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The Landscape of Redding, Connecticut (CT): Forests  

Quick Links:
Fire, Weather, Disease, Firewood, Agriculture

The Shaping of the Forests

It is said that the local Native Americans maintained a park like appearance amongst the thick forests of Redding and it's surrounding areas by burning the underbrush each autumn to encourage the growth of berries and deer browse. The burning also served as a primitive form of game management.

The tactics employed by our native predecessors brought forth an open terrain that a man on horseback could easily pass through, with canopy ceilings of chestnut, oak, hickory and red maples.

Carbon 14 dating has placed Native American Indians in the area as early as 8, 000 years ago, along with these records are the estimates of approximately one half million Native Americans in and about Southern New England by the time the European settlers reached Massachusetts. Using this base of information investigators have theorized that the burning of undergrowth may have at some point in their history caused forest fires that in turn shaped the modern forests we see today.

Many of the trees and shrubs present in our area today are species that thrive within post-fire environments. American Chestnut, oak, hickory and red maples are of this group which also includes:pine cherry, grey birch, pitch pine, huckleberry, sweet ferns and sheep laurel. Further indications of fire bred tree growth is marked by the presence of trees having multiple trunks. This type of growth is caused by the sprouts that spring from the fire damaged trunk of the original tree. Without much effort you will find many of the trees and shrubs mentioned above in the forests of Redding with the exception of the American Chestnut which fell victim to the chestnut blight caused by an introduced fungus (this disease began in New York City in 1904, spread rapidly, and within 40 years had virtually wiped out this once abundant species). Fire-sensitive trees: hemlock, red & sugar maple, beech, dogwood, tulip, white ash,black and yellow birch also common to the area pose an interesting question, do they reside in locations spared of Indian and/or natural fires or did they instead prosper in the colonial period, and continue on until today? It may be little of both, certain landscapes: north-facing slopes, ravines, moist locations all of which are found throughtout Redding offer some natural fire protection, and the time that has past since the colonial period is more than ample for the resurgence of a fire-sensitive species.

Weather, Disease, Insects, Agriculture and Firewood:
Fire is not solely responsible for the shaping of our forests. Weather, agriculture,disease, insects and the colonial thirst for firewood all played their part in forming the landscape we see today.

Storms in New England are at times brutal. Lightning, ice, snow and wind all can alter the forest canopy. Many species are able to monopolize sections of forests, forming communities if you will, by shading out other species that require sunlight. Without the ability to migrate, seeds not receiving the light they require are forced to wait for their optimum conditions. These conditions can occur if: lightning strikes, ice and/or snow accumulates, and/or wind storms hit hard enough to knock down trees and/or branches, thereby altering the canopy, freeing up the skies and allowing the dormant seeds to germinate. Forests can diversify quickly in hurricanes and de-forestation as a large section of the canopy opens to allow multiple species to sprout into fruition. Both have occurred in our area, destructive hurricanes struck the region in 1815 and 1938, following a pattern that has accounted for one every 150 years. Blizzard of 1888 History

For the trees that survived the fires and storms there were and are still battles to be fought. The chestnuts fell victim to borer early on this century, gypsy moths are a continued threat to the oaks, and bark fungus attacks the beech trees. 

Without the modern heating systems we enjoy today, forests were depleted of hardwoods during colonial times up until the earlier part of the century as large sections were cut down for firewood and fuel. Neil Jorgensen in 'Sierra Club Naturalist's Guide-Southern New England' p.112 writes: "During the height of the agricultural boom, about 25% of New England(land was too poor or too steep for pasture and crop)remained as woodland. At that time the coal industry had not yet become established, and wood was the primary fuel for cooking and heating. As a result, the remaining woodlands were cut over again and again for firewood, to the point that a serious wood shortage developed in much of the region." He also states that "Prior to the use of coke, the iron-smelting industry consumed vast amounts of hardwood charcoal. Since every stick of hardwood could be reduced to charcoal, woodlands near iron smelters were clear-cut time and again. So great was the demand for charcoal in some areas that farmers are reputed to have sold their wooden fences." The fact that there were several iron smelting operations in town opens the possiblility of such practices in Redding. This coupled with the possibility that the Gilbert and Bennett factory used wood to fuel its operations, points out a large loss of hardwood in Redding's history. Such clearing may have allowed smaller trees to stake their claim to the land, shaping much of what we see today.    

The colonists brought not only their customs and cultures to the area, they brought their agriculture as well. Apple and pear trees were introduced shortly after colonization. Small orchards like the one on Diamond Hill Road were likely abundant in the area. A passage in 'The Story of the Little Red School House' by Dell C. Sturges mentions them in the following passage: "The playground was the street; the neighbor's orchards and fields..." Early records indicate that town officers were so concerned with the amount of farms being created in early settlement that they petitioned the General Court of Fairfield. They stated that if proper provision not be taken to set aside lands for roads, parishes, schools, and the like, the town would in affect be paralyzed by private farms. The petition prompted the acknowledgment of Redding as a parish in 1729.

Unfortunately, the abundance of farms has been reduced to a meager two: Warrups Farm across from the country club off Lonetown Road, and New Pond Farm on the corner of Umpawaug and Merchant Road. Fortunately, remnants of farmland can be found throughout Redding. See "Farms" for examples.

Wildlife Reserves:
A walk through many of the Wildlife Reserves will help to conjure visions of the pristine beauty once enjoyed by the settlers. A personal favorite of mine is the open land owned by the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company. The forests there are teemed with multiple species of trees and underbrush, that due to the BHC's ownership have remained very close in condition to the state they have maintained for centuries. Hemlocks, maples, beech, tulip, oaks, and mountain laurel grace the Reservoir Trail where from the ridge exceptional panoramic views of the reservoir can be observed through the pines. Devil's den, The Ravine Trail, and The Great Ledge are equally beautiful and enriched by their diverse population of trees and vegetation.

The Reservoir is one example, Redding currently owns 1,256 acres of land through its Open Land, Inc. (ROLI), The Redding Land Trust and The Conservation Commission. Thanks to the efforts of Mary Anne Guitar, Henry Merritt, Eugene Connolly, Ola D'Aulaire, Mark Hinkley, Joan Ensor, Phyllis Kroll, John G. Mitchell, Joan Rolnick, Merle Brown, Virginia Coigney, Robert Durkee, James Edwards, Richard Emerson, Michael Erlanger, Samuel E. Hill, Robert P. Knapp, Jr., Carmen Mathews, Saul Poliak, Alvin Ruml, Linda Berger, Robert Campbell, Victor DeMasi, Jeffrey Jaslow, Gerald Rolnick, and countless others, the people of Redding are free to explore the lands of their forefathers, and envision for themselves the way things were.

Click below to continue on reading about the landscape:

Bodies of Water

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History of Redding is a not a business or an organization..It's one person working to promote the history of his hometown
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