic, digging, tilling, exposed soil, etc.



  • Spicebush: Lindera Benzoin, colorful berries, attractive growth habit, supports migratory birds and spicebush swallowtail (Papilio Troilus), plant low for moisture/flood tolerance but also across site.

  • American Hazelnut: Corylus americana, catkins, nuts, small mammals, blue jays, ruffled grouse, plant in middle/high for well-drained soil.

  • Shadbush Serviceberry: Amelanchier canadensis, early flowers and berries, tolerates different conditions, plant across the site.

  • Flowering Dogwood: Cornus florida, common ornamental with flowers, bracts, and bark; fruits feed dozens of birds; host to many moths.


  • Winterberry: Ilex verticillata, critical winter food, beautiful red color, prefers moist conditions, plant at bottom.

  • Northern Wild Raisin: Viburnum nudum, colorful foliage, berries, migrating birds, plant low for moisture/shade.

  • Nannyberry: Viburnum lentago, many berries, tolerates many soils, plant across the site.

  • Northern highbush blueberry: Vaccinium corymbosum, early and late varieties for food, plant in somewhat sheltered spots.

Herbaceous cover:

  • Milkweed: Asclepius syriaca, attracts monarch butterflies, pink flowers, interesting seedpods and filaments, slow growing but can spread well, prefers moist soil, sown at bottom.

  • Butterfly Weed: Asclepius tuberosa, attracts butterflies, orange flowers, interesting seedpods/filaments, tolerates drought and damaged by wet soil, sown at top.

  • Echinacea Purpurea: purple flowers, medicinal and aromatic, prefers moisture, sown at bottom.

  • Yarrow: achillea millefolium, delicate white umbel flowers for pollinators, medicinal uses, drought tolerant, prefers well-drained soil, sown at top.

  • Wild Bergamot: Monarda didyma/fistulosa, purple showy flowers, aromatic uses, wide tolerance, sow across site.

  • Chives: Allium schoenoprasum, purple globs flowers, edible and aromatic, tolerates different conditions, sow across site.

  • Goldenrod: Solidago canadensis, late yellow flowers, medicinal and aromatic, tolerates many conditions, sow across site.




Chapin III, F. S., Kofinas, G. P., & Folke, C. (Eds.). (2009). Principles of ecosystem stewardship: resilience-based natural resource management in a changing world. Springer Science & Business Media.

Daniels, Tom (2014). The Environmental Planning Handbook. The American Planning Association.


DeGraaf, R. M., Yamasaki, M., Leak, W. B., & Lester, A. M. (2006). Technical Guide to Forest Wildlife Habitat Management in New England. University of Vermont Press.

Dupigny-Giroux, L.A., Mecray, E.L.,  Lemcke-Stampone, M.D., Hodgkins, G.A., Lentz, E.E., Mills, K.E., Lane, E.D., Miller, R., Hollinger, D.Y., Solecki, W.D., Wellenius, G.A., Sheffield, P.E., MacDonald, A.B., & Caldwell, C. (2018). Northeast. In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II. Reidmiller, D.R., Avery, C.W., Easterling, D.R., Kunkel, K.E., Lewis, K.L.M., Maycock, T.K., & Steward, B.C. (Eds.). U.S. Global Change Research Program. 669-742. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH18

Liechty, H.O., Jurgensen, M. F., Mroz, G. D., & Gale, M. R. (1997). Pit and mound topography and its influence on storage of carbon, nitrogen, and organic matter within an old-growth forest. Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 27(12), 1992–1997.

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