The mission of Great Mountain Forest is to be a leader in forest stewardship. We practice sustainable forest management, promote biodiversity and resilience to climate change, support education and research, and welcome all who love the woods.
A good poet, after all, does what the forester does: takes in the myriad details to give us perspective, an entrance into a larger view of time. -Robert Sullivan
Amongst the towering hemlocks and oaks of Great Mountain Forest stood a humble environmentalist, author, poet and friend David K. Leff, a man of passion and ethics who worked his entire career to protect land from human exploitation. In 2002, as the former Deputy Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, David was the lead negotiator in endorsing Great Mountain Forest to be held under permanent conservation restrictions under the Forest Legacy program. This is when our friendship began.
David was a man of curiosity; he wanted to learn everything about the history, people, and the natural world of Connecticut and specifically Great Mountain Forest. We walked, told stories, and observed the details of the forest together in all seasons. Our friendship grew along with the trees. On occasion, our rambles would include others of the same mindset; Ralph Scarpino and Russell Russ joined us on many adventures deep into the forest. The sound of laughter could often be heard as the four of us wandered off into red spruce swamps or in search of old cellar holes. We talked of the ghosts that carved these early home-sites.
Great Mountain Forest is not just forested landscape of trees and topography rich with history, but it’s also a place where lasting friendships are made, a symbiotic relationship of sorts. David served as an active member of the GMF Board of Trustees for many years, his wisdom and passion were an inspiration. He understood the value of GMF for future generations, yet he also held in deep regard what past generations had done to manage the forest into what it is today.
I was blessed to have been able to have spent so much time with David. Hopefully others can build a friendship like we had. All it may take is a hike through GMF. Walk slowly with a friend through the stands of trees, you may see what we saw, laugh like we laughed and learn what we learned. It’s all Hidden in Plain Sight.
Things change. Whether we like it or not, our situations and fortunes ebb and flow with the passage of time while we stand on the sidelines. Over the history of Great Mountain Forest there has been an abundance of change. Homesteads rise and fall, leaving behind a mass of crumbled rocks for future generations to speculate about. Trees, once cut to fuel the furnaces in the area, finally grow without the threat of being removed. Birds migrate in and out every year, often leaving with a new batch of offspring. However, for the past 45 years there has been one thing at Great Mountain Forest that has remained steadfast.
Jody Bronson joined GMF in 1976 while he was a forestry student in Maine. Here he worked under Darrell Russ, who was an extremely influential figure in his career. At the time he was just a seasonal employee, but after continuing his forestry studies in New Hampshire, Jody joined GMF full time in 1978. After an additional 12 years, he was finally made Forest Manager and has remained in the position for 32 years.
After contributing to the forestry community for so many years, Jody received the recognition that he deserved in 2002. The Society of American Foresters awarded him the Austin Cary Practicing Professional Award. The award is given to a forester who has exhibited outstanding achievement as a forest manager or consultant. It is one of the highest honors that a New England forester can receive.
His impact on the area goes far beyond what we could cover in this article. The effects of his work can be seen and felt on the property everywhere you look. However, one of the most tangible indicators of his imprint on the profession is his history with the intern program. He has taught and molded the Great Mountain Forest interns for decades and we thought the best way to show Jody’s legacy is to hear from some of the interns and acquaintances he has had during his tenure.
I first met Jody when I was an intern at GMF in the summer of 2015. With many common interests we formed a lasting friendship and still meet up regularly. Jody is truly the last of a dying breed. Upon meeting him you can quickly see how kind and generous he is. He has a calm, common sense approach to everything, and is always willing to lend a helping hand. My favorite memories with him are when we meet up and shoot the breeze about life, canoes, and forestry. His absence from GMF will surely be felt by all.
I've known Jody for as long as I can remember (my mom used to bring my sisters and I to GMF when we were little, he gave us our first taste of maple syrup!), but I got to know him better when he was the head of the internship program at GMF. Nowadays, I mostly know him as a mentor and friend, family actually. These last couple years I have really considered him the grandfather I don't have anymore (I am tearing up just a little as I write this). Age-wise he's actually probably too young for this, but what he lacks in years he makes up for in wisdom. Jody might chuckle if he reads that, but he doesn't usually give himself enough credit.
