Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Conservation Commission Seeks New Members

By Annie Gentile
The Reminder
March 15, 2005

VERNON — Wanted: A few good men and women who have an affinity for nature and the desire to be part of a dedicated group of naturalists and conservationalists. No prior experience is required.

The Vernon Conservation Commission is seeking a few new members to join its team. Due to recent vacancies, there are now only three members -just one person shy of a quorum. The commission is chartered for up to seven members.

The commission's primary responsibility, by town and state statute, is to inventory and protect the natural resources in Vernon, but beyond that, there is a wide variety of opportunities for every interest.

"I have so many opportunities for people to get involved in nature," said chairperson Sheryl McMullen. "We are a proactive group seeking to protect natural resources before they become part of an application."

Examples of the varied work of the commission include protecting the town's vernal pools - shallow depressions that fill with water in the spring and become home to entire ecosystems - watershed studies of the Tankerhoosen River, and overseeing the dredging of Valley Falls pond.

McMullen, a state and federal wildlife rehabilitator specializing in migratory birds and turtles, said there is also a need to set up a program at Valley Falls Park to protect the American kestrel, which is on the endangered species list.

Members Wanted. George Arthur, former Conservation Commission member and currently a member of Vernon's Open Space Task Force and Hockanum Linear Parks Commission, during the Conservation Commission's vernal pool study in 2003. Arthur also manages the Shenipsit Blue Trail. Photo provided by Conservation Commission Chairperson Sheryl McMullen.

Other activities of the Conservation Commission may include proposing greenways plans for inclusion in the town's Plan of Conservation and Development, formulating watershed management and drought management plans, and making recommendations or passing along comments to Planning and Zoning and Inlands Wetlands Commissions on proposed land use changes or potential impacts on local natural resources.

The Open Space Task Force, a subcommittee of the Conservation Commission with only five members, could also use a few additional hands. This group is currently managing the Tankerhoosen Watershed Study to get baseline data of the water quality, habitat, and plant and animal life in that watershed. It is their job to identify and purchase open space through various funding sources. McMullen said there is a need in Vernon to get much more aggressive regarding open space requirements.

Comparing Vernon's open space requirements to neighboring Ellington and South Windsor showed Vernon to be lagging far behind. In Ellington and South Windsor, developers are required to allot 20 percent of the land in their subdivisions to open space uses. In Vernon, that requirement is only 5 percent, and developers are allowed to consider wetlands on their property into that 5 percent. Land that could not be developed anyway.

The amount of open space in Vernon is deceiving, added McMullen, who said the land in town that is presently undeveloped at this time is not necessarily reserved for open space. The Conservation Commission is targeting a September referendum that would allow the town to bond for open space.

In looking at the things they do, McMullen said potential new members should expect to put in about 10 hours a month on commission business. This would include about three hours in meeting time on the third Monday of the month, plus additional hours for reading and research.

As the commission operates in an advisory rather than a regulatory capacity, it cannot pass ordinances. However, McMullen said the commission's leg-work behind the scenes has been the catalyst to a number of conservation measures in town, including the recently approved scenic roads ordinance that was shepherded by former commission member, Don Patterson.

"There's something for everyone on this commission," said McMullen.

She encourages potential new members to contact Mayor Marmer's office for an application to let them know why they want to be a part of conservation efforts in town.