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Saturday, February 5, 2011

They Were ‘Freezin’ for a Reason’

They Were ‘Freezin’ for a Reason’:
Over 90 people take an icy dip to raise funds for Burroughs Ctr.
(Posted to 2/5)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All rights reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Air temperature: 34 degrees. Water temperature: 33 degrees. A snow covered beach. Light drizzle. Gray skies. The perfect environment, one would argue, for an event called “Freezin’ for a Reason.”

The fourth annual plunge into Long Island Sound drew over 90 participants late Saturday morning, who were expected to raise about $50,000 to help fund after-school programs offered by Bridgeport’s Burroughs Community Center. The plunge took place near the pavilion at Jennings Beach and drew an equal number of friends, family and passersby who came to offer support -- or just look on in disbelief.

Leonela Cruz, a part-time staff member at Burroughs, was an early arrival who came to ensure that a path had been cleared to the water and the plunge site was accessible. “I actually did the plunge last year,” she said. “It was exciting, and the first time I ever did it. The adrenaline was kicking. The event has attracted mostly adults, but this year we thought it would be good to have kids from our after-school program participate, too.”

Cruz explained that the program serves about 45 children from families in the greater Bridgeport area that are experiencing financial difficulties. It offers homework help, computers, gameplay, fitness, a mother-daughter club, art classes and sports. Funds would help purchase materials like backpacks, notebooks and art supplies.

“We raised about $60,000 last year,” Cruz said, “and as of pre-registration this morning, we were at $43,000.”

Kevin Simmons, Burrough’s Executive Director, spoke on how the event first came about. “I kicked the idea around for five years before voicing it at a committee meeting,” he said. “A board member replied, ‘Kevin, I have no doubt you’ll find enough crazy people to do this. I will not be one of them.’ Now with this year’s event, we’ll have raised over $200,000.”

Simmons said a number of elected officials were participating, whose support he appreciated. “Congressman Jim Himes has done this for the past three years. It’s nice to have someone of his stature here. We also have Mayor Finch, Tom McCarthy (president of the Bridgeport City Council) and council members Marty McCarthy and Sue Brannelly.”

Cruz noted that weather conditions were noticeably different this year. “Last year, it was all sand here, no snow. A few days ago, we had a crew come over to clear ice away from the plunge area so participants can actually go in.”

Wardell Hairston, a volunteer at Burroughs, was busy salting a path to the water. He was also a plunger. “It’s warmer than last year and there’s no wind. You just hit the water quick and come out. That’s it. You don’t stay in there,” he chuckled.

Spectators and family preceded the arrival of participants. Among them was Weston’s Candace Debarger whose son, Sky, 14, was plunging. Debarger had an armful of clothing for Sky to change into. “I’m proud of him. This is a great way to raise money.” With regard to the cold water, she added, “He’ll be fine. He’s 14. They bounce back.”

Van Kolton of Fairfield was another supporter and carried a boxful of items for his wife and son. “I’ve brought warm water, towels, hot chocolate and even flowers,” he said. “I think what they’re doing is awesome. Everything we can do to contribute to the community is what it’s all about.”

Kolton’s wife, Linda, and son, Ethan, 9, soon appeared, arriving in one of two buses that were used to transport participants from Burroughs, where they had all met up to sign in and get a wristband and “plunger bag.”  

“As a Black Rock business owner, I wanted to support the community,” said Linda Kolton. “This is the first time I’m doing this. It seemed like a good idea when I signed up… I’m not so sure now,” she chuckled, surveying the icy water.

In contrast, plunger Mark Adintori, 49, was shirtless and gung-ho, ready to go. “I’ve been doing this since the beginning. The first year, I had just had bicep surgery and had a plastic bag over my arm, as it was in a brace. I really don’t mind this. I’m acclimated to the cold. I’m outside all the time.”

Participants followed the salted path down to the shore, stood in a line at the water’s edge and, at the sound of a horn, dashed into and quickly out of the water. Only a hardy few lingered for any period of time, daring the elements.

“I was very freezing,” said Anastasia Rivera, 15, from Bridgeport, emerging from the water. “There was a rush of adrenaline. I want to do it again now.”

Allie Muolo from Bridgeport missed the initial horn but made it in. “It was freezing. Bringing hot water in a bottle was a good idea,” she said.

Congressman Himes, who plunged with his daughters Emma, 11, and Linley, 8, said, “The water was mind altering. This year the challenge was not getting in the water, but getting to the water. But it’s all to benefit a spectacular community program.” 

CT Audubon Society Toplines Its 2011 State of the Birds Report

CT Audubon Society Toplines 
Its 2011 State of the Birds Report:
Forest birds in permanent decline 
due to hard development
(Posted to 2/5)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation for the Connecticut Audubon Society, has been sounding the alarm for years now that, due to hard development, our state’s forests and forest bird populations are in permanent decline.

This is the topline message of the Society’s 2011 State of the Birds Report, a brief preview of which Bull was to present at the Birdcraft Museum on Saturday, Feb. 5. The presentation, which was to have been given to Society members, was cancelled in advance of a winter storm that was expected to deposit a snow/sleet mix in the area throughout the day Saturday. The complete report will be released during the last week of February at a press conference to be held at the state’s legislative office building in Hartford. 

Interviewed by phone late Friday afternoon, Bull gave some background about the report and expanded on its key message.

“Our annual reports were instituted to provide members and the public with an idea of how the state’s birds are faring,” explained Bull. “Our first report six years ago showed that 50% of the state’s birds were declining. The significance of this finding impacts everyone in the state, whether you’re a fan of birds or not. Birds, which inhabit all of the state’s various habitats – forests, salt marshes, inland wetlands, lakes, grasslands -- are a key indicator of environmental quality. They are literally our canary in the coalmine. That finding confirmed the importance our of work to monitor bird populations and environmental conditions.”

Since that first report, the Society has studied the various habitats to understand why the birds there are declining, and to make recommendations on how to conserve both the habitats and bird populations.

Bull said that they have been successful in getting the state legislature to look at and try to improve how the state acquires conservation land. “For instance, we recommended that the state develop a registry of protected lands in Connecticut, to determine how much land is protected, if it protects the bird species we need to protect and where the land is located,” he said. “Then we can identify and prioritize critical land and habitats that need to be acquired and protected. That’s been the thrust of our recommendations these past years.”

This year’s report, though, is focused on conserving our forest birds. To get a perspective on how this particular population has changed, Bull provided a quick history lesson.

“Early colonists made the first dent in native bird populations, removing trees for agricultural reasons, fuel and to build their houses – what we call soft development,” Bull explained. “This changed the type of local birds from forest birds to more grass and shrub land birds. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, farmers moved west or into the cities and abandoned their farms. The trees grew back and the forest birds returned.”

What the state has experienced in the last 20 years or more is what Bull calls hard development, which is having a permanent effect on forest bird populations. “The forests have been in decline without regeneration due to the construction of big box stores, roads and power lines,” he said. “Fragmentation and parcelization is reducing our forests into smaller and smaller blocks that can no longer support productive populations of forest dependent birds.”

Bull said this is a definite concern and that the report makes suggestions on how to protect and conserve our forests, with the goal of improving our economy and quality of life while preserving the unique character of our New England landscape.