Good memory with Jody: There are really lots, I have cherished my time at GMF because of this. I am trying to think of something that I did not already mention in the blurb I had to write at the end of my internship. What immediately comes to mind is splitting firewood. You might be wondering how that's a good memory, but just bear with me. Anyone who knows Jody should know his sort of enthusiasm, for lack of a better word, for firewood. And you can't really have a true forestry internship without splitting and stacking firewood. I remember a particularly hot and muggy day we were out there with the axes and mauls, sweat pouring down our faces. I had been working on a knotty piece of cherry for a while and Jody came out to check on us. Instead of telling me to throw in the towel and give my log to the machine, he just pointed to places where I should hit until it eventually broke apart. Now, splitting firewood probably seems very simple to most people, and sometimes it is, but there are tricks that make your life easier. I learned a lot about firewood that day that I am happy to have now.
One of the traits I admire about Jody is even though he will watch you suffer, he'll also go out and be right by your side just to show you it can be done.
I met Jody in 2011 and was an intern at GMF with Jody in 2012. After meeting me only once, he went out of his way to help me find a way to make the internship work for me. The best thing about doing an internship with Jody is that it isn’t just about learning the forestry skills. Working with him includes taking time to really understand what is going on in the woods and learning how to be thoughtful and think about the broad context of what you are doing. An intern at GMF isn’t there just to make their way through all of the manual labor tasks on the summer list, but to become a forester, and in doing so, continue to build the rich history that makes GMF such an amazing place.
After I left my internship position, I stayed in the area and stayed in touch with Jody – stopping by the shop for a visit every month or two for the next few years. Even as I moved away, we have maintained this relationship; I always stop by the forest when I am in town, and enjoy connecting with perspective and current interns, and of course talking forestry with Jody. Most recently, I visited the forest meet the 2022 interns, and walked a timber harvest that I marked with Jody in 2012 that they plan on marking for an overstory removal this summer. This was the first timber sale I ever marked as a forester, and returning to it was a great learning experience.
Pretty much every day in the woods with Jody is a memorable one, but the memories that stick out the most for me are Jody’s encouragement. It is not always easy to be a woman in forestry and to feel like I belong. Nearly every time I have doubted myself, Jody has been there to turn it around and remind me why I’m here. I can honestly say that I’m not sure if I would still be in forestry without Jody, and I’m sure that I wouldn’t be where I am now, which is starting an amazing job where I get to manage forestland and teach – and I only hope that I can be as good a mentor to my students as Jody has been to me.
I worked as a GMF Forest intern from 2000-2001 immediately after graduating from Paul Smiths College in Spring of 2000. Jody was my first boss for my first real forestry job. He was patient, wise, welcoming and willing to teach me just about everything I needed to learn including driving a standard shift for the first time. I was fortunate in that I was able to stay for over a year at GMF including two summer field seasons, working through the dark cold months seldom seen by other interns including sapping season and restocking the never ending supply of cordwood that fed the sap house. One of Jody’s many gifts as a teacher was recognizing people’s strengths and weaknesses and ensuring continued growth in both areas. Early on he saw my academic aspirations and encouraged me to help with reports and data archiving in between stand thinnings, tractor maintenance, and riding the chariot while grading the forests many roads. I eventually would leave to pursue three more degrees including my PhD in Forest Pathology. I’m now an Associate Professor of Mycology and Forest Pathology at West Virginia University. Its startling to realize my GMF experience was more than 20 years ago. Decades later I still carry with me his incredible kindness and the many lessons learned from Jody Bronson. We don’t talk as often as I would like but I think he’d smile knowing that I’m where I am today because of him.
Jody, best of luck on a well-deserved retirement.
Meet the Interns
Great Mountain Forest is a firm believer in the future of forestry and environmentalism. One of the ways in which we do that is the intern program. For the last 84 years, GMF has invited aspiring foresters to our 6,000 acres for the summer. Here they learn vital skills about silviculture, wildlife management, woodworking, logging, and other related fields.
This year saw the ushering in of a new era. Matt Gallagher has stepped into the organization as the Director of Programs and Operations and has taken on many roles. One of which is the intern program. Matt's background is in carpentry, and after 10 years of service in US Naval expeditionary forces, he moved back home to Connecticut and began pursuing his college education, utilizing his G.I. Bill. Matt received his undergraduate degree in Environmental Science from the University of New Haven and continued onto attaining his graduate degree in Forestry from The Forest School at the Yale School of the Environment. Since then, he has worked in invasive management, CT DEEP forestry as a seasonal forester, logging, and as a consulting forester. After working various areas in the field, he now finds himself at Great Mountain Forest and is tasked with continuing the intern program along with his other duties and responsibilities. It is a tall order, but Matt is equipped with the knowledge, skills, and humility that makes him an amazing teacher and intern leader.
Now let's hear from some the interns!
I had worked for over 10 years at Orthopedic Association of Hartford in a few different positions. An opportunity from a durable medical equipment company as an office manager was offered to me so I accepted.
Sadly, when the pandemic started it led to me losing that job. I decided to go back to school to pursue a different career path. I'm currently enrolled at Northwestern Connecticut Community College (NCCC) in Winsted, CT working towards an associate's degree in Natural Resources and then moving on to a Bachelor's in Forestry.
I found out about the internship through one of my professors. My favorite thing so far have been how unique this area of Norfolk is as far as wildlife and vegetation. I feel like I'm always learning something new every day and it's like getting a preview of the concepts I'll be studying as my education progresses.
My name is Ryan Clarke. I live on my family tree farm in Dutchess County. This past year I graduated from SUNY-ESF Ranger school with an applied associates in Environmental Natural Resource Conservation. I am continuing my education at ESF focusing on forest resource management.
I originally found out about Great Mountain from the Society of American Foresters. I had been involved in tree work prior to this and I knew this would provide valuable experience to work as a forestry intern So far, my favorite project we have worked on this summer is boundary line marking. It is a surreal experience to see some of the cairns and boundary lines that have existed long before I started walking amongst the trees. Plus, the ability to walk through the forest for hours is something I will never pass up on! Working and living at Great Mountain Forest has been a wonderful experience this summer!
Hello everyone! My name is Caleb May and I am so grateful to be writing an intern introduction for the second year. I joined the Great Mountain Forest team last year as the Wildlife intern and had an incredible experience.
Since then completed my first year at the University of Vermont as a Wildlife and Fisheries biology major and a Reporting and Documentary Storytelling minor.
Making the return to Great Mountain has been one of the best decisions I have made. Seeing my growth from last year to this has been an amazing experience. I am building and expanding upon the knowledge I gained here last summer and I will continue to soak up as much information as I can. One of my favorite parts of this internship is the ability to walk through so much variation in one place. Over the course of one hike you can find several natural communities and even some exotic tree plantations. You can’t find that in many other place.
I also thoroughly enjoy writing the newsletter. Not only do I get to partake in the projects and lessons, I am able to share that information with all of you in the form of our newsletters. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer brings!
Invasion of the Kids!
There was an invasion at Great Mountain this week! Do not fret though, it was a cute one! A group of young explorers from David M. Hunt Library in Falls Village ventured to the forest to learn about some o of the living and nonliving things that can be found in the forest.
Matt Gallagher gave an opening presentation where he showcased a beaver and otter pelt, and the fan favorite, moose antlers. A scavenger hunt was next on the itinerary. The kids were tasked with finding items such as ferns, pinecones, and acorns. They hopped, skipped, ran, and walked down Chattleton Road as Norway Spruce, Larch, and paper birch sat watching over them.
After finding the majority of the items on the list the kids returned and dined on their lunch while the leader of the group, Rita Delgado, read them a story. After all teddy bears were returned to their original owners, the day concluded! We hope to see them back soon and expect some of them to be the intern class of 2040.
Those Who Came Before
When you look over the heavily wooded mountainsides of GMF, it is hard to believe that anyone could have made a home here. However, the landscape looked very different in the days when charcoal production and agriculture was commonplace. Mike Gaige, a land consultant who specializes in land use history, took our interns out on two separate days to examine some of the natural communities here and also take a deep dive into some of the past inhabitants of the land.
The first day was centered around natural communities which are described by the state of New York as, “A variable assemblage of interacting plant and animal populations that share a common environment.” Great Mountain contains great variation in natural communities. One of the characteristics that makes our forest incredibly unique is the ability to attract extremes. On one hand, Tobey Bog is one of the most southerly examples of the types of floating bogs that you would find in Maine and Canada. On the other hand, Great Mountain finds itself at the northern tip of the ranges of Tulip Poplars and the Appalachian Hardwood natural community. The lesson with Mike gave the interns a greater appreciation for the natural processes that go into forming a landscape and the various results that the processes can yield.
In the second meeting, Mike flexed his detective skills as he showed the interns historical records dating back to a 1767 deed that highlighted Black Oak and Chestnut as two trees on the property. He continued to pull out more historical records which outlined a 320-acre area that changed hands several times. We walked that land and saw where Russell Mansfield and Xavier and Ellen Chattleton would have tended to their livestock that would help produce the 800 pounds of butter they marked in the 1870 census.
It is one-of-a-kind experience to traverse amongst the dilapidated stone walls and broken chestnut boards and wonder the story behind them. The interns saw cairns, charcoal hearth, cellar holds, coppice (trees that sprout new trunks after being cut) trees, and humanmade dams. Each little piece of the human footprint that was left behind tells a small part of the story. The importance of understanding the history of Great Mountain Forest is not overlooked and it is vital to have this knowledge. Not only did this lesson give the interns an understanding of the past, but it also shows how everything we do today can change tomorrow. As Mike said “Who would have thought cutting a tree 150 years ago would lead to a porcupine having a home 150 years later.”
GMF would like to thank Mike Gaige for lending his time to open up the interns to yet another side of forestry.
Ryan and Rebecca stand with Mike in front of a cellar hole.
A stone wall visible on an old section of farmland.
Insects are a hotly debated topic in the natural world. They have the ability to make people look in wonder and awe at their beauty and diversity. For others, just the sight of one can render a person unconscious. With that being said, we cannot deny the sheer range of insect species and their countless effects on the natural world around us.
We have covered insects in this newsletter before. Last month an article highlighted Sasajiscymnus Tsugae, the lady beetles that are tasked with the challenge of battling the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid that has been wreaking havoc on Hemlock populations since the 50’s. In the August 2021 issue, an article talked about the first recording of the Majestic Longhorned beetle in Connecticut. The discovery was made by interns Joe Rupe and Caleb May.
Well, we have more great news! The Crimson-ringed Whiteface (Leucorrhiniaglacialis) is a species of dragonfly who’s range covers most of Canada and the US. In Connecticut, however, it has only ever been spotted in Great Mountain Forest. This past month, Connecticut aquatic entomologist Valinn Ranelli rediscovered the Whiteface for the first time in five years.
Like many other dragonfly species, the Crimson-ringed Whiteface prefers to live in boggy lakes, ponds, and marshes, which are a dime a dozen at GMF. This insect is not a picky eater in the slightest. Any soft bodied insect is on the dinner menu for these dragonflies including mosquitos, moths, and ants. Sadly, as with other insect species, the information surrendering their habits and life are not as common as one might hope.
It is extremely encouraging that this species was once again found here and proves that Great Mountain is an incredible diverse location that supports animal species beyond that of the state norm. If you are lucky you might be able to see these beautiful winged creatures zip across you face.
At the end of last month, GMF sent our team to the Hamden, CT which was the site of this year’s Connecticut Chapter of the Society of American Foresters meeting. Foresters from all over Connecticut and other New England states ventured down to the coast for the all day meeting.
The seemingly endless supply of donuts and coffee was a strong pull for many of the foresters but eventually the day kicked off with a lecture about a key Connecticut species: Brook Trout. Brook Trout are an extremely beloved fish in the New England states and even hold the title as state fish of Vermont and New Hampshire. Brookies, as they are lovingly called, are the only native trout that live in Connecticut and also some of the smallest, growing to only 6-15 inches on average. Shockingly, the state record is a remarkable 9 pound trout and clocked in at about 27 inches.
The lecture focused on the forest management to preserve the species. Trout differ from other CT fish such as largemouth bass in their habitat and general preference. While bass can live anywhere from pristine lakes to shallow, muddy ponds, trout tend to thrive in cool, well shaded, and well oxygenated water. It was explained how these are variables that foresters and other environmental officers have control over. Managed canopy cover can ensure the water is shaded and cool and strict regulation of human interferences in the watershed can help to secure this species survival for years to come. Matt Gallagher remarked how important it was, as a forester, to remember that the way we manage our forests and perform cuts can have a huge impact on the populations of sensitive species.
The second lecture of the day focused on carbon storage and sequestration in forests, which is a controversial topic in today’s forestry world. The lecture shared recent developments that had unfolded since the last meeting was adjourned. The speech outlined how different management styles and tree composition can vary the effectiveness of storage and sequestration.
Finally, we had to depart the close proximity of the donuts and venture into the woods. There, a demonstration was given on Brook Trout which required the careful implementation of electro fishing. Electro fishing is the practice of using harmless electronic pulses which temporarily stun the fish and make them easier to catch. Attendees got the chance to see Brook Trout up close and learn about how Fishery Biologists would go about a large scale study on these incredible fish. The group moved on and was able to visit and discuss various plots in the forest and how they play into the carbon conversation.
Great Mountain Forest is thankful for the opportunity to attend the wonderful event and the interns were able to come away with increased knowledge on vital topics for entering the world of forestry and wildlife conservation.
Queen Anne's Lace (Dacaus Carota) also goes by the name of Wild Carrot. Everything has a story behind their name, but the Queen Anne's Lace has one of the best.
Anne Boleyn was the wife of Henry VIII before he wanted to move onto the next wife. He had her tried for several crimes and on May 19th,1536 she was beheaded.
The Queen Anne's Lace is white flowers surrounding a singular red flower in the middle. The white represents Anne Boleyn's ruff collar while the red flower in the center is her missing head. It is quite the name for such a beautiful and simple flower.
Be on the lookout for them all over the forest.
Another recent bloomer here at GMF is the Pickerelweed or Pontederia cordata. Unlike Canada Lily and Foxglove, Pickerelweed grows primarily in aquatic settings. Their unique root system digs into the muddy bottoms of ponds and other calm water bodies.
Above the water, a singular green leaf occupies each stalk. On the stalks, the magic begins. A series of gorgeous flowers begin to form that leave a beautiful purple cone protruding from the greenery.
Not only are these plants beautiful to look at but they can also be put to more practical uses. The seeds are edible and can be eaten like nuts. Additionally, the young leaf stalks can be harvested and cooked as you would any other type of green.
Canada Lily (Lilium Canadense), is a gorgeous species of wildflower that commonly blooms in early July.
The flower can be found all up and down the eastern coast of US and Canada where it goes by other names such as meadow lily and wild-yellow lily. The plant can grow several feet high and sprout up to 20 flowers on an individual flower.
Native Americans used to eat the flower buds and roots of this plant.
These flowers can be found all over the forest. If you take a stroll through the forest you are almost guaranteed to see one... or many. To maximize your chances, scan the sides of the forest road as you make your way through. Potter's Corner is also a great place to search for them!
This next flower is sure to brighten your day wherever you see it. The Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is perennial that grow anywhere from 1-6 feet tall. It flowers in a bright red hue that is reminiscent of Northern Cardinals (hence the name), which was originally named after the red robed Vatican officials.
Cardinal Flowers tend to grow in depressions, stream sides, wood edges, and a variety of other areas.
As you may have suspected, hummingbirds frequent this flower and are the main pollinator of the species. This is due to the fact that insects have a difficult time navigating their complicated structure. It is hard to miss these gorgeous flowers so make sure to make a trip to GMF when they start to bloom.
(Picture by gardenia.net)
Welcome to the forest!
GMF is a place of peaceful co-existence for everyone
Keep your dog on a leash and if you pack it in--pack it out.
GMF is critical to the environmental and economic sustainability of the region as well as an important contributor to research and education about climate change and environmental health. Help us support the forest as a vital natural resource and a place for those who love the woods.